Aeronautics at the Limit

András Sóbester

STRATOSPHERIC FLIGHT: Aeronautics at the Limit The stratosphere is the highest layer of Earth's atmosphere where aircraft can still fly. The density of the air is just high enough here to generate lift on a wing or buoyancy on a balloon, so designing any stratospheric aircraft is a delicate technological balancing act for the engineer. Designing and operating an aircraft capable of conveying humans to the stratosphere is more challenging still: biologically, we simply do not belong up there. Temperatures are often as low as -80°C and an ambient pressure rapidly diminishing with altitude make for an extremely forbidding environment. In fact, as we pass 50,000 feet (the lower end of Concorde's cruising altitude range), we enter the space equivalent zone - from a physiological point of view we might as well be in low Earth orbit.

The fact that stratospheric flight is possible at all - moreover, even safe and economical, at least in the lower stratosphere - is due to some relatively recent advances in our understanding of the science of high altitude flight. This book charts some of these developments; at the same time, it is a catalog of ways in which the stratosphere can catch out even the well-prepared flyer. Naturally, the failures of early explorers have signposted many of these dangers, but, as regular news headlines and the series of vignettes that appear in the book illustrate, the learning curve has not leveled off; if has merely become shallower. Stratosphereic flight is still aviation at the limit.

Table of Contents

About the author
Millimeters of mercury

I In a hostile environment
1. A sense of not belonging
2. Comfort zone

II New heights of flight
3. A tale of two Comets
4. Higher
5. Faster
III 'Above the weather'
6. Deep freeze
7. Rivers of air
8. Rough ride
9. A gray area

IV Where next?
10. Higher still


III Appendices
11. Unit conversions
12. Temperature profiles around the globe


Extent: 240 pages, full colour throughout
Binding: Paperback
Published:July 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4419-9457-8

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