The Airbus Perlan 2 glider, the first engineless aircraft that was designed to fly to the edge of space, made history on Wednesday with its maiden flight.
The glider, which was piloted by Morgan Sandercock and Jim Payne, reached the height of 5,000 feet above Oregon’s Redmond Municipal Airport.
The flight, which is being hailed as historic in the field of aviation, is seen as an important step towards the goal of flying 90,000 feet in Argentina next year.
Commercial flights often reach altitudes between 30,000 and 40,000 feet. Once successful with its goal, the Perlan 2 glider will have reached more than two times the higher end of this cruising altitude.
To make this possible, the aircraft is pressurized and needs to be piloted by crews who will breathe pure oxygen through a rebreather system, which is similar to the breathing technology that astronauts use in space.
Ed Warnock, the chief executive officer of the Perlan Project, said that his group is excited about the success of the flight.
Warnock said that the successful test flight marks a breakthrough in terms of innovation in the field of aviation that would make possible the exploration by an aircraft of the atmosphere at the edge of space.
He also said that it could pave the way for new discoveries that would shed light on some of the mysteries of climate change, weather and the depletion of the ozone.
“Part of our goal is to inspire a generation of young people around the world to think that exploration and research are exciting and there’s plenty of adventure to be had,” Warnock said.
The glider comes with equipment capable of conducting observations as well as collecting and sharing data with scientists sans polluting the atmosphere.
The high-flying engineless aircraft is also expected to provide scientists with an improved knowledge on how a similar flying machine could work above the surface of planet Mars since the atmospheric condition in the stratosphere of the Earth, which the glider is set to reach, is similar to that of Mars.
Airbus, which supports the nonprofit research group Perlan Project, is building an ExoMars Rover for the European Space Agency. The company intends to remain a key player in the field of aviation and is keen on learning how to best fly in extreme conditions.