The Airbus Perlan Mission II team operates with around 25 volunteers. But not everyone can take 6-8 weeks away from work and families. So we repeatedly say “Hail and Farewell” to inbound and outbound team members. The night of 5 September we welcomed Kristina Messner from Focused Image and bid adios to Bettina Nerb from Airbus. The next morning was to be a fly day. Osvaldo Ferraro arrived from Buenos Aires and presented CEO Ed Warnock with a model of the Perlan and the Egrett – beautiful work!
In the early morning of September 6 the balloon crew lead by Stormi Noll launched their first balloon. It documented how unnaturally calm the air was over El Calafate. But we have been looking for the opportunity to fly in still air to collect performance data on Perlan 2 at various altitudes. Weatherman Dan Gudgel delivered on that “no wind” conditions. Launching into still air means a glider needs a longer wing run before gaining control authority. So Wyll and Bennett raced across the ramp to see who could sprint faster. (It was a tie!) On the ramp we made sure everything was acceptable for a safe flight. Jim Payne and Morgan Sandercock were ready to go.
The wing run by Bennett was exceptional. The long wings of the 85 foot span of Perlan 2 usually catch the prop wash from the Egrett’s turbo prop. This day was no different. Because they wanted to stay in the calmest air the Egrett towed above the lake in clear view of the Lago Argentino AeroClub hangar. This meant we could easily see the Egrett’s contrail from the ramp for the first time ever. There’s a photo, but the ground video in the composite flight video shows the contrail with some wispy cloud behind to highlight the movement. On tow the contrail was highlighted by the sun with Lago Viedma on the nose. After towing to 42,000 feet, release of the red dynema rope through the contrail shows clearly in another photo. The unique backdrop of the Patagonia Andes is spectacular. The composite video from the Egrett looking back at the Perlan 2 and the Perlan 2 tail camera footage are beyond words.
There were 42 test points documented with the almost 2 hour descent from release. One was a quick test of the air brakes with the flutter sensors active. Then Jim’s spiral manuever gave a spectacular twirl over Patagonia. You can see Lago Viedma (El Chalten) quickly followed by the more tourquoise Lago Argentino. The snow capped Andes were as beautiful as ever! Morgan was smooth on the controls and you can hear an air injection while he was flying. Landing was nominal in light winds. Both pilots were happy with the flight after landing. The next day was forecast to be equally calm and beautiful, so a rest day was declared.