High Altitude Glider Project



Launch 1
Digesting 1

Launch 2
Digesting 2

Launch 3
Digesting 3

Launch 4

Launch 5




Mark II is nearing completion (well, it's at least within sight)

What Is It? 

A small, self-guided glider, designed to fly at very high altitudes.  The glider is carried up by its tail with a helium weather balloon to altitudes of up to 85,000 feet above sea level, and then released to fly back to the launch point.  During the flight, it transmits down navigation data, some sense data, and low-res digital photos.  It can also carry a 35mm film camera, or other instruments.

Why Build It?

Because it can be done, and because it's cool.  The combination of weather balloon, GPS, and R/C sailplane technology makes it possible.  The incredible altitudes obtainable with a weather balloon make it irresistible!  Above 60,000 feet, the sky is black, the horizon is curved, and incredible speeds are obtainable in the frigid, near-vacuum environment.

Vehicles similar to this one could also be used in future for upper-atmosphere research, allowing small science payloads to be launched to up to 100,000 feet, and reliably recovered the same day.  However, the maximum instrument load able to be carried without a Transport Canada waiver would be about 1 kg.  The glider would also then require a commercial frequency for telemetry, among other complications.

However, the glider described on this website has been developed for education / recreation, and thus would not be suitable for science payloads in its current form.  This project has provided an excellent means to learn hands-on application of automated navigation and control, telemetry, and real-time software methods, in addition to high-reliability, safety-critical software development standards.

Is there any danger to aviation?

The short answer is no; there is very little risk to larger aircraft.  According to an MIT study, the risk of a small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle such as this being hit by a jetliner is on the order of 1 in 1 billion per UAV flight hour.  The risk to light aircraft, in a relatively busy area such as the Fraser Valley, is higher, but can be made easily below the risk light aircraft pose to each other.  For the long answer, please read further.


A Proposal for Simple, Parachute-Based Landing Site Control


Project development and website publication are by Art Vanden Berg


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Text and images copyright 2002, Art Vanden Berg 
All Rights Reserved.
Last updated: June 20, 2005.