This listing of flight altitude records are the records set for the highest aeronautical flights conducted in the atmosphere, set since the age of ballooning.
Explorer II gondola, 1935
Some, but not all of the records were certified by the non-profit international aviation organization, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI). One reason for a lack of 'official' certification was that the flight occurred prior to the creation of the FAI.
For clarity, the "Fixed-wing aircraft" table is sorted by FAI-designated categories as determined by whether the record-creating aircraft left the ground by its own power (category "Altitude"), or whether it was first carried aloft by a carrier-aircraft prior to its record setting event (category "Altitude gain", or formally "Altitude Gain, Aeroplane Launched from a Carrier Aircraft"). Other sub-categories describe the airframe, and more importantly, the powerplant type (since rocket-powered aircraft can have greater altitude abilities than those with air-breathing engines).
An essential requirement for the creation of an "official" altitude record is the employment of FAI-certified observers present during the record-setting flight. Thus several records noted are unofficial due to the lack of such observers.
- 1783-08-15: 24m (79ft); Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier of France, the first ascent in a hot-air balloon.
- 1783-10-19: 81m (266ft); Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier, in Paris.
- 1783-10-19: 105m (344ft); Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier with André Giroud de Villette, in Paris.
- 1783-11-21: 1,000m (3,300ft); Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier with Marquis d'Arlandes, in Paris.
- 1783-12-01: 2.7km (8,900ft); Jacques Alexandre Charles and his assistant Marie-Noël Robert, both of France, made the first flight in a hydrogen balloon to about 610m. Charles then ascended alone to the record altitude.
- 1784-06-23: 4km (13,123ft); Pilâtre de Rozier and the chemist Joseph Proust in a Montgolfier.
- 1803-07-18: 7.28km (23,900ft); Étienne-Gaspard Robert and Auguste Lhoëst in a balloon.
- 1839: 7.9km (26,000ft); Charles Green and Spencer Rush in a free balloon.
- 1862-09-05: about 11,000m (36,000ft); Henry Coxwell and James Glaisher in a balloon filled with coal gas. Glaisher lost consciousness during the ascent due to the low air pressure and cold temperature of 11°C (12°F).
- 1901-07-31: 10.8km (35,433ft); Arthur Berson and Reinhard Süring in the hydrogen balloon Preußen, in an open basket and with oxygen in steel cylinders. This flight contributed to the discovery of the stratosphere.
- 1927-11-04: 13.222km (43,380ft); Captain Hawthorne C. Gray, of the U.S. Army Air Corps, in a helium balloon. Gray lost consciousness after his oxygen supply ran out and was killed in the crash.
- 1931-05-27: 15.781km (51,770ft); Auguste Piccard and Paul Kipfer in a hydrogen balloon.
- 1932: 16.201km (53,150ft) -Auguste Piccard and Max Cosyns in a hydrogen balloon.
- 1933-09-30: 18.501km (60,700ft); USSR balloon USSR-1.
- 1933-11-20: 18.592km (61,000ft); Lt. Comdr. Thomas G. W. Settle (USN) and Maj Chester L. Fordney (USMC) in Century of Progress balloon
- 1934-01-30: 21.946km (72,000ft); USSR balloon Osoaviakhim-1. The three crew were killed when the balloon broke up during the descent.
- 1935-11-10: 22.066km (72,400ft); Captain O. A. Anderson and Captain A. W. Stevens (U.S. Army Air Corps) ascended in the Explorer II gondola from the Stratobowl, near Rapid City, South Dakota, for a flight that lasted 8 hours 13 minutes and covered 362 kilometres (225mi).
- 1956-11-08: 23.165km (76,000ft); Malcolm D. Ross and M. L. Lewis (U.S. Navy) in Office of Naval Research Strato-Lab I, using a pressurized gondola and plastic balloon launching near Rapid City, South Dakota, and landing 282km (175mi) away near Kennedy, Nebraska.
- 1957-06-02: 29.4997km (96,784ft); Captain Joseph W. Kittinger (U.S. Air Force) ascended in the Project Manhigh 1 gondola to a record-breaking altitude.
- 1957-08-19: 31.212km (102,400ft); above sea level, Major David Simons (U.S. Air Force) ascended from the Portsmouth Mine near Crosby, Minnesota in the Manhigh 2 gondola for a 32-hour record-breaking flight. Simons landed at 5:32p.m. on August 20 in northeastern South Dakota.
