By Beau Eastes

The Bulletin


The flight plan to 90,000 feet starts in Redmond.

The maiden voyage of the Perlan 2, an experimental glider that hopes to eventually reach 90,000 feet, came off without a hitch Wednesday morning at the Redmond Airport. Pilots Jim Payne and Morgan Sandercock flew the 1,800-pound sailplane 5,000 feet above ground once the glider was released from its tow plane. Total air time for the first flight of the Airbus Perlan 2 Mission — the international aviation giant is sponsoring the project — was about 35 minutes.

“This really fits in with the DNA of Airbus,” said Allan McArtor, the CEO of Airbus Group, the company’s North American business division. “The Perlan Project is about exploration, innovation and pushing the envelope. It’s exploring new boundaries.”

Officials from Airbus and the Perlan Project, an international volunteer team of scientists, engineers, pilots and aviation aficionados, next plan to take the Perlan 2 to San Diego for more ground testing before heading to Nevada later in the year for higher altitude flights. Eventually, using stratospheric mountain waves, Perlan 2 looks to go as high as 90,000 feet, which would blow past the fixed-wing aircraft altitude record of 50,722 feet set by Perlan Project founder Einar Enevoldson and his co-pilot and noted adventurer, Steve Fossett, in 2006.

“This is pretty cool,” said Redmond City Councilor Joe Centanni, one of several dozen invited guests who watched the flight from the airfield. “I don’t think people realize what’s going on out here. Not just this flight, but what’s happening at the airport in general.”

Wednesday’s flight, which was covered by media outlets from across the globe, shined a bright light on Redmond’s emerging aviation sector. The Perlan Project chose the Redmond Airport for its first flight in large part because of its relationship with RDD, an aviation research and design firm in Redmond. RDD, located at the airport, assembled the multimillion dollar Perlan 2 — officials only said “millions” when asked how much the glider cost — over the past 14 months.

“Probably 99 percent of our customers are outside of the Central Oregon region,” said RDD co-owner Mark Mahnke. “In our industry, a lot of business comes from word of mouth. That’s what builds our customer base. A special project like this helps.”

The vision of former NASA test pilot Enevoldson, the Perlan Project looks to expand on the limited knowledge of aviation at altitudes beyond 60,000 feet. As commercial flights climb higher and higher, research from the Perlan 2 could be invaluable, officials said. Also, the stratospheric heights the Perlan 2 aims to hit are similar to conditions on Mars.

“The sky’s not the limit,” said McArtor, the head of Airbus’ North American unit. “The sky is where we’re at now. … This project will open up the sky to new dimensions.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7829,