How High Can You Fly?

On September 3, 2017, a sailplane (glider) made a new altitude record for gliders by soaring in a mountain lee wave* to over 52,000'. Now, while airplanes - especially rockets, that don't depend on air for part of the fuel - have flown higher, remember THIS record was made by taking advantage of nature's own energy.

The glider, known as the Perlan, is a project with substantial funding from Airbus which has been in development for years; their goal is to get to 90,000', literally the edge of space.  The two-place glider has a pressurized hull so that the pilots need not wear space suits.

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  • Ever watch a mountain stream that has rocks on the bottom and fast-moving water? And maybe you also noticed that the ripples on the surface extended downstream from the rock itself?? Well, the same thing happens in air (also a fluid). When the conditions are just right, a wind blowing over the top of some obstacle 'ripples' downwind . . . .and those ripples (waves) go much higher than the obstacle that triggered them - for example, I once flew in such a wave generated by Mt. Mitchell (a little over 6,000' high) in North Carolina to an altitude of almost 23,000' - and was still going up when I broke off the climb to come home.