- 1960-08-16: 31.333km (102,800ft); Testing a high-altitude parachute system, Joseph Kittinger of the U.S. Air Force parachuted from the Excelsior III balloon over New Mexico at 102,800ft (31,300m). He set world records for: high-altitude jump; freefall diving by falling 16mi (26km) before opening his parachute; and fastest speed achieved by a human without motorized assistance, 614mph (988km/h).
- 1961-05-04: 34.668km (113,740ft); Commander Malcolm D. Ross and Lieutenant Commander Victor A. Prather, Jr., of the U.S. Navy ascended in the Strato-Lab V, in an unpressurized gondola. After descending, the gondola containing the two balloonists landed in the Gulf of Mexico. Prather slipped off the rescue helicopter's hook into the gulf and drowned.[a]
- 1966-02-02: 37,600m (123,400ft); Amateur parachutist Nicholas Piantanida of the United States with his "Project Strato-Jump" II balloon. Because he was unable to disconnect his oxygen line from the gondola's main feed, the ground crew had to remotely detach the balloon from the gondola. His planned free fall and parachute jump was abandoned, and he returned to the ground in the gondola. Nick was unable to accomplish his desired free fall record, however his spectacular flight set other records that held up for 46 years. Because of the design of his glove, he was unable to reattach his safety seat belt harness. He endured incredible g-forces, but survived the descent. Piantanida's ascent is not recognized by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale as a balloon altitude world record, because he did not return with his balloon, although that was not the feat he was trying to accomplish. On this second attempt of "Project Strato-Jump", Nick Piantanida took with him 250 postmarked air-mail envelopes and letters. At the time, these letters were the first covers to have ever been delivered by the U.S. Post Office via space. The habit of bringing cover letters in to space continued with the Apollo Program. In fact, in 1972 there was a Scandal involving the Apollo 15 Astronauts. It is unclear if any of the "Project Strato-Jump" covers survived, and were eventually mailed to the intended recipients.
- 2012-10-14: 38,969m (127,851ft); Felix Baumgartner in the Red Bull Stratos balloon. The flight started near Roswell, New Mexico, and returned to earth via a record-setting parachute jump.
- 2014-10-24: 41,424 metres (135,906ft); Alan Eustace, a senior vice president at the Google corporation, in a helium balloon, returning to earth via parachute jump during the StratEx mission executed by Paragon Space Development Corporation.
Uncrewed gas balloonEdit
During 1893 French scientist Jules Richard constructed sounding balloons. These uncrewed balloons, carrying light, but very precise instruments, approached an altitude of 15.24km (50,000ft).
A Winzen balloon launched from Chico, California in 1972 set the uncrewed altitude record of 51.8km (170,000ft). Its volume was 47,800,000cuft (1,350,000m3).
During 2002 an ultra-thin-film balloon named BU60-1 made of polyethylene film 3.4µm thick with a volume of 60,000m³ was launched from Sanriku Balloon Center at Ofunato City, Iwate in Japan at 6:35 on May 23, 2002. The balloon ascended at a speed of 260m per minute and reached the altitude of 53.0km (173,900ft), breaking the previous world record set during 1972.
This was the greatest height a flying object reached without using rockets or a launch with a cannon.
On February 17, 1986, The highest altitude obtained by a soaring aircraft was set at 49,009ft (14,938m) by Robert Harris using lee waves over California City, United States.
This was surpassed at 50,720ft (15,460m) set on August 30, 2006 by Steve Fossett (pilot) and Einar Enevoldson (co-pilot) in their high performance research glider Perlan 1, a modified Glaser-Dirks DG-500. This record was achieved over El Calafate (Patagonia, Argentina) and set as part of the Perlan Project.
This was raised at 52,172ft (15,902m) on September 3, 2017 by Jim Payne (pilot) and Morgan Sandercock (co-pilot) in the Perlan 2, a special built high altitude research glider. This record was again achieved over El Calafate and as part of the Perlan Project.
On September 2, 2018, within the Airbus Perlan Mission II, again from El Calafate, the Perlan II piloted by Jim Payne and Tim Gardner reached 76,124ft (23,203m), surpassing the 73,737ft (22,475m) attained by Jerry Hoyt on April 17, 1989 in a Lockheed U-2: the highest subsonic flight.
