American and Australian pilots in the two-seat Perlan II broke on 3 September soared to an GPS-recorded altitude of 52,172ft over southern Argentina, breaking the 11-year-old record of 50,700ft set by a different pair of pilots in the Perlan I at the same location.
American pilot Jim Payne and Australian pilot Morgan Sandercock soared in the pressurised Perlan II – a feature lacking in the Perlan I – using the lifting power of a high-altitude jetstream flowing into a tidal wave-like wind current flowing high over the Andes mountains in Argentina’s Patagonia region.
In the 6h flight from El Calafate, Argentina, Payne and Sandercock used the mountain wave to lift the Perlan II up to nearly 40,000ft, then found the jetstream current to soar higher into the stratosphere without engines.
The record-breaking moment comes three years after Airbus decided to join as a sponsor of the $7 million project. The Perlan II attempted to break the record from El Calafate in a two-month campaign last year, but returned to the project’s home base in Minden, Nevada, without success.
Although the team broke the record, the Perlan II is optimised to fly at even higher altitudes with a theoretical limit of 91,000ft. The team will continue flying in El Calafate until 13 September, seeking out right combination of mountain wave currents and jetstream-like effects to set new records.