The flight altitude record for a non-rocket aircraft belongs to the SR-71 Blackbird. In 1976, the military jet was the first to soar higher than 85,000 feet. Nearly 40 years later it looks like that record may finally be broken by an aircraft with significantly less engine power.
The makers behind Airbus' Perlan 2 believe their glider is capable of reaching altitudes of 90,000 feet using nothing but the force of rising currents. Wave lift is a phenomenon that occurs when high-strength winds pass over mountain ranges; the upward velocities can grow so high that they'd theoretically have the potential to send the Perlan 2 higher than any plane has ever flown.
The aircraft’s two pilots will be fed oxygen through a rebreather, a device that recycles breathing air and infuses it with pure oxygen. Reaching altitudes of that height will offer a unique opportunity to study the highest level of the stratosphere, and the glider will be equipped with scientific instruments to gather data and collect samples of the ozone layer. The air density at that altitude is also similar to the atmosphere on Mars, so the flight could give us an idea of how planes or helicopters would fare on the red planet.
After being towed by a plane to gain some initial altitude, the Perlan 2 successfully flew for the first time last week when it soared 5,000 feet over Oregon. The ambitious team behind the glider plans to have it flying 90,000 feet over the Andes in Argentina within the next year.