Perlan 2 Glider To Attempt World Altitude Record


Though placed on hiatus during the COVID pandemic, the Airbus-sponsored Perlan Mission II will attempt later this year to set a world altitude record for manned, level flight—in an unpowered glider. The target is 90,000 feet, where, the project leadership says, the Earth’s atmosphere is more akin to that of Mars. Airbus contributed to the construction of the one-off, pressurized Perlan 2 that is “equipped with sophisticated life support systems and instrumentation to ensure pilot safety,” according to the program.

There is more at stake here than bragging rights for setting a record. According to Perlan Project CEO Ed Warnock, the flight will provide “unique opportunities for aerodynamic studies related to turbulence, extreme weather and future space exploration.” Furthermore, as a non-powered aircraft with no emissions whatsoever, the pressurized Perlan 2 “is ideally suited to the high-altitude atmospheric research the team will conduct to inform more accurate climate-change models.” Besides the data-collection equipment for that research role, the Perlan 2, which Warnock describes as “a space capsule with wings,” will also carry experiments developed by school-age students as part of a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) cooperative effort with Teachers in Space.

The Perlan 2, which has already set the subsonic world altitude record at more than 76,000 feet in 2018, is currently en route by ship to El Calafate, Argentina, where terrain and stratospheric mountain wave conditions are ideal for the research flight and altitude-record attempt. Mountain wave currents in the region are strengthened by polar vortices. Conditions there are said to be optimal between July and September, when the test flights are scheduled.

C. Jeffrey Knittel, Airbus Americas chairman and CEO, said, “If a glider, which is a truly zero-emission aircraft, can become the highest-flying aircraft of all time, it sends a powerful message that decarbonization of aviation is no impediment to achievement, and can even be an enabler.”

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. ……….“If a glider, which is a truly zero-emission aircraft, can become the highest-flying aircraft of all time, it sends a powerful message that decarbonization of aviation is no impediment to achievement, and can even be an enabler.”
    He couldn’t be happy just to set a cool record, he had to wrap it all in the robes of virtue signaling. This ideology is driving people insane.
    Carbon is what we are made of, carbon is what we exhale, carbon is a primary input to photosynthesis. The plants need it. There used to be more CO2 and more plant life. It’s a trace gas now and that’s a warning……for those who would listen.

    • Thanks for sharing what drives you crazy. What drives me crazy is you and other climate skeptics posting your mini-rants everytime someone mentions anything to do with climate.

      • Oh, you actually read his screed? I scanned it and stopped reading as soon as I saw “woke” used as an adjective. If only those folks would put it right up front, I could save a lot of time.

  2. Connecting aviation achievements to other desirable human goals such as reducing the impact of global warming is a way to promote aviation in case you haven’t noticed. Young people who will have to deal with the consequences of climate change do care about it. What you see as virtue signaling, I see as promoting aviation in a way that helps to demonstrate its sustainability.

    The burning of fossil fuels at our current rate is warming the planet and negatively impacting many people in the world. Those impacts will grow with time until they affect all of us. Your arguments are simplistic and ignore another affect of excess CO2 in the atmosphere which is to trap more of the energy from the sun. That in turn produces more violent weather, drought, and a rise in the sea level, all of which are creating problems across the globe.

  3. Avweb really needs to start including trigger warnings with stories. The predictable list of names who are thrown into a tizzy every time words such as ‘climate change’ are mentioned would benefit greatly if their feelings could be protected with a gentle warning that the ignorance they possess is about to be challenged, and perhaps they would be better off reading a different story.

    It is almost comical how worked up people get because a private company is trying to advance its technology. As has been said before, it’s a good thing these people aren’t in positions of leadership in the aviation industry, we would still be limited to Lillenthal gliders because their expertise, EE degrees, and millions of hours in the logbook prove that those Wright brothers are just wasting good money that could be spent improving the buggy behind their horses.

