The Perlan 2 glider, the world’s first engineless aircraft designed to reach the edge of space, achieved its successful first flight on Wednesday 23 September, flying at 5,000 feet above Roberts Field Redmond Municipal Airport in Oregon. This was the first test flight of the aircraft, which next year will attempt to set a new world altitude record for any airplane. The goal of the project is to open up exploration on high-altitude flight, climate change and space exploration.
The Perlan 2 was towed into the air by an AT-300 Air Tractor. Jim Payne and Morgan Sandercock piloted Wednesday’s flight, which was the first of many for the Airbus Perlan Mission II team as it prepares to soar the aircraft to the edge of space in Argentina in 2016. The Perlan 2 is a pressurized sailplane designed to ride air currents that, in certain mountainous regions near the north and south poles, can reach into the stratosphere. Next year’s flights are expected to reach 90,000 feet, exceeding even the altitudes achieved by the U-2 and the SR-71.
Despite having no engine, the glider’s true flight speed at that altitude will be more than 400 mph and the air density will be less than two percent of what it is at sea level. The crew will breathe pure oxygen provided by a rebreather system, similar to what astronauts use in space.
“This is a historic endeavour in the truest spirit of aviation’s earliest pioneers,” said Tom Enders, CEO of Airbus Group. “The knowledge gained from this project will impact how the world understands and addresses climate change. But it will also help Airbus continue to innovate ways to fly higher, faster and cleaner, on Earth and possibly beyond.”
The Perlan 2 glider was developed by The Perlan Project, a volunteer-run, non-profit endeavour headed by leaders in aerospace and engineering. It is supported by Airbus Group and a group of other sponsors that includes Weather Extreme Ltd., United Technologies and BRS Aerospace.
“We’re extremely excited about the successful first flight of the Perlan 2 glider,” said Ed Warnock, CEO of the Perlan Project. “This marks a major breakthrough in aviation innovation, one that will allow winged exploration of the atmosphere at the edge of space and lead to new discoveries to unravel some of the continuing mysteries of weather, climate change and ozone depletion.”