Airbus Perlan Mission II set a new world altitude record for a glider last Sunday, soaring to 76,124 feet over Patagonia whilst collecting data on flight performance, weather and the atmosphere.
The mark, set by pilots Jim Payne and Tim Gardner, surpasses the maximum recorded altitude in level flight of a U-2 Dragon Lady spy plane of 73,737 feet, set in 1989.
It was the third time in a week that Perlan II set a new highest altitude, with 63,100 feet reached on 26 August and 65,600 feet reached two days later.
Perlan II is engineless, weighs just 680 kg, and soars on rare stratospheric air currents formed by mountain winds combining with the Polar Vortex.
“World records are gratifying evidence of progress toward a goal, but the goal itself is advancing our knowledge and expertise,” said Tom Enders, Airbus CEO.
“By exploring an underexplored part of the atmosphere, Perlan is teaching us about efficient high-altitude flight, about detecting natural sources of lift and avoiding turbulence, and even about the viability of wing-borne exploration of Mars.
"As a company that makes not just airliners but also high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicles such as Zephyr as well as the Mars rover robotic vehicle, every Perlan flight is an investment in our future.”
The Perlan missions will continue throughout September, with the team also eyeing the altitude record of the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird of 85,069 feet. Perlan II is designed to fly to 90,000 feet if the weather conditions are right.