The Quarterhorse’s Mach 5 speed of more than 6,000 km/h will shorten the New York to Paris distance to ninety minutes, and its first driverless prototype could soon be tested with funding from the US Air Force.
Founded in 2018, the Hermeus company aims to create a hypersonic aircraft that will not only break new ground in terms of speed, but also in terms of design, for both commercial and military applications.The Quarterhorse will be made of reusable parts, will be powered by a special combined engine and its first version will make automated, driverless test runs. The former feature will obviously help to cut costs, while the automation will be needed because, according to the company’s operations director Skyler Shuford, the first flight will be faster and less risky for future pilots.
The prototype has not yet been built, but the construction of the aircraft is no longer a promise, as the US Air Force, together with several other private investors, has invested a significant amount of money in the company (the Air Force has contributed $60 million), which has successfully raised the necessary seed capital and can now start the development work, which is scheduled to start in advance: They have to build the first three driverless aircraft in three years, demonstrate a full-scale reusable propulsion system and provide a payload guide for future hypersonic tests, Flight Global reports.
The Quarterhorse, although partly funded by the Air Force, is not specifically designed for militant use, and commercial use is also on the cards, with a contract signed with the Air Force in 2020 to build the presidential fleet vehicles, which would fly not just at supersonic speeds but at hypersonic speeds. Hermeus is also working with NASA to develop the technology, and under the terms of the March Space Act Agreement, they will analyse the performance, thermal management and cabin system design of the propulsion system, among other things, to deliver speeds above Mach 5, and then share the data.
NASA had already made previous attempts to build hypersonic aircraft, with the first flight on 8 June 1959 of the X-15, capable of a top speed of Mach 6.7, piloted for the first time by Scott Crossfield, and its last test on 24 October 1968, followed by the unmanned X-43A, which reached Mach 9.6 on 16 November 2004, setting a world record for the speed of an air-breathing aircraft.
However, these two hypersonic aircraft operated in a different way to the technology used by Hermeus.
The company plans to achieve the necessary acceleration not by using transport aircraft, but by using a combined engine system with a normal turbofan and a thrust engine, so that once the aircraft has reached the right altitude and taken off from the runway, it can accelerate to many times the speed it had previously reached. The GE J85 engine is modelled on General Electric’s J85 engine and will be tested in 2020, but in the future it will be partly made up of reusable units to reduce costs.
The Quarterhorse, which will be built at the company’s Atlanta factory, is expected to take off for the first time sometime in late 2022 and will test the engine at speeds between Mach 3 and Mach 5, with a cargo test in 2025. The Air Force design will be tested first, followed by a commercial, passenger-carrying capability, as Hermeus aims to conquer the market for dual-use hypersonic technology and build the world’s fastest reusable hypersonic aircraft.