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Air Force Funds Hypersonic Aircraft Startup

The company wants to build jets capable of traveling at Mach 5.

In 2018, former engineers from SpaceX and Blue Origin formed their own company with the hope of revolutionizing travel here on Earth instead of in space.

Hermeus says it’s developing the world’s fastest reusable aircraft, capable of reaching speeds of Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound. And it says a new Pentagon contract will help get its first jet off the ground.

The company announced a $60 million agreement with the U.S. Air Force to test its first aircraft, dubbed Quarterhorse, which officials said would be the first in a line of autonomous, high-speed aircraft.

Under the deal, Hermeus would have three years to develop, build and test a concept aircraft, which would use a turbine-based combined cycle engine based on GE’s J85 turbojet engine. The company laid out an ambitious plan to validate its technology at much lower costs than would ordinarily be expected for this type of flight system.

Hermeus said it would use autonomous and reusable systems, “ruthlessly” focused requirements, and a hardware-rich program to help keep expenses down. It also vowed to push its systems to the point of failure, which would ultimately make the engineering process faster while improving both R&D and flight safety. Officials said the learning process would require real-world testing, particularly when exploring speeds that no airbreathing aircraft has flown before.

Although the military has obvious interest in hypersonic systems, Hermeus officials said the world’s fastest reusable aircraft could unlock trillions in additional economic growth every year. At some 3,000 miles per hour, a Mach 5 aircraft would cut the flight time from New York to London from the current seven hours down to a brisk 90 minutes.

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