Talk about serendipity.
Einar Enevoldson was strolling past a scientist’s office in 1991 when he noticed a freshly printed image tacked to the wall. He was thunderstruck; it showed faint particles in the sky that proved something he had long believed:
The winds that rise off mountains travel far, far higher into the atmosphere than most people imagined, representing something of an “elevator” to the heavens.
It was an “a-ha!” moment for Enevoldson, a renowned test pilot and engineer. He soon began sketching out plans for a manned glider that could ride those winds toward the edge of space.
His 24-year quest inched closer to reality earlier this month when Enevoldson’s glider — Perlan 2 — underwent stress testing at ATA Engineering in San Diego. The company is helping to evaluate whether the sailplane, which is lighter than a Honda Fit, could climb to 90,000 feet.
That would obliterate the current altitude record for gliders, which was set in 2006 when Enevoldson and fellow pilot Steve Fossett rose to 50,727 feet during a lazy climb through the skies above Argentina.
After Fossett died in a 2007 plane crash, the project limped along until Airbus, the European airplane consortium, began providing support in 2014.
Enevoldson, who spent decades as an Air Force fighter pilot and NASA test pilot, oversees a team that will try to break the record next year. Once again, the attempt will be made in Argentina, only this time Enevoldson won’t be in the cockpit. He’s 83 now, and has health problems.
“It’ll prove that I’m right; you can really ride these mountain waves to great heights,” Enevoldson said, standing next to an aircraft.