Aviation news analysis
50 SKY SHADES - World aviation news

Airbus sets sights on the stratosphere with glider flight

Download: Printable PDF Date: 08 May 2016 23:31 category:
Airbus sets sights on the stratosphere with glider flight - Manufacturer publisher
Tatjana Obrazcova
Country: United States Aircraft: Airplanes
Source: LiveMint

The flight aims to test how well an aircraft and its crew can fare in conditions similar to those on Mars, with thin atmosphere and cold temperatures.

Airbus completed a test flight Saturday of a glider set to eventually travel to the edge of space, in a pioneering step into the stratosphere.

The Perlan 2’s flight, from an airstrip in the western US state of Nevada, took place two hours after the planned 1:45 (2045 GMT) start time due to heavy rain.

It lasted just a few minutes—instead of 30 minutes to two hours as scheduled—because the aircraft is considered more efficient in dry weather, according to chief pilot Jim Payne.

“It was short,” said chief executive Tom Enders, who served as co-pilot, said after exiting the plane. “Because of the clouds, we couldn’t see any more otherwise we would still be up there.”

The flight, part of a series in recent months from the mountainous area just east of the Lake Tahoe resort, aims to test how well an aircraft and its crew can fare in conditions similar to those on Mars, with extremely thin atmosphere and bitterly cold temperatures.

Airbus, supporting the Mission Perlan 2 group that launched the ambitious project, aims to test every aspect of the unpowered aircraft, flying it at various speeds and altitudes and subjecting it to different scenarios of stress and vibration.

Its designers hope to show that the lightweight aircraft, with its extremely long, thin wings, is strong enough to resist intense stresses that could destroy a less solid plane.

In the end, only stability, speed and efficiency were tested, as the plane flew at just 7,000 feet (2,130 meters) for its brief journey.

“The airplane is very stable. We got what we called dead beat response, so the way we like it,” said Payne.

Designers, drawing on computerized simulations, plan to induce high-frequency vibrations to the wings to see if the glider itself can contain those vibrations at safe levels.

Ed Warnock, chief executive of the Perlan group, said his team wants to test whether it is possible for the crew to breathe only the air inside the craft without condensation damaging instruments or causing windows to fog up. “We have to control it,” he said.

The Perlan 2 project has pulled together top aerospace experts and aviation engineers to develop its space glider. Airbus, which hopes to build planes capable of flying at altitudes above those now used—potentially saving time and fuel—is earmarking up to $4 million for the project, making it one of the largest investors.

The glider, with a wing span of 90 feet and a weight of only 1,800 pounds (815 kilograms), is designed to ride updrafts to an altitude of up to 90,000 feet, even though air density at that height is only 2% what it is at sea level.

The craft’s cabin is supposed to maintain pressure equal to that at 15,000 feet, saving the crew from having to wear bulky flight suits, Airbus said.

Perlan 2 also aims to collect atmospheric data useful in fighting climate change as it travels to the edge of space.

The Perlan team hopes the test flight this weekend will keep it on track to break the previous altitude record of 85,000 feet set in 1976 by the SR-71 Blackbird, a US Air Force reconnaissance plane built by Lockheed, Warnock said.

The attempt will come after the Perlan 2 team moves to Argentina later this year.

Air currents there have been powerfully bolstered by the polar vortex all the way to the stratosphere, and currents rising from the Andes are particularly strong.

The air drafts that carry a craft like Perlan 2 skyward are strongest in mountainous regions.

However, said Warnock, “We can’t take the plane to Argentina until we know it’s perfectly safe.”

Europe’s Airbus group, by supporting a project that harks back to the golden age of space exploration, has hoped to link its name to the sort of innovative aerospace work being carried out by the American billionaires Elon Musk (SpaceX and Tesla) and Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin, Amazon) as they duel to develop new launch vehicles.

To get a craft and pilots weighing a total of roughly a ton “to the edge of space without using any rocket fuel,” said Warnock, “that’s innovative.”

Loading comments for Airbus sets sights on the stratosphere with glider flight...


Diamond Aircraft and SNCA announce purchase agreement of 60 aircraft

The Saudi National Company of Aviation (SNCA), a CAE Authorized Training Center, has selected Diamond Aircraft twin DA42-VI and single DA40 NG for its training center. The agreement will comprise 60 a...

MJet becomes first ACJ customer for Skywise

MJet GmbH of Austria has become the first ACJ319 operator to sign up for Skywise, enabling it to integrate its own operational, maintenance, and aircraft data into the Skywise platform. MJet will stor...

Gothenburg Landvetter Airport welcomes Qatar Airways’ Inaugural Flight

Qatar Airways’ first non-stop flight from Doha to Gothenburg, Sweden landed at Gothenburg Landvetter Airport, marking the airline’s second gateway into Sweden. Qatar Airways flight 177, op...

New flights to Tashkent, Uzbekistan from London, Paris and Frankfurt for Summer 2019 by Air Astana

Air Astana, the Skytrax award-winning national carrier of Kazakhstan, is pleased to offer new through flights to Tashkent, Uzbekistan via its Astana hub from London Heathrow, Frankfurt and Paris CDG f...