Gliding to the Edge of Space
Dennis Tito Steps Up to Fund, Fly Perlan Project
A Mockup of the Perlan 2 main fuselage was on display at AirVenture 2010.
August 13, 2010 —Nearly a decade after he became the first private citizen to fly in space, Dennis Tito is looking to go back to the upper stratosphere - this time in a glider. On Monday, August 9, he committed to fund the ongoing construction of the Perlan 2 high-altitude research sailplane. Tito, a soaring enthusiast, will also train to be among the pilot teams for the aircraft.
The Perlan 2 is a pressurized sailplane designed to fly at an altitude of 90,000 feet. The project has three goals: meteorological research, greater understanding of aerodynamics of near space flight, and inspiring children to go into careers in math and science. A mockup of the fuselage was a last-minute addition to AirVenture 2010.
Perlan 2 designer and builder Greg Cole, EAA 1012774, of Windward Performance, Bend, Oregon, was at Oshkosh this year - he and his family camped for the first time - and was encouraged by attendee response to the Perlan 2 mock-up.
“I was really surprised at how well received it was,” Cole said. “But that’s Oshkosh. Everyone is interested and educated about the project. We hope to fly to 90,000 feet with no motor - on piloting skills.”
Retired NASA test pilot Einar Enevoldson started the Perlan Project in 1996 and set the glider altitude record of 50,722 feet in 2006 with Steve Fossett. Since Fossett’s death in 2007, the project had been funded by Australian glider pilot Morgan Sandercock.
Enevoldson discovered data that suggested it might be possible to fly a sailplane to 100,000 feet by riding a mountain wave created by a weather phenomenon known as the “South Polar Vortex” - a ring of high-speed, high-altitude wind circling the South Pole.
Tito flew to the International Space Station in 2001 in a Russian Soyuz capsule, where he spent eight days in orbit. Before founding his financial business, Wilshire Associates, he worked on orbital mechanics as an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He flies his glider in the California Sierra Mountains.
The first flight tests for Perlan 2 are scheduled for spring 2012 in the Sierras, Cole said. If all goes well, the team will head to Argentina for a first record attempt launch in August or September.