In the early 1990s, NASA test pilot Einar Enevoldson set out to prove that gliders could catch mountain waves and soar to extreme altitudes. With the Perlan Mission, Enevoldson set out with a very ambitious goal: to soar into the stratosphere – the atmospheric layer between the troposphere and the mesosphere. On August 30, 2006, Enevoldson together with record-setter Steve Fossett, flew the Perlan I beyond 50,000 feet, breaking the altitude record for gliders at that time.
Since then, Enevoldson’s mission has continued, reaching higher and higher altitudes. This weekend, on September 3, The Perlan 2 glider achieved by far the highest flight, soaring all the way to 76,124 feet, more than 10,000 feet higher than it had previously reached and higher than the top altitude recorded by the U2 spy plane. The Perlan 2 glider was pulled off the ground at the airport in El Calafate, Argentina, with Airbus Perlan Mission II chief pilot Jim Payne and pilot Tim Gardner on board.
This is the third record breaking flight for the Perlan 2 in the past week and the flight came less than a week after the team first flew beyond 60,000 feet. On August 26, the glider flew to 62,000 feet, then 65,000 feet and finally the astonishing 76,000 feet, where the darkness of space and the curvature of the earth can clearly be seen around the glider.
The Perlan 2 was built in Minden, Nevada, where the team flies in the winter months. The carbon fiber structure is pressurized and has a closed-loop rebreather system, using oxygen only to support the pilots during flight. The glider also has a wave visualization system that graphically displays areas of rising air.
Click here for a video from the record-breaking flight.