    And “for those who would listen,” please just have the basic curiosity to read and do some research, the internet makes it so easy. Pilots used to be a group of people who liked to learn, now they seem to like to be told what to think, and if they are told that more CO2 is a good thing, well by golly, that is what they’re going to think. So look into what a trace gas is, look into whether or not CO2 has always been a trace gas, even when there was more plant life. Look into if increasing the levels of CO2 beyond a trace gas makes Venus a warm, tropical paradise. Just do some research, go back over some of the fundamentals of chemistry, physics, biology. It’s interesting and worth reading and you’ll be a better informed citizen able to form rational thoughts about basic scientific examples such as whether or not there’s a limit to how much CO2 is good and whether or not the fact that it’s a trace gas now is a “warning” or not.

    Okay, now to go out and make some more CO2…

    • Well, I’m 69 years old and I’ve been reading science and engineering my whole life. Had subscriptions to Science News and Scientific American before I was 10. I’m trying to pass on something I’ve concluded from a lifetime of study and observation. Sometimes the conventional wisdom is just flat out wrong. Glad you’ve got it figured out though.

      • Okay, so what is the conventional wisdom that is wrong? I’m happy to engage in a discussion, but need to know what is being discussed. And the good news is that as a scientist, we never have things “figured out.” Instead we gather a data (aka evidence), analyze it, see if it supports a hypothesis, then develop a theory if it does, or develop a different theory if it doesn’t. And if another data set comes along that disputes the theory we repeat the process. That’s why you’re able to fly an airplane. Lillenthal, the Wrights, Kelly Johnson…they all developed a hypothesis (an airplane design), gathered data (flight test) and then decided whether or not the data supported the hypothesis (good glider/bad glider, good wing warping/bad wing warping, good shockwave inlet control/bad shockwave inlet control), and either proceeded with their designs, modified them or abandon them. It’s the scientific method and it means you can type on this screen and I can read it, and it means high octane gasoline works well at high altitude. Science!

        • what is the conventional wisdom that is wrong?

          Possibly that CO2 as a weak regulator of temperature is far more important than CO2 as a strong regulator of life.

        • Good, thanks for that, and I’m replying to myself to avoid making the column so narrow as to be unreadable.

          So I think the important consideration is how the range of values for a given variable affects an outcome. CO2 is no doubt a strong regulator of life.

          For instance if you were to find yourself in an airtight, pressurized vehicle, say a Grumman Lunar Module, and the breathing rate was higher than expected because there are three of you instead of two, then a predictable outcome would be that the device that is designed to remove the CO2 from your Grumman would be not be able to keep up and eventually you would die because too much CO2 is a strong regulator of life.

          Of course the opposite is also true, if you’re a plant alone in that little Grumman module, and there aren’t any producers of CO2, and that little scrubber gets rid of it all, then the plant will die because CO2 is a strong regulator of life.

          The key question is what is the range of values that allow life to continue, too high and the humans die, too low and the plants die. On our planet we live in a place where the range of values for the trace gas known as CO2 allows for plants to live, but isn’t so high that we don’t live.

          Now it turns out that the range of values for CO2 needed for plant life is a fairly wide range, and indeed plants can exist at 300ppm or 3000ppm. So indeed while it is a strong regulator of life, that range is so great that it really isn’t a relevant variable for plant life. Instead CO2’s role in atmospheric temperature turns out to be a ‘far more important’ variable.

          When you referenced the Carboniferous, the increased CO2 levels, while still well in the trace gas category back then, aren’t responsible for the increased plant life just because plants use CO2 for photosynthesis. Converting CO2 into carbohydrates is one part of it. But another, perhaps even bigger driver is that the higher CO2 levels resulted in a much warmer planet because the molecular shape of a carbon atom attached to two oxygen atoms results in a vibration when photons with a wavelength in the 15 micron range are present. In reality the molecule gets excited at several different wavelengths, but we consider the 15 micron range of the infrared to be important because when the earth emits radiation, it’s mostly in the infrared, and 15 microns is the wavelength where the stronger greenhouse gas known as H2O doesn’t absorb photons, so CO2 is then the main gas responsible for preventing those particular photons from escaping into space (black body radiation, mie scattering are a few different things to read about if you’re interested) and if they don’t escape into space, they stay in the atmosphere causing the more of the molecules they hit to vibrate, and an increase in vibration of molecules is the definition of higher temperature, so it gets warmer. That warmer planet meant that at higher latitudes there were warmer conditions that allowed what we today consider to be tropical to mid-latitude flora and fauna to flourish.

