Perlan Project – researches atmospheric conditions utilizing sailplanes (gliders) designed to fly at extremely high altitude. Applying aerospace technology and atmospheric research to fly a glider higher than any other manned aircraft has ever flown.

In 2015 Perlan Mission II intends to set new altitude records by flying a purpose-built pressurized high-altitude glider (the Perlan 2) higher than any other aircraft has ever flown using stratospheric mountain waves and the polar vortex and in so doing harvest invaluable data about earth’s atmosphere and its ozone layer

The Perlan 2 will fly in a near vacuum with air density at less than 2% of that at sea level. It must be extremely strong and light like a space ship, but extremely stiff to prevent flutter. Flying at the edge of space, the Perlan II must have the reliability and life support systems of a space ship. The combination of very thin air and extremely low temperatures is similar to the environment that would be encountered flying on Mars. At such low air density the glider must fly at near transonic speeds to create enough lift to sustain flight. At these speeds shock waves can form and flow separation can ruin performance. The Perlan 2 requires a new and highly efficient aerodynamic design.

  • Mountain waves – Since the 1930s, glider pilots have been exploring mountain waves that occur when high winds approach mountain ranges at perpendicular angles. The air then flows up and over in a wavelike manner. Pilots carefully maneuver on the leeward side of the mountains and ride the updrafts to extreme altitudes. In 1961, Paul Bikle set an absolute altitude record of 46,267 feet. And in 1986, Robert Harris pushed it to 49,009 feet. Both records were achieved over California.

To boldly go…

  • What is known about the stratosphere? Why is it hard to study? What are some of the special problems for flying to the stratosphere?
  • How high can powered aircraft go? What’s the limit and why? Why is a glider different? What are some of the technologies that NASA uses to flights into space? How can these be applied to studying the stratosphere?
  • What are the engineers working on for the Perlan mission? When do they plan to launch? What are some of the challenges to meeting this objective?
  • What are the engineers learning as they develop the glider for the Perlan mission?

Engineering ideas

  • aerospace, sailplane, glide, altitude, manned aircraft, pressurize, stratosphere, near space, mountain wave, polar vortex, ozone layer, vacuum, life support, air density, transsonic speeds, lift, drag, bending force, load, flight, shock wave, flow separation, performance, aerodynamic, meteorology, rebreather, carbon-fiber, epoxy, instrumentation, up-draft

Do It
Challenges for you to work on…

News, updates

  • A Quiet Trip to the Ozone Hole – Without the weight of engines or fuel, a glider can be lifted by natural atmospheric phenomena, engineers say. So a team of scientists, aviation buffs and entrepreneurs is building a two-seat sailplane designed to withstand the peculiar hazards of stratospheric flight. The journey is scheduled for August 2015.

Learn more…

  • Perlan Project – Aeronautical Exploration: push the frontiers of flight by soaring into near space. * Meteorological Research: investigate the impact of stratospheric waves on global weather patterns and atmospheric chemistry. * Education: inspire future generations to pursue careers in math, science and research.
  • Lockheed SR-71A – On July 28, 1976, an SR-71 set two world records for its class — an absolute speed record of 2,193.167 mph and an absolute altitude record of 85,068.997 feet.