Chief Pilot Jim Payne soared into the stratosphere above South America on Sunday in a pressurized glider, breaking the aviation world record for glider altitude.
The San Diego pilot road sailed the first-of-its-kind Perlan 2 glider, a pressurized sailplane designed to ride air currents, broke the record as he road above El Calafate, the southernmost city on the planet.
In doing so, he broke the world record of 55,822 feet, held by the late Steve Fossett. The flight was part of the Perlan Project to gather data about climate change from the levels of the atmosphere closest to space.
In a previous interview with NBC7, Payne said he could not wait to attempt the flight.
“We, of course as adventurers, wanna see how high we can fly,” Payne said. “The airplane is unique, no one’s built a pressurized sailplane that’s been successful, so we’ll learn about pressurization systems and airplanes.”
The glider first took flight in Oregon, where the plane was built. Testing continued in Nevada before it headed down to Argentina for past winter. Prior to breaking the record, the glider took small journeys as tests to prepare for the journey.
The strong winds in the polar vortex will create updrafts that can propel the glider up to 90,000 feet. Payne had hoped to reach 90,000 feet, but reached 52,172 feet instead.
“With every Airbus Perlan Mission II milestone, we continue to learn more about how we can fly higher, faster and cleaner. But we also learn that aviation still has the power to surprise us, thrill us, and motivate us to find new frontiers of endeavor,” said Tom Enders, Airbus CEO, in a statement.
Payne said that height, he and his co-pilot will also be able to observe the ozone layer and polar vortex. They will be taking ozone and aerosol samples which will help scientists study climate change, ozone depletion and how to fly in the atmosphere on Mars.
Prior to the flight, Payne said attempting something like this would be a dream come true for him. When he was at the Air Force Academy in the 1970s, Payne wrote a paper on how to fly a glider at high altitudes.
He hopes this journey will inspire other young students to want to study engineering and aviation.
“There’s still a lot of things out there we don’t know about and it would be great if we could inspire some folks to study engineering,” Payne said in a previous interview. “If you look at the future, we’re going to need many more engineers.”
Published 7 minutes ago