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Perlan ll project aims to fly a glider to the edge of space

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July 31, 2014

Riding colossal stratospheric air waves, the Perlan ll glider is intended to fly to the ed...

Riding colossal stratospheric air waves, the Perlan ll glider is intended to fly to the edge of space

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In an ambitious attempt to break every wing-borne sustained flight height record for a manned aircraft, the Perlan ll project intends to construct and fly a glider higher than any sailplane has gone before. Riding on the colossal stratospheric air waves generated over mountains, the team plans to fly their craft to more than 90,000 ft (27,000 m), which will shatter their own existing glider altitude record of 50,671 ft (15,400 m) set by Perlan l in 2008.

Former NASA test pilot, and now founder and CEO of the project, Einar Enevoldson, is basing the project's anticipated flight success on evidence he has collected over many years as a high-altitude pilot on a weather phenomenon known as stratospheric mountain waves. These mountain waves are ultra-strong airstreams that collide with the tops of tall mountain ranges like the Andes and are redirected straight up, creating great waves of air that a glider could potentially use to ride up towards the edge of space.

Enevoldson sought to prove this phenomenon, and in 1998 – in conjunction with meteorologist Dr. Elizabeth Austin – verified his assertions and discovered that it is two phenomena known as the stratospheric polar night jet and the polar vortex that create and sustain these mountain waves all the way up to an altitude of 130,000 feet (39,624 meters). Enlisting the financial help of the late adventurer Steve Fossett in his first attempt to exploit these powerful stratospheric air currents, Fossett and Enevoldson piloted the glider Perlan I to shatter the altitude record for gliders by ascending to 50,671 feet (15,460m) in 2006.

Now Enevoldson wants to completely blow away his own record by taking Perlan ll up to a height of over 90,000 ft (27,000 m) using these very same air currents. This time he plans to use a pressurized cockpit (the original Perlan l didn't have one, and the pressure suits that Enevoldson and Fossett wore weren't up to the task) and a small-windowed cabin so that he can get as close to the edge of space as possible.

Originally unsuccessfully floated on Indiegogo in 2013, the project was in danger of stalling until the the Airbus Group saw the merits and opportunities of Perlan ll, and have now partnered with them to provide technical and financial support for the project. Airbus announced their intentions at this year’s EAA AirVenture Oshkosh fly-in.

"After a thorough evaluation of the engineering and scientific planning behind the Perlan Project, Airbus Group is convinced that this important mission will be a success," said Jean Botti, Airbus Group's chief technical officer. "We believe it is critically important for us to advance climate sciences and aerodynamic research. With the Airbus Perlan II mission we particularly see an opportunity to gain experience and data related to very high altitude flight – an area of interest for future aerospace applications."

Currently being constructed in carbon fiber, the Perlan ll will have a claimed wingspan of 84 ft (25 m) and designed to fly near transonic speeds if it is to maintain adequate lift in the thin air of the stratosphere. As such, the team also says that the glider will contain life support systems – including oxygen tanks, CO2 scrubbers and rebreather systems – and an airframe capable of sustaining heavy transient shock waves, whilst being both rigid and light.

All going to plan, the Perlan ll will also conduct high-level aerodynamic and other scientific research when it is launched, which at this stage is slated for sometime in 2016.

The video below shows the Perlan ll project's original project launch video.

Source: Perlan Project

About the Author
Colin Jeffrey Colin discovered technology at an early age, pulling apart clocks, radios, and the family TV. Despite his father's remonstrations that he never put anything back together, Colin went on to become an electronics engineer. Later he decided to get a degree in anthropology, and used that to do all manner of interesting things masquerading as work. Even later he took up sculpting, moved to the coast, and never learned to surf.   All articles by Colin Jeffrey
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7 Comments

this is not a new thing, they've been wanting to this for over ten years.

regardless of the merits of this project, the question of feasibility is the big one.

the genuine issue is to understand air currents . the best meaninful method to do so is to have some sattelite or ground based system capable of perceiving large air currents in real time in order to predict how and when it would be most adviseable--in real time---to take advantage of these currents.

the higher the altitude the more transient and capricious the nature of all motion of mass, including air mass ( wind ) .

it is quite likely possible to soar up to 120,000 feet if you could hypothetically see the winds perfectly. as it stands, i am not aware of any real time system capable of directly sensing/seeing the precise air mass surrounding a flying object as it ascends and descends, let alone predicting in real time where the air mass will move and how quickly.

as such, this goal, seems like a highly risky stunt that, even if successful will likely result in no follow on competition or technology development.

of course, the team will use whatever meterological technology we already have to help maximize their success. the point is to push the technological capabilities to make the flight define a new area of exploration and capability. simply to pull off a one time evil kineevil type gliding stunt might be cool and fun, but like the red bull guy who jumped from 100k feet, it will likely quickly be forgotten.

zevulon
31st July, 2014 @ 09:44 pm PDT

I have to agree with zevulon regarding the motivation behind this venture. It seems like Airbus are funding, as zevulon puts it, an Evil Kineevil, stunt. If they really are interested in high altitude wind behaviour, then surely remotely piloted, unmanned aircraft are the route to take. Once you put humans onboard you increase the weight enormously, thus putting a significant handicap on the mission's ability to succeed.

