Perlan Project - People, backgrounds, mysteries

The Perlan Project – People, background and mysteries

Jennifer Weitbrecht
2 pictures
8 minutes

A selection of competent scientists, pilots, adventurers and sponsors have come together to achieve something big which will, without doubt, change the world. But who are these people? Which gliders can cope at heights with less than two percent of the air density at sea level? What are the mysteries that remain unexplained? And which scandals are wrapped up in the project? We will share this with you! We have already covered the successes of Perlan Mission I and Mission II in other articles.

Who is behind the Perlan Project?

Einar Enevoldson – Founder and Chairman of the Board

We owe the Perlan Project to the passionate glider pilot, Einar Enevoldson. You can find out more about his idea and the birth of the project in this WingMag entry.

Steve Fossett

Steve Fossett was an American billionaire, regatta sailor and aviation pioneer. His stated goal was to do all of the important things for the first time. During Mission I, he glided to the record altitude achieved during this research segment along with Einar Enevoldson – 15,460 meters.

Following the success of Perlan Mission I, and the consequent confirmation of Enevoldson’s thesis, Steve Fossett announced that he was prepared to support Perlan Mission II financially. Amongst other things, the money was intended for developing a pressurised cabin for the special aircraft to enable a flight up to 27,432 metres (90,000 feet) to take place.

Steve Fossett’s demise was not without consequence for the Perlan Project. The structural and aerodynamic design for the glider’s fuselage and the aerodynamic design for the complete glider had been completed when he died, but as a result of his death, the financial means required to complete Mission II were lost.

We reveal more about his impressive life and the mysterious crash in this article – a man in the superlative.

Dr. Elizabeth Austin

Dr. Elizabeth Austin joined Enevoldon’s research in 1998 and is the current head meteorologist for the Perlan Project.

Austin is also president of WeatherExtreme Ltd., one of the leading authorities in the fields of climate change, forensic and aeronautical meteorology, mountain weather, cloud and ice physics, stratospheric mountain waves and mesoscale atmospheric modelling. The climatological research and consultancy firm’s services include weather forecasting, flooding, tornados, microstorms, thunderstorms, hurricanes, avalanches, aviation projects, natural disasters, climate change, agriculture and forensics. Their customers include NASA, Federal Express, Delta, Air France, Southern California Edison, Rockwell Collins, Time-Warner Cable and the United States Department of Justice.

She is an internationally sought-after lecturer, guest speaker and scientific moderator on key scientific topics in the fields of weather, climate and environment. Awakening a fascination for science and technology in young people is especially close to her heart.

Tomorrow’s scientists start out as today’s children.

Dr. Elizabeth Austin

You can watch an interview with Elizabeth Austin on the Perlan Project here. In it she explains what the polar vortex is and what is happening in the stratosphere.

Jim Payne – Mission II Chief Pilot

Jim Payne is widely seen as one of the most experienced glider pilots in the world and is one of the current Perlan mission’s four pilots.

His ascent began in 1971 at the Air Force Academy where he experienced his first wave flight. In 1974 he left as an exceptional cadet in the field of gliding. He was selected as the first pilot to lead the masters’ programme at the Air Force Institute of Technology with a follow-up contract at the AF Test Pilot School. He declined a full scholarship to Stanford because it was not partnered with the Test Pilot School. Jim taught Flight Test at the United States Air Force Academy and wrote his own textbook as he could not find a good one. He then worked as an advisor for NASA and managed Northrop’s multi-million dollar Global Hawk programme for 10 years. He now works full-time as Chief Pilot for the Perlan Project where he developed and leads the test programme.

Here are a few excerpts from his awards and records:

Morgan Sandercock – Pilot and Sponsor

Following Fossett’s sudden demise, Morgan Sandercock announced that he was prepared to supply the financial means to construct the Perlan II’s fuselage.

Further Pilots 

The two other pilots on the project are Tim Gardner and Miquel A. Iturmendi.

You can find the entire Perlan Project team along with numerous details on people, careers and records here:

The Perlan Project’s sponsors

Dennis Tito – Main Sponsor

The project was able to finally enter the construction phase thanks to Dennis Tito. He joined the project in 2010 as a pilot and main sponsor.

Airbus as Title Sponsor

In July 2014, the Airbus Group became the title sponsor for the Airbus Perlan Mission II.

You can see the project’s other sponsors here.

The Perlan Project’s aircraft

The gliders – Perlan I and Perlan II

We have already covered the Perlan Project’s gliders. Did you know that Perlan I was actually a regular series aircraft? You can find information on Perlan I here and on Perlan II here.

You can see the current Perlan and the Grob Egrett on one of their record flights in this video.

Grob Egrett

The Perlan Team has been using a Grob Egrett as their high-altitude tug aircraft since 11th August 2018. Type G520 aircraft are high altitude research aircraft and reconnaissance aircraft. It was developed in the 1980s in Mindelheim by Grob Airospace. In collaboration with Raytheon and Garret. It has a turboprop engine and was manufactured entirely from composite materials. Five single-seaters and one two-seater have been built to date. The machine was originally developed for the German Air Force and has already taken the Perlan II to great heights. One of the German machine’s advantages is that it has a pressurised cabin and the pilot does not need to wear the high-altitude suit they have to wear in other high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft.

Facts about the Grob Egrett G520

It is the first time in history that a Grob Egrett is being used as a high-altitude tug aircraft for a glider.

You can find out more about the Grob Egrett G520 and its history in this video:

The Grob Egrett and the “amigo affair”

The first Grob Egrett flight took place in 1987 and the prototype was approved in 1991. It was initially developed as a monitoring platform but the project was affected by the so-called amigo scandal at the start of the 1990s.

The “amigo affair” was caused by the Bavarian aircraft manufacturer, Burkhart Grob. It came to light in 1993 that the former Minister-President of Bavaria, Max Streibl, had received contributions from industrial enterprises during his time as the Bavarian Finance Minister. Amongst other things, he was accused of awarding the Senior Guardian electronic warfare project to the German aircraft manufacturer, Burkhard Grob Luft- und Raumfahrt GmbH & Co. KG, based on personal interests. Streibl acknowledged that he had holidayed at the private hacienda belonging to his school friend, Burkhart Grob, and had accepted party donations. He was also accused of arranging large subsidies from the Federal Ministry for Research and Technology and the Landesanstalt für Aufbaufinanzierung [State Institute for Development Financing] for Grob.

The scandal led to the German Federal Armed Forces cancelling the contract, to Max Streibl resigning, and to Grob Aerospace entering insolvency. The company now trades under the name of Grob Aircraft and is taking a chance on a new edition of the Grob Egrett 520 under the designation G520NG, as it still has unique properties.

Cover image © Perlan Project

by Jennifer Weitbrecht

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