Only 2 days after Airbus Perlan Mission II claimed a new world record, the polar night jet and mountain waves alligned again on 28 August 2018. When we arrived at the hangar we had a unpleasant surprise that the entire airport was without electricity. But Tago worked his magic and procured a generator that could power CapComm with telemetry being a priority. So Jim again said “It’s a go!” and we hustled to get everything ready. Tim and Darlene Gann from Airbus were our on-site good luck “generators.” They got to see it all in action. Jim Payne and Miguel Itrumendi were pilots today. The pre-flight process is high tech and very complex. I keep a checklist of everything that must happen before heading to the runway. The checklist paid for itself today.
The tow out and launch went very smooth. Conditions were breezy, but mostly down the runway, so the Perlan 2 was airborne 13 seconds after the Egrett applied power. Gotta love that! (There will be another blog and video soon of the tow behind the Egrett.) The power came back after launch but that generator allowed for safe operations today.
After release about 42,500 feet Jim and Miguel climbed to top out that “pocket ” of lift. They then penetrated upwind into a stiff headwind of about 75 knots, losing 2,000 feet. However this primary was forecast to go higher. They worked this lift band for several hours mostly finding useable lift that was weak. Miguel got some great photos of the instrument panel in the rear cockpit. The instruments displayed above 65,000 feet pressure altitude. Jim takes very few photos because he is so busy flying. But he did get one of the front panel with frosted eyeball and 2 photos out the right shoulder window.
At these altitudes, due to the thin air, the lift must be increasingly strong to even climb at all. The flight trace looks like spaghetti in areas where lift was forecast. Stick thermals are very exagerated. The barogram trace is included in our photos. The scale on the left side is meters, not feet. So the flight trace shows above 18,000 meters (above 60,000 feet) At 65,000 feet pressure altitude the headwind was 100 knots. No downwind turns or you get quickly blown out of the lift. Tim Gardner correctly said we don’t leave established lift until it tops out. Tim said “If the lift is not there downwind then it’s game over.” After the high point we vectored the Perlan 2 towards the FORECAST stronger secondary above 60,000 feet. There was no confirmation of lift when they passed through that air. This is the kind of real data that can be used to tweak the forecast models.
As the Perlan 2 descended they did some more data runs for flutter vibration testing. The glider got warmer and the frost on the eyeball windows could be scraped off. The sun angle was still in his eyes as Jim put Perlan 2 on the runway facing west. The tire was flat as expected. We had to get off the runway quickly as a commercial flight was imminent. Perhaps we can get jobs as NASCAR pit crews next year?
We celebrated back at the hangar with the entire team. Have no doubt, this is a team effort all the way. Then we gathered for a celebration dinner in El Calafate at La Tabilita.
Perlan Soars High! Jackie