This article by Dean Lawson was first publishe in The Weekly Advertiser on Feb 15, 2015

A glider pilot using Horsham Week competition to prepare for world championships later this year hopes to pilot a craft to the edge of space in 2016.

After searching for thermals over the Wimmera-Mallee this week, USA-based Australian engineer Morgan Sandercock will turn his attention back to an adventurous and potentially world record-breaking project.

Mr Sandercock took a moment from a competition briefing session at Horsham aerodrome to explain details of the Airbus Perlan Mission II project, which aims to send a manned glider to an altitude higher than any spy plane.

“My role in the project started with me simply being a contributor and putting money in and securing my seat as one of the pilots,” he said.

“But as time went on it became very important to me and now I’m the full-time project manager.”

A Perlan Mission 1 project in 2006, involving adventurer Steve Fossett and Einar Enevoldson wearing pressurised suits in a standard glider, used stratospheric waves of air to reach 50,671 feet and establish an altitude record for gliders.

Financial support

The Perlan II Mission, with major financial backing from Airbus and the soaring industry, will involve a purpose-built pressurised glider with the potential to reach 90,000 feet.

“If we get to that we’ll be higher than the SR 71 Blackbird,” he said.

The Blackbird has the ‘absolute altitude record’ for sustained flight at 85,069 feet.

Mr Sandercock said the Perlan II would use a polar vortex, a high-speed corridor of wind, and a mountain wave from the southern end of the Andes in Argentina to provide energy and lift for the project.

“The glider will initially be towed off the ground like we’re doing in Horsham, up to about 8000 feet and we’ll be doing like we do in the Wimmera with the Grampians – looking for a wind wave coming over the mountains,” he said.

“A team is preparing a two-seat glider and we’re basically developing the pressurised cabin like a space capsule and everything will be designed around that.

“The air up there has the same density as Mars so the wings will be optimised for lift in a thin atmosphere.

“We will be taking our own air with us.

“We’re building the glider in central Oregon and planning to do the first test flight at the end of July.