The tail camera of the Airbus Perlan 2 glider captured this view from a world-record altitude. (Airbus)

The tail camera of the Airbus Perlan 2 glider captured this view from a world-record altitude. (Airbus)

Perlan 2 features a pressurized cabin, allowing pilots to be less cramped and providing better control over the many instruments. (Airbus)

Perlan 2 features a pressurized cabin, allowing pilots to be less cramped and providing better control over the many instruments. (Airbus)

Perlan 2 has a wing span of 84 feet, and much more wing area than regular sailplanes. All that wing is less of an advantage at lower altitudes, but a great benefit at extreme heights. (Airbus)

Perlan 2 has a wing span of 84 feet, and much more wing area than regular sailplanes. All that wing is less of an advantage at lower altitudes, but a great benefit at extreme heights. (Airbus)

The landing gear is seen on the underside of the glider. (Airbus)

The landing gear is seen on the underside of the glider. (Airbus)

The Pilots Jim Payne (right) and Morgan Sandercock wiggle out of the glider’s tight cockpit after one of many earlier flights. (Airbus)

The Pilots Jim Payne (right) and Morgan Sandercock wiggle out of the glider’s tight cockpit after one of many earlier flights. (Airbus)

Sky Surfing on the Edge of Space

Posted: November 5, 2018

Pilots Jim Payne and Miguel Iturmendi soar 63,776 feet in the air. That’s 12 miles high! They’re surfing on the edge of space—and breaking a world record. Two days later, they do it again. But this time they break their own record by another half a mile!

The pilots fly more than twice as high as Mt. Everest. What carries them so high in the sky? It isn’t a spaceship. It isn’t a plane. It’s a glider called the Perlan 2.

From the outside, the Perlan 2 looks similar to an airplane. It has a modern, sleek design. It carries passengers, parachutes, and plenty of scientific instruments. One thing it does not carry is an engine. How can a glider fly so high without an engine to propel it? It uses atmospheric pressure waves. Wind is the glider’s engine! The harder the wind is blowing, the higher the glider will soar. Meteorologists help the pilots safely catch wind waves. By studying wind patterns, these scientists know the best places for gliders to fly. The pilots soar in one of the windiest places on Earth: Patagonia, Argentina.

The glider carries equipment communicate with scientists on the ground. (Airbus)

Are air waves noisy and bouncy, or smooth and quiet? Actually getting to the air wave can be rough. Unsteady air can toss the glider around. Air pressure can stress the glider. That’s one reason it has round windows. If they were square, they could pop out under pressure. Even though the glider isn’t a spaceship, its window design meets NASA’s standard for spacecraft. How cool is that? Once inside the giant airwave, the glider sails smoothly. The atmosphere is perfectly quiet inside the wave.

But was it quiet inside the Perlan 2? Probably not. The pilots had a big reason to cheer! They set a new record for flying the highest with no engine!