Aeronautical Exploration & Atmospheric Research.
Pushing the frontiers of flight by soaring to the edge of space, Airbus Perlan Mission II is going to fly a non-powered sailplane (glider) up to 90,000 feet (28,000 metres), breaking all wing-borne altitude records for sustained flight by manned aircraft and harvest invaluable data about our atmosphere and ozone
The mission will bring back information that will advance aerospace technology and aerodynamics research.
Perlan Mission II is seeking additional sponsors and partners, for our
educational programmes, for media production and istribution, and also to
further research, development and innovation in aerospace engineering and
The Perlan Project Story.
From 1992-98, Perlan’s founder and NASA test pilot Einar Enevoldson collected evidence on a weather phenomenon that no one at the time even knew existed: stratospheric mountain waves. Like huge ocean waves, as shown in the photo below, these waves of air are kicked off by strong winds blowing over the tops of high mountain ranges like the Andes. These waves of air then shoot straight up towards space. As a pilot, Einar quickly figured out that you can use a glider to ride those waves all the way up to near space. And he set out to prove it. This became The Perlan Project.
In 1998 meteorologist Dr. Elizabeth Austin teamed up with Einar and expanded upon his findings proving that it is the stratospheric polar night jet and the polar vortex that are the principal factors in creating these mountains waves that could reach up to 130,000 feet into the middle stratosphere.
In 1999 Steve Fossett, the record-setting aviator, sailor, adventurer and first person to fly solo non-stop around the world in a balloon, heard about it and decided to fund The Project and become one of its pilots.
On August 30, 2006 Steve Fossett and Einar Enevoldson smashed the existing altitude record for gliders by soaring up to 50,671 feet (15,460m) in a standard glider using these stratospheric waves of air.
And they could have gone even higher!
The problem was that their pressure suits expanded so much inside the cabin that they couldn’t move the flight controls and safely control the aircraft anymore. So they came down, and quickly decided they needed a custom glider with a pressurized cabin.
In 2014 Airbus Group became the partner and title sponsor of Airbus Perlan Mission II.
Perlan 2 Aircraft.
The Perlan 2 is designed to fly up to 90,000 feet, in a near vacuum where air density is less than 2% of sea level. Basically, it’s like flying on Mars. At such low air density the glider must fly almost supersonic just to create enough lift to stay up. And so, the Perlan 2 has a new and highly efficient aerodynamic design. (For aerospace engineers, we had to design an aircraft that could withstand flutter, endure high speed Mach effects, stay away from the Coffin Corner, etc.)
The Perlan 2 has a pressurized cabin, just like
airliners, so the pilots don’t need to wear pressure suits. This is a first in glider design. It has an oxygen breathing system modeled off
of what scuba divers use, with oxygen tanks, CO2 scrubbers and
rebreather systems. It has a fully
electronic cockpit, using some of the same advanced avionics gear used in the
world’s most advanced aircraft. And, it
has a science payload bay so that scientists can run high-altitude atmospheric
Aerodynamics & Meteorology.
Perlan 2 will harvest meteorological data which cannot be obtained any other way. Rockets and balloons can reach these altitudes easily but neither can stay in position. Rockets zoom past into space; balloons drift with the wind. Satellites and other remote measurements cannot take physical samples or sample precise altitudes. Airbus Perlan Mission II provides:
1. RESEARCH AIRCRAFT FOR PREVIOUSLY UNREACHABLE ALTITUDES: The stratosphere is generally inaccessible to conventional aircraft, and so most research studies rely on ground-based instruments to gather data. Perlan 2 is only way to routinely fly into and study the stratosphere directly. Perlan 2 opens up the ability for direct air sampling and observations of the stratosphere for research into high altitude meteorology, high altitude aerodynamics, high-altitude physiology, and materials engineering and testing.
2. INCREASED UNDERSTANDING OF OUR ATMOSPHERE: Using Perlan 2, we will harvest data from the stratosphere where many strange phenomena have been observed but never understood. Things like invisible clouds, strange electrical flashes called red sprites, blue lightning that strikes upwards instead of downwards.
3. INCREASED UNDERSTANDING OF CLIMATE CHANGE: The stratosphere has major influences on global climate change. For example, it’s where the ozone layer is, which is critical to the protection of humans and other life forms. Using data from the glider and state-of-the art computer weather models, we will be able to research and learn about the relationship between the ozone layer and stratospheric mountain waves and the Polar Vortex (and even other phenomena such as gravity waves). This data will allow us to unravel the relationship between these phenomena and how they affect ozone quantities over the entire globe. We will also be able to research other weather phenomena, such as complex deep cold frontal circulations, which will help us better differentiate between man-made and natural global warming.
