Glider sets stratospheric record

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A five-and-a-half-hour flight over the Patagonian mountains of southern Argentina by the Airbus Perlan II has broken its own altitude record by more than 10,000 feet.

US website AVweb reports that last weekend, Airbus’ Perlan II glider reached 62,473 feet, riding mountain waves in the area of El Calafate Airport. It broke the recently officially recognised previous record of 52,221 feet, set in September 2017 in the same area.

As Flight Safety Australia reported in October 2015, the Perlan II is built to fly to 90,000 feet to conduct scientific experiments into giant mountain waves that help create the ozone hole and change global climate models.

Like their colleagues chasing thermals during long cross-country flights in summer, the pilots face a hostile external environment—but it’s extreme cold rather than scorching temperatures and the risk of dehydration.

To cope with air densities as low as 3 per cent of those on the ground at temperatures as cold as minus 70 degrees C, the two-seat glider has a wingspan of 26.6 metres and a gross weight of 816 kg. It is pressurised to 14,500 feet and towed to more than 40,000 feet by a turboprop Grob Egrett.

But there’s still a fair way to go before the Perlan II achieves its goal of 90,000 feet. At that altitude, it will be hurtling along at about 350 knots, albeit with an indicated airspeed of less than 100 knots.

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