The Perlan 2 stratospheric glider, an Airbus-sponsored mission, has arrived in Argentina as the Airbus Perlan Mission II team bids to set a new altitude record for sailplanes.

The pressurized Perlan 2 is designed to reach 90,000 ft., but chief pilot Jim Payne is hoping to reach 60,000-65,000 ft. this year, enough to beat the record of 50,727 ft. set by Perlan 1 in 2006.

Perlan 2 has arrived by ship in Mendoza, Argentina, and on July 2 will begin the 2,600-km (1,600 mi.) road trip to El Calafate in Patagonia. From there the glider will be launched to ride standing mountain waves, air currents formed by the Andes, to successively higher altitudes.

The two-seat aircraft is designed to use mountain waves that reach into the stratosphere to achieve wing-supported flight at higher altitude than any previous aircraft, unpowered or powered. This becomes possible when mountain waves interact with the polar vortex.

Airbus is sponsoring the Perlan 2 mission, and providing engineering expertise. One reason is the opportunity to explore the upper atmosphere. “With time, aircraft will have to fly higher” as air traffic grows, Ken McKenzie, SVP strategy and development of Airbus in the US, said.

Graham Warwick/Aviation Week