Michelin’s aviation division enables research plane to soar

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The award-winning Airbus Perlan Mission II – a non-profit organization comprising volunteer pilots, engineers and scientists – is developing soaring technologies and testing stratospheric air launch operations to study weather patterns and atmospheric chemistry with the goal of improving flights. Perlan 2’s record-breaking ascents have been able to continue thanks to a recent collaboration with Michelin aviation engineers.

Attaining its first world record in 2006 at 50,722ft with a non-pressurized sailplane (Perlan 1), the pressurized Airbus Perlan 2 sailplane – first flown in 2015 – reached new heights on September 2, 2018, above Patagonia, Argentina, when the research plane soared to 76,124ft pressure altitude over the Andes, becoming the highest manned subsonic airplane flight in history. This flight topped the Lockheed U-2’s record from 1989.

In February 2019, Airbus Perlan Mission II chief pilot Jim Payne contacted Michelin with a critical tire issue. The wheel-mounted tire was losing air pressure when exposed to -76°C (-105°F) temperatures in the stratosphere. Michelin aviation engineers studied the issue and suggested moving to a tubeless tire with the appropriate load rating for the glider: the Michelin Aviator. Working with a local tire distributor, Michelin arranged for a set of tires to be shipped, so the plane could conduct test flights.

“The 10-ply Michelin tire was outstanding in El Calafate, Argentina,” said Jim Payne. “We flew six flights above 40,000ft with the highest being 65,000ft and never had a flat tire on landing!”

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Based in Calgary, Alberta, Graham is a former editor of Tire Technology International. Now working freelance, his other outlets include Autocar, Professional Motorsport World, TractionLife.com and Autosphere.ca. He’s a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), the Guild of Motoring Writers and the Motor Press Guild.

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