Space has an edge? Probably that’s where the world ends. There are many questions that I would like to ask scientists about the space and other planets. Many theories about the two never make sense to me. Well, Chief pilot Jim Payne is planning an adventurous mission to space with a glider. A glider is a heavier-than-air aircraft that is supported in flight by the dynamic reaction of the air against its lifting surfaces, and whose free flight does not depend on an engine.
The pilot and his colleague have a plan that sounds crazy given the fact that they are using a glider. They are planning to soar between 90,000 and 100,000 feet in July 2016. That’s higher than the U.S. spy planes U-2 and SR-71 and 40,000 feet higher than any human has reached in a glider. CNN reports that it’s also higher than any other piloted winged aircraft has flown in sustained flight. Balloons have floated higher, and experimental U.S. government “X-planes” have zoomed higher, but Perlan 2 will be up there for hours.
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“At that height, stars are visible even during the day,” Payne said. “It’ll be a lot of fun, that’s for sure.”
The glider will be towed into the air by another powered aircraft. When Perlan 2 detaches from the tow plane, Payne and his co-pilot will be on their own for six to eight hours. Getting to 90,000 feet will be tricky. The team plans to use the polar vortex and a related weather phenomenon called the stratospheric polar night jet to ascend higher and higher.
“As the wind comes over the mountains, it puts a wave in the air perpendicular to the mountains, like a rock puts a wave in a stream,” Payne said.
Apparently, the glider gives pilots comfort despite the fact that it’s small. “It’s very comfortable,” Payne said. “Flying these long missions, you’re continuously analyzing what’s going on around you: the weather, the wind currents, the air traffic control situation and so on, so time goes by pretty fast.”
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The plane has a wingspan of 84 feet, weighs 1,800 pounds and will hit a maximum speed of about 280 mph. At that speed, the glider’s airspeed indicator will show only 36 knots (about 41 mph) because of the ultra-thin air at 90,000 feet.
The plane assures occupants security in case of an emergency. Payne would pull a parachute that would quickly drop the plane to a lower altitude. Then, a recovery parachute would deploy, gently lowering Perlan 2 to the ground.
The trip will be essential to engineers and scientists because scientific equipment fixed in the aircraft will gather data to study weather and atmospheric phenomena. Engineers may use that information to learn more about how aircraft perform in very thin air. The data gathered from the expedition will help design an aircraft that could fly on planets with ultra-thin atmospheres, such as Mars.