The Perlan Project has one bold and ambitious mission: to soar higher than any fixed wing manned aircraft has flown—all the way to 90,000 feet. The flight will use atmospheric waves extending up through and beyond the stratosphere. Such waves are produced when a high altitude jet stream that circles the polar regions (the Polar Vortex) interacts with mountain ridge systems.
In the Southern Hemisphere, the Argentine Andes extend to near the southern tip of South America and are aligned north-south. During the Southern Hemisphere winter, the high altitude winds of the southern polar vortex blow almost perpendicular to the southern Andes, which makes Argentina the ideal location for the Perlan Project.
A sailplane designed to fly at such extraordinary altitudes will encounter conditions quite unlike those at lower altitudes; therefore, a completely new aircraft design is required that takes into account the extremely low pressure and the resulting aerodynamics and human factors.
Greg Cole, founder and chief designer of Windward Performance, is a key member of the Perlan team. Windward has designed and is building the Perlan aircraft under Greg's direction. Your Café staff caught up with Greg in the exhibit hall at the SSA convention in Reno and asked him to tell us about the project as a whole and the design and construction of the aircraft.