Unless you are flying in one of the latest corporate jets you wouldn’t be able to cruise through the stratosphere at over 52,000 feet or almost 16,000 metres as a civilian on the edge of territory once exclusively flown by the SSTs, Concorde and the TU-144.
Yet that is what two Airbus pilots did yesterday over Patagonia in Argentina when they set a new world altitude record for gliding of 52,172 feet.
And this wasn’t actually the goal, but a place reached as part of a project to achieve unpowered gliding flight at 90,000 feet, using rare combinations of standing mountain induced waves in the atmosphere and polar vortexes, as explained here.
The crew of the experimental Perlan II glider were of course moving more slowly than a G650 or similar powered VIP jet. That’s part of the plan. Unpowered gliding means much better opportunities to use high altitude as an observational platform for a range of scientific inquiries, and potentially with more directional control than available with a high altitude balloon.
Some things just can’t be rushed. While there are a variety of manned and unmanned craft, some no doubt shadowy classified devices yet to be fully acknowledged, that briefly but often rapidly transit ultra high altitudes, they are unlikely to have pure research goals on their mission lists.
Airbus CEO Tom Enders said “With every Perlan Mission II milestone, we continue to learn more about how we can fly higher, faster and cleaner. But we also learn that aviation still has the power to surprise us, thrill us, and motivate us to find new frontiers of endeavor.”