Hypersonic aircraft developer Hermeus is to flight test its first aircraft, named the Quarterhorse, next year after being awarded a US$60 million contract from the US Air Force.
The Mach 5-capable (3,000mph) Quarterhorse will validate the company’s proprietary turbine-based combined cycle (TBCC) engine, which is based around the GE J85 turbojet engine. Quarterhorse is the first in a line of autonomous high-speed aircraft the company plans to develop.
By the end of the flight test campaign, Quarterhorse will be the fastest reusable aircraft in the world and the first of its kind to fly a TBCC engine.
Hermeus said that its flight test program aims to test the TBCC engine across the entire flight envelope for less than US$100 million by leveraging autonomous and reusable systems, focusing on requirements and being hardware-rich.
“These three strategies allow the team to push the envelope, sometimes strategically to the point of failure in flight test, which accelerates learning while simultaneously improving the safety of flight test crew and the public,” said the company.
“Pushing more risk to flight allows us to move through the engineering lifecycle quickly, reducing programmatic costs. When exploring beyond the speeds that airbreathing aircraft have flown before, learning must come through testing in the real world.”
It added that the hypersonic technology it is developing is “dual-use” and suitable for civilian and military purposes.
AJ Piplica, CEO and co-founder of Hermeus said, “While this partnership with the US Air Force underscores US Department of Defense interest in hypersonic aircraft, when paired with Hermeus’ partnership with NASA announced in February 2021, it is clear that there are both commercial and defense applications for what we’re building.”
Atlanta-based Hermeus, which was founded in 2018, completed a ground testing program for its TBCC engine last year. The company also received attention globally when it received an initial US$1.5 million of funding from the Presidential and Executive Airlift Directorate to develop a design for an Air Force One hypersonic jet.
The recent US$60 million funding was made under the AFWERX Strategic Funding Increase (STRATFI) program led by the Presidential and Executive Airlift Directorate (PE) as a follow-on to that contract. The partnership also includes support from the US Air Force Research Laboratory.
Reducing risk in high speed transport technologies, as we are doing with this contract, provides near-term and long-term benefits to both the US Air Force and the defense industrial base.” said Lt. Col. Joshua Burger, the Vector Initiative program manager who is leading the effort. “We are very excited to see Hermeus translate their demonstrated successes in engine prototyping into flight systems.”