4. PAVES THE WAY FOR MORE HIGH ALTITUDE FLIGHTS AND FUTURE FLIGHT ON MARS: Perlan Mission I discovered that unlike the troposphere where today’s aircraft fly, there are sharp horizontal temperature changes (gradients) in the stratosphere that could flummox some autopilots while in Mach hold or disturb a high response electronic jet engine controller, either of which could cause catastrophic results. Airbus Perlan Mission II will enable scientists to analyze the stratosphere in great detail to determine the extent of these sharp temperature changes to aid in aerodynamic research for future high altitude flights.5. ESTABLISHING HIGH ALTITUDE BOUNDARIES FOR LIFE: We now know that biological life exists high up in the stratosphere. We will collect biological samples and break new ground in understanding the concentration, nature, and viability of these biological particles and establish what are the high altitude boundaries for life on Earth. This can also be used to assess the likelihood that other planets can support life.
Inspiring future generations to pursue careers in math, science and research.
We are developing partnerships with schools and museums to further math and science education using our flights and aircraft production to partner teachers with field researchers and to involve students in practical applications of theoretical studies. So far, we have partnered with the Louisiana School of Math, Science and the Arts, where we will create educational materials for 8,000 grade school students and are creating field research opportunities for teachers at Wake Forest University and the University of Nevada–Desert Research Institute.
Airbus Perlan Mission II Pilots.
Jim Payne, Chief Pilot.
Jim has 42 years pilot experience. In 1983 he got his gold and diamond altitude legs in a SGS 1-26 in the Tehachapi Wave. As a staff member at the US Air Force Test Pilot School he was part of the Soar Eagle Project flying a Grob 103 with a pressure suit system where he earned a Triple Lennie pin for a flight to 42,200 feet. With the advent of GPS flight recorders.
Jim pioneered wave speed records. For many years he held the fastest world record at 247km/hr (154 mph), a record that was listed in the 2006 Guinness World Records.
In recent years Jim has used the wave to win numerous OLC championships including the Classic OLC World Championship in 2008 and 2012, the North American/USA in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2012 plus the Speed OLC World Championship in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2012.
His furthest flight is 1,374 miles (2,210 km). Jim was awarded the 2001
Lilienthal medal winner (highest award given by the FAI for gliding) and is a
member of the Soaring Hall of Fame.
Einar Enevoldson, Founder and Chairman of the Board at Perlan Project Inc.
Einar is a lifelong glider pilot, former jet fighter pilot in the USAF, and exchange officer with the Royal Air Force. From 1968 until 1986 Einar was a NASA research pilot at the Dryden Flight Research Center.
He was twice awarded the NASA Exceptional Service Medal. Einar holds the current altitude record for a glider of 50,671 feet, which he set during Perlan Mission I.
Morgan Sandercock, Pilot.
Morgan is a glider pilot from Australia and the chief flying instructor at the
Hunter Valley Gliding Club. Morgan has a degree in mechanical engineering and a
computer science degree.
Dennis Tito, Pilot.
Dennis earned a B.S. in astronautics and aeronautics from NYU College of Engineering and a M.S. from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institue in engineering science. He began his career at NASA’s jet propulsion laboratory where he was responsible for designing the trajectories for the mariner spacecraft missions to Mars and Venus. On April 28, 2001, Tito made history by becoming the first space tourist. Launched from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, Tito served as a crewmember of an eight-day Russian Soyuz mission to the International Space Station.
Dr. Elizabeth Austin, Ph.D., Perlan Project Co-founder.
Dr. Elizabeth Austin, Ph.D., is an active member of the American Meteorological Society and a member of the Certified Consulting Meteorologists (CCM) board of directors. She is the recipient of a Fulbright senior specialist award at the Laboratoire de Physique de L’atmosphère, CNRS, Universitè de la Rèunion, Rèunion Island, France and the distinguished teaching award at the four year Sierra Nevada College in Incline Village, Nevada.
Her areas of specialty include mountain weather, mesoscale atmospheric modeling, cloud and ice physics, education, and stratospheric mountain waves. Elizabeth has lectured and taught courses and seminars on weather and weather education all over the world. She is currently president of WeatherExtreme Ltd.