          So the combination of increased CO2 as a food source to drive photosynthesis, and as a way to convert infrared photos emitted from earth and the atmosphere to be converted into vibrating atmospheric molecules lead to the increased plant life during the Carboniferous.

          But as mentioned earlier, the levels for photosynthesis aren’t that important, because the range of that variable can be large and still support life. But the range for CO2 is a strong regulator of temperature is important because, well, we don’t want to live on Venus where CO2 isn’t a trace gas.

          So quick summary, range of CO2 levels for happy photosynthesis is large. Range of CO2 for happy temperatures is not as large. And again, this is from my perspective, if you want to lose the state of Florida to a permanent flood because your range of happy temperatures is higher, than that’s a different discussion. Me, I like the idea of keeping Florida, and the swamps of Louisiana, so I opt to keep the ice locked up on the ice sheets rather than covering those states in liquid form.

          It’s been fun, glad I could help explain things. I’m happy to keep learning if you’re so inclined.

          • There is no data set that correlates increasing CO2 concentration with increasing temperature. None. Just a lot of hot air from politicians and globalists.

          • So there actually are massive data sets that correlate increasing CO2 concentration with temperature, and by massive, I mean really, really big. In the few years I worked in this world, I collected data that filled tens of thousands of rows and columns in good ol’ Excel. If I had to guess, there are at least sevearl thousand separate and independent data sets showing the correlation between CO2 and temperature.

            In fact Dennis B (don’t know if this is the same person as Dennis C or not), pointed out that during the Carboniferous there is abundant evidence for higher CO2 and warmer temperatures. Actually I should be clear, he might not have known that’s what he was saying, but he did seem to hint that the Carboniferous era was a time with higher CO2 levels, and we know that the planet was warmer because of the lack of ice sheets (we know this because of Oxygen isotopes, specifically the ratio of O16 to O18, it’s a proxy for temperature because it changes based on how much of the global water is in ice on land).

            So there are data sets going back in the fossil record, but even better we have petabytes of data from the ice core record. Hundreds of ice cores have been drilled in the arctic, antarctic and on mountains around the world. They read like tree rings with annual deposits of snow, and they can be seen visibly going back hundreds of years, and electrically going back hundreds of thousands of years (winters show up because of increased storm/wave action which kicks up more sea salt into the air, so winter snow layers are saltier, drag a pair of wires across the ice core with a voltage and the salty winter layers conduct better, now you can count winters). We can then figure out how much ice per cm, and in Antarctica go back more than a million years in place like Vostok or Allan Hills. So we can directly measure atmospheric conditions going back more than 2 million years, and with really high resolution going back about 800,000 years which includes several glacial/interglacial periods.

            So these data sets very clearly show a correlation between CO2 levels and global temperature. And they are correlated with modern times where we can see in high resolution glacial cores from all seven continents.

            Again, this has been repeated over and over and over and over again with scientists from many nations working independently for decades and showing the same results. It’s been done with ice cores, deep ocean sediment cores (thousands and thousands of them), peat bogs, rat middens (a big gross if you ask me), sediment cores from lakes and swamps, the pollen record, tree ring records, the white cliffs of Dover and other carboniferous deposits, stalactite and stalagmite deposits in caves, limestone deposits, and a few more I’m sure I can’t remember off the top of my head. But all these different deposits show the same trend, higher CO2 results in higher temperature. Sure there are a few that don’t show the correlation, and a few that show the opposite, that’s what makes science great, the differences that we try to figure out. There are also some research projects that show weird things with gravity, but I still work under the assumption that my airplane will descend when I run out of fuel, I count on gravity being there. There are some places where CO2 lags temperature for a period of time, but that usually is due to oceanic influences as both a heat sink and CO2 sink, or a combination going one way or the other. I’ll include some links at the bottom of papers that show such results if you’re interested in learning more.

