The world’s first engineless airplane, the Perlan 2 Glider, made its first successful flight today reaching an altitude of 5,000 feet over Roberts Field in Redmon, Oregon.
The Perlan 2, designed to reach the edge of the stratosphere, can explore the edge of space without polluting the atmosphere with engine fuels.
This morning, Jim Payne and Morgan Sandercock piloted the first test flight. Next year, the Perlan 2 crew will attempt to reach world-record altitudes.
“Airbus Perlan Mission II is a historic endeavor in the truest spirit of aviation’s earliest pioneers,” said Tom Enders, chief executive officer of Airbus Group.
The Perlan Project is a volunteer-run, non-profit sponsored by the Airbus Group.
The Perlan 2 will make its first flight into the stratosphere in 2016 over Argentina. The flight is expected to reach an altitude of 90,000 feet. The current record is 50,727 set by the Perlan 1 in 2006.
In certain regions, especially mountainous regions like Argentina, and the north and south poles, the plane can reach the stratosphere.
The Perlan 2 is a pressurized sailplane designed to glide on air currents after being detached from a towplane. Once detached, the aircraft can reach speeds of 400 mph.
The aircraft will carry a crew of two. The crew will breathe pure oxygen provided by a rebreather system, similar to what astronauts use in space.
The Perlan 2 team hopes next year’s flight will aid in climate change research and space exploration.
Since the aircraft is engineless, there is more room for instruments used for research.
The Perlan 2 will be able to measure weather events at the highest level of the stratosphere, which influence weather patterns around the globe. The crew expects its research to lead to important breakthroughs in understanding climate change.
The glider will be operating in conditions similar to those on mars, where it is minus 70 degrees celsius and has less than three percent of normal air density. The Perlan 2 flight could lead to innovations in operating aircrafts above the martian surface.
By May of 2019, the Perlan 2 crew will take the glider to heights of over 100,000 feet. The aircraft will require new transonic wings because of high flight speeds.
“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,” said Ed Warnock, chief executive officer of the Perlan Project.