What would you say if we told you that a plane that doesn’t fly very fast, isn’t quite large, barely accommodates two people, isn’t equipped with a propulsion system so can’t get airborne without being towed by another plane is rearing to fly to the edge of the space without an engine….. you would surely rubbish any such thing and walk away thinking that we are kidding! But we aren’t! The Perlan 2 glider plane is actually trying to create history by breaking the current altitude record of 90,000 feet set by any winged aircraft. Here it is to be noted that most commercial airliners fly at an altitude of 39,000 feet and that too with the help of jet engines.
Actually, the Perlan 2 pilots aim to surf on to massive air currents called stratospheric mountain waves. These mountain waves are extremely complex phenomena. Basically, when strong winds cross over a mountain range and the atmosphere above them is stable, massive waves of air will form on the lee side of the mountain. The wind rushing down the back side of the mountain causes an atmospheric disturbance, and then a couple miles downwind there’s a rebound area, where the air is rising. With the right conditions and a skilled pilot, it’s possible to ride these updrafts high into the upper atmosphere. Perlan Project Chief Pilot Jim Payne said: “Unless you’ve flown in a wave, it’s hard to understand the energy that’s available in the atmosphere.” The catch is, you can’t just ride on any mountain wave to reach the stratosphere as the common ones don’t go that high. But over the past couple decades, the Perlan team has succeeded in finding out that the really big mountain waves that you want to ride on are in Argentina as Argentina’s low latitude and high mountain ranges make it an ideal location for stratospheric waves to form. Basically a union of different atmospheric events take place over the country’s mountain ranges during the winter months, which together allow some mountain waves to propagate much higher into the atmosphere than they normally would.
In 2006, Perlan Project founder Einar Enevoldson and adventurer Steve Fosset had succeeded in taking Perlan 1 glider up to a height of 50,722 feet riding one such wave. They could have gone higher had their jumpsuits not inflated because of the high altitude. So they decided to build a glider with a pressurized cabin and hence the Perlan 2 Project was born.