            Now, on a more fundamental level than the research mentioned above, the fundamental physics also demonstrates a correlation between CO2 and temperature. This gets back into the black body radiation along with Rayleigh and Mie scattering along with infrared radiation. But as I mentioned before, the earth radiates energy and different gases absorb and re-emit that energy at different wavelengths. I won’t go into the physics, it’s easily found on the web, but it’s fairly straight forward and again petabytes of data supporting the fact that CO2 is something that helps keep our planet habitable by keeping it warm.

            As for papers, here are a few (if you don’t like Nature, there are dozens of other options), you can also google that list of things above to find other interesting ways paleoclimatologists have found evidence of past climate conditions. If you think three links isn’t enough let me know, and I can include several hundred more.




          • Laughably narrow column width achieved! Interestingly the Reply button disappears beyond this depth, else I would have replied. Who isn’t on a device that supports a 16:9 or close-to aspect ratio?

            Anyway, good discourse!

        • @johnphi – Once again thank you for the good info and resources. These are fascinating subjects and it’s certainly unfortunate that they have become politicized to the point that their results are viewed though such a predetermined lens.

          @YK – Yes, the amount of horizontal white space at this point is ridiculous for four words per column! At least they have recently updated such that longer usernames (like my own) are displayed correctly instead of just showing as a dot. Thanks, AvWeb!

      • It’s quite typical in our day and time to consider critical thinkers as uneducated, unread and dilusional, as long as they do not comply with the mainstream view in matters like climate, the War in Ukraine, Covid 19 Vaccine, impeachment of President Trump, the Southern Border crisis, and the failure of the «Biden» policies.
        If high altitude mountain vave research has so many environmentally significant benefits, its somwhat puzzling that Neither NASA, Boeing or Lokheed Martin are doing the same as Airbus?
        In the meantime, Akaflieg-Akademische Fliegergruppe in Germany, works to improve the understanding of Reynolds number effect on glider performance, and other advanced aviation research.

        • It’s pretty obvious from reading the comments here who is a critical thinker and who is just throwing out uneducated questions in a wild Gish Gallop.

          Most of us just assume folks still using hotmail are uneducated. (joking!)

      • Okay, good, you have read about the Carboniferous era. And by referencing it I guess you’re acknowledging that when CO2 levels are higher, atmospheric temperature is also higher, which is a good first step into accepting fundamentals of physics. I assume you have also read about the fossil record of the time and see that there was abundant plant life, in fact higher latitudes looked like southern Louisiana, a beautiful place with lots of amazing flora and fauna.

        Now during the Carboniferous (not my specialty, I was more of a Quaternary ice core kind of person, though did dabble in early Cambrian trilobites as an undergrad), was CO2 a trace gas? The answer is yes, it was a trace gas. Peaking in the 2000 ppm levels (give or take), it was much higher than today, but still a trace gas.

        So I guess I’m missing the point when you say look up the Carboniferous era (I admit, I didn’t look it up, just going off a very rusty memory of 40 years). But if your point was that we would all be better off living in the swamps of southern Louisiana, then I would have to disagree since my PB&J requires fields that aren’t quite as swampy. And I’m a fan of snow in the winter, so also a pass.

        But let’s keep going, I like spreading the word about science.

