WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
In the future aircraft are fast, and autonomous, and also fast… really fast.
Future aircraft will be fast – very fast – and some of them will fly into space, and look utterly awesome. Speed wise though if you were impressed by Virgin Galactic’s Mach 3 Unity “space” craft which Sir Richard Branson recently flew on then you’ll likely be impressed by a new Mach 17 “Oblique” jet engine, and be glad to hear that there’s yet another hypersonic aircraft on the block that takes it up to Mach 5.
That’s more than 3,800 mph (6,100 km/h), meaning that it could get from New York to London almost 7 times faster than current commercial airlines, and the new entrant joins a growing number of hypersonic aircraft which are being developed such as the UK’s SABRE and the future US Presidents hypersonic Air Force One jet.
Quarterhorse concept. Courtesy: Hermeus
In this case the small team at Hermeus Corporation, a Georgia-based aerospace start-up, wanted to develop a groundbreaking Mach 5 commercial aircraft, and they already scored partnerships with none other than NASA and the US Air Force (USAF). After successfully demonstrating their Mach 5 engine last year, now it’s time for another milestone, flight testing this cutting-edge aircraft, under a $60 million contract with USAF.
Not too many details have been revealed about the Quarterhorse, other that it will become the world’s fastest aircraft, it will be fully reusable, and it will also be autonomous, with the option of being remotely piloted, with an outstanding 4,600-mile (7,403 km) range. And yes, the autonomy point is eyebrow raising worthy …
Hermeus’ main innovation is the TBCC, or Turbine-Based Combined Cycle engine, based on their GE J85 jet engine. Earlier this year, the company partnered with NASA, to further develop and mature this technology.
Recently, the company was awarded a $60 million contract by USAF, for testing this autonomous high-speed aircraft, which will also be the first of its kind to be powered by a TBCC engine. If you think that’s a lot, the guys at Hermeus said that full flight testing for a TBCC engine would normally require at least $100 million, but that they’re using a non-traditional approach. In their own words, they want to “push more risk”, in order to speed up the learning process and increase safety levels for future public use.
Furthermore, with NASA also actively working on bringing supersonic commercial flight back with the X-59 aircraft from Lockheed Martin, and United Airlines recently ordering $3 Billion worth of supersonic jets from Boom, it looks like finally a new era of high speed air travel is dawning.