MOJAVE — Glider pilot Jim Payne has flown where few airplane and no other sailplane pilots have gone before: altitudes of more than 75,000 feet.
He set three world records doing so in 2018.
A former Rosamond resident, Payne is chief test pilot for the Perlan Project, which aims to be the first to take a sailplane to the edge of space at 90,000 feet altitude, all while conducting atmospheric research and inspiring the next generation of engineers and pilots with educational outreach efforts.
The project’s pressurized Airbus Perlan II glider is purpose-built for the high-altitude effort, completing progressively higher flights towards the 90,000-foot goal.
To reach the extreme altitudes the project is aiming for, the glider uses the lift expected from the polar vortex off the South Pole.
During the winter at each of the poles, the cold air flowing outward creates wind patterns that carry higher than at other latitudes around the globe. It is believed this vortex can allow them to reach altitudes where no unpowered planes have been before.
To access the polar vortex, the team flies from El Calafate, Argentina, spending what is summer here in the frigid cold of the Southern Hemisphere.
Having recently returned from the project’s 2019 campaign, Payne and his wife Jackie, who serves as logistics chief for the team, will share about the Perlan Project and its latest flights on Saturday at the Mojave Air and Space Port.
The presentation will begin at 11 a.m. in the Board Room, in the Administration Building at the end of Airport Boulevard.
The Paynes’ talk is part of Plane Crazy Saturday, a monthly gathering of aviation enthusiasts presented by the Mojave Transportation Museum Foundation.
The free, family-friendly educational event features a flight line filled with aircraft of varied types and vintages, available for visitors to see up-close.
The event will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission to the flight line with its displays is through the Voyager restaurant, in the Administration building. The restaurant opens for breakfast at 8 a.m.
Dogs and other animals, other than service animals, are not permitted on the flight line.
Aviation and space art, hats, shirts, books and collectibles will be available for sale.
Last year, Payne set an altitude record for a sailplane with a flight to 76,124 feet on Sept. 2, the third such record by the team over the span of a week. It surpassed not only their own earlier feats, but also the maximum altitude flown by U-2 spy plane in 1989.
The two earlier records were on Aug. 26, 2018, to 63,100 feet, beating their own earlier record set in 2017 by nearly 10,000 feet. That Sept. 3, 2017, flight to 52,172 feet altitude had only been verified as a soaring world record four days earlier.
On Aug. 28, Payne and Miguel Iturmendi reached 65,605 feet altitude, surpassing the mark set two days earlier.
All three flights took the glider above the Armstrong Line, the point in the atmosphere above which an unprotected human’s blood will boil without the pressurized aircraft, according to an Airbus release.
While the 2019 campaign was not a record-setter as in the previous year, the seven stratospheric flights demonstrated the Perlan 2 as a an asset for aerospace and meteorological research.
A rare stratospheric weather phenomenon kept the glider from the world-record altitudes of the prior year. However, it did reach as high as 65,000 feet, the third-highest glider flight in history.