        • Let me frame this in completely different words since I seem to be agitating people.
          There may be a megatrend underway where the plant life eats up all the CO2 in the atmosphere, it gets buried underground, photosynthesis stops and Earth becomes a desert planet. It has nothing to do with people, we wouldn’t have caused it and we couldn’t do much to stop it. You don’t have to believe this is happening but I suspect that it might be. Given that, you might see how I would find the whole carbon-free movement to be colossally wrong-headed. Justin Hull thinks I don’t care about the future but that’s kind of laughable. I’m thinking about the far future.

        • So you bring up a good question, or hypothesis. If it were my hypothesis the first thing I would do is ask if there is any data to support it. So I would look for evidence that shows any kind of a trend of all the CO2 being consumed by plants and being buried underground. Now normally when a plant consumes CO2 and converts it into carbohydrates, the majority of that mass is in the form of plant material above ground (think trees and shrubs and the amount of mass above vs. under ground). So when that tree dies, it falls over and over time it decays and that CO2 is released back into the atmosphere. So it’s a challenge to get it to be stored underground.

          Of course there is a way if we were in a really swampy environment, with an anaerobic deposition area like at the bottom of a lake or swamp, and that dead plant matter fell there and kept piling up. We would eventually get coal or oil, so that would be one way to get the carbon from CO2 buried underground. Thankfully we don’t have evidence in the fossil record of that happening at such a level that it caused desertification planet wide.

          So the next thing I would look for is data supporting the idea that it might be happening now. Thankfully there are thousands of places around the planet measuring the levels of all the molecules that make up our atmosphere (including airliners). And of course particular attention is paid to CO2, so it is measured a lot. And every one of those measurements shows the same thing, that over the past several hundred years, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has been increasing, and has been really increasing in the past 150 years.

          So there isn’t any evidence that there is a current trend of CO2 being eaten up by the plants and burying it underground based on the evidence we have taken directly for 100+ years, or indirectly for longer (see other post above).

          Now that’s not to say that it couldn’t happen. There isn’t any physics, biology or chemistry that says it couldn’t happen, so you’re accurate in thinking it’s possible. We just don’t see any evidence that it is happening right now. And in fact we do see abundant data that the opposite is happening, namely that there is less CO2 being stored underground and more being stored in the atmosphere (though there is more being stored in the oceans as well).

          Okay, enough fun science for today, I hope we can continue this in the future. Maybe we talk about the whether shock cooling is real or not next time, it also involves some good physics and thermodynamics and the atmosphere.

          • Really well said, @johnphi – both here and your other comments in this thread. Thanks for doing the work of communicating good sense.

      • I am baffled when climate change deniers pull up the argument, “but yeah, there was more CO2 back then and it was warmer and well…see, getting warmer ain’t so bad right?”

        The problem I have with this position is that back in the day, there were no humans around. Just your normal dino’s and other fauna/flora and they weren’t recording just how many of them were dying off or struggling. Thing is, today we have over 8 billion humans on the planet and by now even some of the more rabid deniers at least tacitly agree humans help heat the planet, but again you may say, “So what”.

        Well the what is found in *what* do you do with the people displaced off their island nation as sea levels rise (happening right now). *What* do you do with cities and their populations on low lying coasts that are losing real estate to flooding and displacing people (regards Miami for one). *What* do you do when heat changes move growing seasons to too early and create long term drought in bread basket states (look at the mid-west and talk to most farmers).

        Even aviation becomes effected by you’re “so what” as commercial schedules get more disrupted by severe weather changes and GA loses ground to weather.

        Dennis, you’re 69 (as you state) and maybe you just don’t care about the future that much since as a male, statistics are leaning against you. I’m 62 so I face the same numbers, but the big difference is that I actually care about the future. I don’t have children, but I feel so bad when I see a < 20 YO for thanks to your thinking as represented by a large minority, they get to live in a worse world then you got. Your generation gave them that future.

        I love what this group is trying to do and how they promote the future of aviation. If they can better perfect such a glider then it may be that one day humans may be able to actually fly on Mars. Stop living in the Dinosaur days and maybe, just maybe start looking towards the future, if you can handle it.

