Mechanical engineer and glider pilot Morgan Sandercock was working for a coal mining company when he saw a talk on the “Perlan Project”, which changed the course of his life.
“The Perlan Project is a high altitude glider project exploring the stratosphere with a glider in an unusual weather condition called the polar vortex, which only occurs close to the poles in the winter time,” Mr Sandercock said.
“We think that gives us extremely high altitudes, over 100,000ft.”
Mr Sandercock is now the project manager for the Perlan Mission and a member of the Board of Directors. He relocated to the USA in 2012 to work on the project full time.
“We’ve built a glider now which we think will go as high as 90,000ft, which is higher than the SR-71 spy plane ever flew,” he said.
Having taken up gliding in 1998, Mr Sandercock now has more than 2000 hours, plus an instructor rating in Australia. Alongside the Perlan Project, he also manages the maintenance of gliders for Dennis Tito, the world’s first private astronaut.
Mr Sandercock does a lot of flying in Argentina, where the conditions Perlan is exploring can be found. Many of his flights reach about 2000km.
Speaking to the Gliding Federation of Australia at the World Gliding Championships in Benalla, he said the Perlan glider was similar to the aircraft being flown in the competition, with their long, skinny wings.
“We have the wing profile designed for that very thin air,” Mr Sandercock said.
“We’re looking at air so thin it’s the same density as the air on Mars, and we also have a pressure cabin to keep the pilots alive at that high altitude.
“Everything else we’re trying to keep as standard and conventional as possible so the normal reactions if anything goes wrong, standard glider pilot training will be the right training.”
You can find out more at www.PerlanProject.org.