on the edge

Sep 5, 2017

Airbus high altitude glider project soars to record height

A reminder that the view at top of cruise can be awesome at times

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

At its highest point this is the Perlan II tail cam view of Patagonia yesterday

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.”

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6 thoughts on “Airbus high altitude glider project soars to record height

  1. Dan Dair

    It’s very impressive & at the same time it’s completely crackers,
    what’s their end-game.?

  2. Deano DD

    Could be the next step in commercial aviation ?
    Higher, faster, cheaper
    Just like an ICBM can reach anywhere on the planet buy powering into orbit, then momentum carries it to its destination
    Could this concept be adapted to commercial aviation without using rocket power ?

    1. Dan Dair

      I always struggled with the basic concept of a three hundred & fifty ton Boeing 747 actually being able to fly in the first place.
      I know it can, I understand about lift & thrust,
      but 350 tons, for Gods sake.???
      (A bit like a 200,000 ton ship made of steel….. if it’s that heavy, it’ll sink, obviously.?)

      Back to the topic, I can’t see how you could make a 50 tonne A318 glide any distance & have wings that it could get into a terminal-gate with.?
      I can see that understanding real-world aerodynamics can improve the ‘sleekness’ & therefor efficiency of airliners,
      but the trouble with any super-efficient ultra-high flight is how much it costs to get you up there in the first place; both fuel & time.???

    2. Dan Dair

      Have a look on Wikipedia at ‘Hotol’,
      which has been around as a concept since the early 1970’s
      & it’s current incarnation as ‘Skylon’, which remains in development.

      Supposedly offering Sydney to London in an hour,
      it’s been based around a ‘concept’ hybrid jet engine which will operate as usual in the lower atmosphere & using stored oxygen to power it into & through its low-Earth orbit.

  3. Tango

    That is just amazing and if they make 90k? phew, pretty well defies compressions.

    Dan: A 747/A380 flying is a matter of faith. If all on board quit believing, then they will not fly.

    Steel Ships, that’s different, very scientific, it has to do with weight and displacement. One of those Greek guys playing in a tub with his rubber ducky figured that out.

    1. Dan Dair

      I wouldn’t necessarily trust those ‘Greek guys’.
      They’re struggling to manage their country’s economy,
      how can I trust what they say they were doing in the bath,
      when they tell us they were playing with their rubber ducky.?

      If you have to believe in an aircraft to make it fly,
      I can’t see why you don’t have to believe in a ship, to prevent it sinking.?

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