Piston-driven propeller aeroplaneEdit
The highest altitude obtained by a piston-driven propeller UAV (without payload) is 67,028 feet (20,430m). It was obtained during 19881989 by the Boeing Condor UAV.
The highest altitude obtained in a piston-driven propeller biplane (without a payload) was 17,083m (56,047ft) on October 22, 1938 by Mario Pezzi at Montecelio, Italy in a Caproni Ca.161 driven by a Piaggio XI R.C. engine.
The highest altitude obtained in a piston-driven propeller monoplane (without a payload) was 18,552m (60,866ft) on August 4, 1995 by the Grob Strato 2C driven by two Teledyne Continental TSIO-550 engines.
The highest current world absolute general aviation altitude record  for jet-propelled aircraft is 37,650 metres (123,520ft) set by Aleksandr Vasilyevich Fedotov, in a Mikoyan Gurevich E-266M (MiG-25M), on August 31, 1977.
The highest altitude obtained by a crewed aeroplane (launched from another aircraft) is 112,010m (367,487ft) by Brian Binnie in the Scaled Composites SpaceShipOne (powered by a Scaled Composite SD-010 engine with 18,000 pounds (8,200kg) of thrust) on October 4, 2004 at Mojave, CA. The SpaceShipOne was launched at over 43,500ft (13.3km). The previous (unofficial) record was 107,960m (354,199ft) set by Joseph A. Walker in a North American X-15 in mission X-15 Flight 91 on August 22, 1963. Walker had reached 106km crossing the Kármán line the first time with X-15 Flight 90 the previous month.
The record for highest altitude obtained by a rocket-powered aircraft (self-launchedi.e. not launched from another aircraft) was 24,217m (79,452ft) on May 2, 1958 by Roger Carpentier over Istres, France in a Sud-Ouest Trident II mixed power (turbojet & rocket engine) aircraft. The unofficial altitude record for aircraft with self-powered takeoff was 36,820m (120,800ft) on December 6, 1963 by Major Robert W. Smith in a Lockheed NF-104A mixed power (turbojet and rocket engine) aircraft.
Electrically powered aircraftEdit
The highest altitude obtained by an electrically powered aircraft is 96,863 feet (29,524m) on August 14, 2001 by the NASA Helios, and is the highest altitude in horizontal flight by a winged aircraft. This is also the altitude record for propeller driven aircraft, FAI class U (Experimental / New Technologies), and FAI class U-1.d (Remotely controlled UAV: Weight 500kg to less than 2500kg).
On June 21, 1972, Jean Boulet of France piloted an Aérospatiale SA 315B Lama helicopter to an absolute altitude record of 40,814 feet (12,440m). At that extreme altitude, the engine flamed out and Boulet had to land the helicopter by breaking another record: the longest successful autorotation in history. The helicopter was stripped of all unnecessary equipment prior to the flight to minimize weight, and the pilot breathed supplemental oxygen.
The highest altitude obtained by a paper plane was previously held by the Paper Aircraft Released Into Space (PARIS) project, which was released at an altitude of 27,307 metres (89,590ft), from a helium balloon that was launched approximately 80 kilometres (50mi) west of Madrid, Spain on October 28, 2010, and recorded by The Register's "special projects bureau". The project achieved a Guinness world record recognition.
This record was broken on 24th June 2015 in Cambridgeshire, UK by the Space Club of Kesgrave High School, Suffolk, as part of their Stratos III project. The paper plane was launched from a balloon at 35,043 metres (114,970ft).
The current world-record for highest cannon projectile flight is held by Project HARPs 16-inch space gun prototype, which fired a 180 kg Martlet 2 projectile to record height of 180 km (590,550 ft; 110 mi) in Yuma, Arizona, on November 18, 1966. The projectiles trajectory sent it beyond 100 km (62.14 mi), making it the first cannon-fired projectile to do so.
The Paris Gun (German: Paris-Geschütz) was a German long-range siege gun used to bombard Paris during World War I. It was in service from MarchAugust 1918. Its 106-kilogram shells had a range of about 130km (80mi) with a maximum altitude of about 42.3km (26.3mi).
- ^ The FAI Absolute Altitude (#2325) record for balloon flight set in 1961 by Malcolm Ross and Victor Prather is still current, since it requires the balloonist to descend with the balloon.