        • You seem to be arguing against someone else. It’s amazing what people read into a few words that don’t echo the dogma.

  4. Kudos to the Perlan team… true explorers who are putting their lives on the line to advance aviation and science. Those who would belittle their efforts are missing the point. Gathering stratospheric data informs better engineering and public policy.

    I founded and led a company that commissioned the long duration high altitude HALO Proteus in the 90’s and lack of atmospheric data above FL500 was a significant challenge. It is hard to gather data there, especially vertical mixing over longer time.

    Despite those who would denigrate the work of atmospheric scientists, this benefits all of us.

    Good luck and fly safe, Perlan!

    • “those who would denigrate the work of atmospheric scientists”
      Wow, that is a stretch like a mile long bungee cord. How did you get there?

  5. So far in this article and the the comments after, none have pointed out
    that this glider research is a poor example of decarbonization of aviation.
    The Perlan 2 Glider is towed up by a very large Turbo Prop Jet A guzzling
    aircraft. Its towed from nearly sea level to 50,000’ then released.

    Its not even virtual signaling to call this an example of decarbonization
    of aviation, its far worse so I wont name it.

    However, this blunder by the sponsors of Perlan 2 should not reflect on the
    important and incredible accomplishments of the Perlan 2 team. The records
    they have and will set are monumental in aviation. The data collected will
    help us in ways unknown as yet, maybe even fly on Mars. Any sponsor only
    need to point out these scientific virtues and skip the politics.

  6. Hilarious, Now I’ve a whole buncha stuff to contemplate during my next 1-26 lift. Goof central

  7. Imagine if they issued a press release that said “We are doing this because we have some extra bucks to burn, and this looks like it will be fun to do”. Companies always like to portray themselves as serving some kind of humanitarian purpose. There is a reason all press releases will eventually be written by ChatGPT. They tend to be formulaic and predictable. Maybe, all news releases should be accompanied by the line “The usual people said the usual things”.

  8. Its not a mystery how the Perlan 2 is launched. Last year at OSH Airventure
    show center, in full view of thousand’s, Perlan 2 did a demonstration flight.
    The who’s who of aviation, press and politicians were all there.

  9. Thinking about human carbon emissions (i have no scientific education)i wondered what my own thoughts were(no formal religious education).I think the human race isn’t as powerful a force(weather negative or positive)as we sometimes think.I believe there is another power ,based on the creation belief.

    • I too have no scientific education, though I do have some religious education. Genesis 3 tells a pretty good story of the power of poor human choices and the effect those choices had on the environment at large. My creation belief doesn’t stop me from believing the scientists who are, in fact, experts in their field – unlike you or me.

  10. Using the natural energy that the wind provides, “dynamic soaring” by remote control, slope gliders has allowed them to achieve a record 548 mph without the use of any on board thrust engine. Smart use of the wind and observation of soaring birds provided the impetus to achieve such speeds. It’s quite an impressive feat but purely academic as it solves no long-term issues (nor does it claim to). A lot of proposed science experiments fall under the same category, like producing an actual perpetual motion machine. Impressive, but no energy is produced to do work and remains a child’s toy.
    True breakthroughs are yet to be had in the area of clean, practical energy. People are always parading EV’s as the answer, but a closer look reveals issues that are not so easy to surmount. Governments, though, are quick to hop on board and set future mandates and penalties for those that won’t get on board with the current thinking. Politicians aren’t scientists and they’ve yet proven to be anything but a hindrance in their attempts to make any real improvements to life on earth.
    I agree with science but also look for the practicality and cost considerations behind the latest and greatest planet-saving ideas. When a truly meaningful breakthrough comes, it’ll be common knowledge to everyone, not just the readers of scientific journals.

  11. Does anyone know where the evil CO2 in the dino-juice came from? Wasn’t it removed from the atmosphere by the very plants that eventually made the dino-juice.

    Or am I committing the politically-incorrect and non-woke act of rational thought?