Our Perlan Project is to fly a glider into the stratosphere. These attempts will take place in September in southern Argentina. I'm flying with my copilot, Einar Enevoldson; we hope to fly to 62,000 feet.
What is the previous record?
The previous record is 49,000 feet, set by Bob Harris in 1986. He maxed out the altitude record for gliders using normal oxygen equipment—nobody can fly any higher than he flew. Our approach is to use full-pressure suits. They're very much like space suits. We're not restricted on altitude when wearing a full pressure suit.
One of your partners in this is NASA.
We have a Space Act agreement with NASA. We're collecting data and evaluating the turbulence patterns at these high altitudes. Aircraft like Global Hawks and U-2s are much more fragile than our glider and they're very much at risk in these high-altitude wave patterns. We can actually fly into these waves and not be afraid of our glider breaking up.
You’ve tried several times to break this altitude record. What makes it so difficult to do?
We have to fly at the time of the year when this weather pattern occurs, which is late winter. We've made attempts for two seasons in New Zealand, and in each of those seasons there was not a single day in which we had the required weather pattern. We tried for one season in the Sierra Nevada of California. I think that this southern area of Argentina is exactly the right place and we'll have our best chance this year in September.
Of all the adventure "frontiers," why are you now focusing on aviation for your future projects?
I'm very stimulated by aviation and it's a very large field. I can identify things that either haven't been done or records which can be broken. Also I'm not really limited by age. Even at 62 I have, I think, many years in front of me in which I can pursue aviation records.