Engineless Glider Takes First Historic Flight, On Way To Edge Of Space

Next stop: Mars?
The engineless Perlan 2 glider took to the air for the first time on Sept. 23.
The engineless Perlan 2 glider took to the air for the first time on Sept. 23.
Courtesy of Perlan Project

An engineless glider designed to reach the edge of space, the first aircraft of its kind, made history Wednesday as it took to the air in its maiden flight over an airfield in Oregon.

The Perlan 2, piloted by Jim Payne and Morgan Sandercock, reached an altitude of 5,000 feet above the Redmond Municipal Airport. It's being touted as a historic moment in aviation, and a significant step toward the aircraft's ultimate goal of soaring to 90,000 feet next year in Argentina.

Ed Warnock, CEO of the Perlan Project, a nonprofit research group that designs and flies gliders at extremely high altitudes, said his team is excited the flight was successful.

“This marks a major breakthrough in aviation innovation, one that will allow winged exploration of the atmosphere at the edge of space and lead to new discoveries to unravel some of the continuing mysteries of weather, climate change and ozone depletion," Warnock said in a press statement.

Commercial flights regularly reach cruising altitudes of 30,000 to 40,000 feet, but the Perlan 2 glider, if successful, will more than double the top-end of that range lifting well into Earth's stratosphere. To reach such spectacular heights, the glider is pressurized and the crew must breathe pure oxygen through a rebreather system, one that is similar to the kinds of breathing technology astronauts use in space.

The high-flying engineless aircraft has high-tech equipment that will observe, collect and share data with atmospheric scientists around the world, all while not polluting the atmosphere. Researchers hope that the glider's missions will help to advance the future of commercial aviation at higher altitude.

The glider will also help scientists gain a better understanding of how a similar aircraft could operate above the Martian surface, as the atmospheric conditions in Earth's stratosphere, which the glider will reach, resemble those on the Red Planet.

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