On 3 September 2017, Perlan 2, flown by Jim Payne and Morgan Sandercock, achieved a new altitude record of 52,172ft GPS altitude(unofficial). Congratulations to Morgan and the Perlan team.
The article below is in the current issue of Gliding Australia
PERLAN INTO THE STRATOSPHERE
In 1992 Einar Enevoldson, a former NASA test pilot, saw printed images of LIDAR scans taken of mountain wave formations in Sweden, indicating that they extended into the stratosphere, far higher than 50,000ft. Fascinated by this, he conceived of the Perlan Project named after Arctic stratospheric Mother of Pearl cloud.
After a great deal of work, aided by funding from American businessman Steve Fossett, Enevoldson and Fossett eventually achieved a new altitude record reaching 50,727ft in a converted DG-500 M at El Calafate, Argentina in 2006.
Due to the untimely death of Fossett the following year, further development on Perlan was halted for a time. However, with the help of new sponsors including Australia’s Morgan Sandercock, CFI of Hunter Valley GC, the project restarted.
Airbus Perlan Mission II
In 2014 Airbus became a major sponsor and since that time the re-badged Airbus Perlan Mission II has progressed rapidly.
Windward Performance, manufacturer of the SparrowHawk and DuckHawk gliders with RDD Enterprises in Bend, Oregon have built the Windward Performance Perlan II glider, designed by Greg Cole, for the project.
The aim of Perlan II is to smash the altitude record set by Perlan I and reach an altitude of 85,000ft or more, beating the altitude record set by the American military jet ‘Blackbird’ SR-71 in 1975.
The aircraft, made from composites, has a wing span of 25.55m and a high aspect ratio of 27:1. The pressurization system produces an 8.5 psi differential, although the two-person crew wear pressure suits for safety. The glider is designed to operate at extreme altitudes in only 3% of sea level atmospheric pressure, where its true cruising airspeed will be in excess of 0.5 Mach or 617kph.
The design required high-end design, analysis and construction to be flutter-safe at very high true air speeds, and strong enough for the potentially heavy turbulence that could be encountered at 90,000ft.
Morgan Sandercock and the Perlan team are in Patagonia at El Calafate flying missions this southern winter. The following is a rundown of how the project has been going at the time of going to press.
Patagonia Wave to 32,500 Feet
On 31 July, it was the Logistics Coordinator Tago De Pietro's birthday and all he wanted as a present was a world record. But it was not to be. The Chief Pilot Jim Payne knew that the weather would likely support weak wave and the early morning weather balloon launch indicated a weakening wave formation at 29,000ft. But they needed the practice and the altitude check for their upgraded flutter telemetry, and their cold, soaking wet equipment also needed testing.
Jim Payne and Morgan Sandercock launched at 10.54. Alec commented that some of the wing running felt icy. Towing behind the Boero was steady to 10,000ft and although wave was available, it was weak as expected. Nevertheless, Jim and Morgan persevered to 32,500ft in 1-2 knots average lift.
Second Wave to 32,500 Feet
On 3 August 2017 the Perlan Team was treated to nacreous clouds, highlighted by the rising sun to the east. These clouds have a pearlesent appearance resembling Mother of Pearl, the origin of the word Perlan. Because they form at extremely high altitudes, the team was delighted to see them.
From the weather balloon data, they expected good wave below 25,000ft but it was not clear what would happen above that. The wind diagram showed that the winds reduced from 25,000 up to 30,000ft, which is not a desirable trait for wave to propagate higher.
Studying the SkySight forecasts indicated that the afternoon had a slightly better wave profile, so Chief Pilot Jim Payne and Miguel Iturmendi, the Flight Test Engineer, launched the Perlan II at about 1pm. Their tow pilot Cholo towed them to Cerro Buenos Aires on the west end of Lago Argentino. When they released at 9,700ft they had 7-8 knots of lift. Because this was the best lift they had seen so far, they were very hopeful of making it past the tropopause at 30,000ft.
The clouds from the satellite photo did not indicate wave bars parallel to the Andes. Unfortunately the lift rates had softened considerably and failed to provide enough energy to climb higher. After using some altitude to search for stronger lift for two hours, nothing better could be found. They climbed back to 30,000ft but, again, found the lift dropping off to less than 1 knot. So, after 4.5 hours of extremely cold flying, they returned to El Calafate airport. To descend, they flew a constant bank turn with a strong tail wind, resulting in a flight trace that looks like a corkscrew.
The Perlan Project team have been in Argentina since the first week of July and plan to stay for 10 weeks until the first week in September. Until then they will continue to test wave conditions, analyse flight data, collect weather information and, in particular for Morgan Sandercock, upgrade the telemetry systems.
BY sean young and Perlan
Photos Perlan Project