Unmanned aircraft could almost be treated as disposable, thus saving a lot of retrieval expense if they succumb to the wind conditions and cannot be flown back to base (think downstream 'rotors' that could be almost unflyable, especially at almost supersonic speeds). Indeed, if drones are used, they could deliberately seek the "heavy transient shock waves" (again, think downstream rotors) that, I assume, is what Airbus would be most interested in.

Furthermore, it would be a good exercise in drone control to develop a piloting station that fed back into the pilot's seat the vertical aircraft movements that glider pilots rely on to know when they are in a thermal or downdraft, or suchlike condition and fly accordingly, if it is flyable, of course. (Drone control would link in nicely, I suspect, with the Airbus windowless flight deck recently reported on in these columns.)

Mel Tisdale
1st August, 2014 @ 03:10 am PDT

Mel , Zevulon

Were is your sense of adventure?

If I may paraphase James Tiberius Kirk

Mans Mission is to "Boldly go where no man has gone before"

not send a drone up to look around and collect data.

Is it Dangerous ?, probably

Will it provide useful info? , don't know.

Those are not important questions.

We need to be asking , is it Cool - Yes

Will it push the envelope - Definitely.

Will it make them proud? for sure.

Would I like to do it? , Hell Ya!

There do not seem to be many frontiers where new records can be set and new worlds explored. for those of us that have the courage and will power to pursue their dreams I wish them godspeed.

Captain Danger
1st August, 2014 @ 06:16 am PDT

The stratospheric mountain waves should be relatively stationary, but higher-power versions of laser wind sensors could track the variations.

The air is so thin and clean up there that additional particulates would likely be needed to get readings. Having the wind reconnaissance be on separate, lower altitude aircraft, perhaps drones, would give the needed stand-off distance to give enough warning of variations for the high-altitude craft to take advantage of them, and by introducing smoke from some of the lower-altitude craft into the updraft, the needed particulates to get readings would also be provided

EH
1st August, 2014 @ 08:55 am PDT

We don't have to choose between doing it for adventure or doing it for science. Scientific expeditions are fun and sometimes dangerous.

I would use drones or balloons first, and then simultaneous with a manned flight. There is no harm in getting as much info as possible before risking life/limb.

Gathering info for commercial use is no small consideration. It's great to combine fun & profit.

voluntaryist
1st August, 2014 @ 10:00 am PDT

captain danger,

indeed you make some good points. it is progressive harder for man to explore because, as with all AGREGGATIVE CUMULATIVE PURSUITS OF KNOWLEDGE--------the more you have accomplished, the more difficult every marginal addition of knowledge is to increase.

almost by definition, the easiest stuff, is the first stuff that is most evident to discover. as you go along, it generally gets progressively harder, requiring more effort to make more sophisticated tools and ever more subtle understanding to explore things.

in the beginning man did not need any tools other than his eyes ears and feet to explore.

while i think it is fun for people to travel ( which i have done myself) , I was judging this pursuit by the amount of money invested into it. this is an expensive investment that looks to be more like a publicity stunt, than a genuine exploratory pursuit-----much like jame cameron's submersible dive to the abyssal ocean .

if you do enough reading of the modern and recent historical scientific literature, you will see there is A LOT TO EXPLORE , AND MANY PEOPLE AND WISE FUNDING SOURCES---CHASING TO EXPLORE THOSE THINGS

examples

---the oceans

----the ocean floors

---the sun

---remote exploration of the inside of the earth (various types of geology)

----remote exploration of the cosmos ( astronomy at large ).

---- the poles of the earth ( massive money pouring into drone perpetual exploration of the poles )

---and everything else at the micro level(exploring the small ----atomic and molecular scale physics including biology)

indeed, the most enigmatic mysteries left remain hardest places to explore are the ones farthest away or under the most extreme circumstances. this means using remote sensing tools, or drones .

when it comes to HUMAN MANNED 'exploration' , we are talking about technology that is essentially human transportation and life support system technology.

NOTHING IN THIS COCKPIT OR FLIGHT/glide------needs to be new at all for this flight to work. they will use well tested equipment that is expensive and proven to work. which is what they SHOULD do , with a limited budget.

i'm just saying, it's cool and all, but not likely to be repreated and not really fundamental exploration. it's like an exciting tourism trip.

frankly, for what they're doing, i'd rather pay 75 grand and book a helium balloon trip to 100,000 feet in the new planned helium kalman line visitation vehicle.

zevulon
1st August, 2014 @ 10:12 am PDT

Airbus bought into a program to out do Boeing at something that wont cost like the monumental mistake of building the A380.

Once the record for the highest maned glider flight has been achieved turning the thing into a powered drone is child's play.

Slowburn
1st August, 2014 @ 02:58 pm PDT
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