Aerospace Tech Startup on a Mission to Build The World’s Fastest Commercial Aircraft
The race to provide the world with next-generation supersonic commercial air travel is now on.
Aerospace tech startup Hermeus had unveiled last month its plans to build a new aircraft that can travel at speeds of up to Mach 5– five times the speed of sound.
According to Ars Technica, Hermeus was able to raise an initial round of funding led by Khosla Ventures, allowing it to move forward in its development of a propulsion demonstrator and other initial technologies needed to make the supersonic prototype aircraft.
Such an aircraft would cut travel time from New York to Paris from more than 7 hours to just 90 minutes.
Hermeus’ chief operating officer, Skyler Shuford says its new aircraft will rely mostly on existing technology and materials. “We aren’t getting into anything too miraculous,” said Shuford. “We want to do engineering, not science.”
Shuford explains that primary materials will include titanium, and the propulsion system will be powered by a turbine-based, combined-cycle engine.
If all goes well, the demonstrator vehicle will be ready in five years. Supersonic commercial aircraft using Hermeus’ technology can be a reality eight to 10 years from now, according to Shuford.
The Race is On
Another company, Boom Supersonic, has a headstart on Hermeus in the race for faster-than-sound commercial aircraft. Boom Supersonic’s flagship project, the Overture Airliner, is envisioned to travel at Mach 2.2 and could be ready for commercial service by 2021.
Boom Supersonic officials say that the Virgin Group and Japan Airlines have already preordered a combined 30 aircraft from the project.
Why The Renewed Interest in Supersonic Flight?
With this resurgence of interest in faster-than-sound commercial air travel, Schuford points to two factors: the continued success of other aerospace tech companies, and the availability of materials needed (like titanium) for supersonic flight.
Shuford says the pioneering efforts of companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, Rocket Lab, and Relativity have convinced investors that aerospace can provide long-term financial returns.
In the late 1970s, two notable supersonic aircraft have been used commercially: Soviet Russia’s Tupolev aircraft, and the Concorde, which was flown by British Airways and Air France.
Both aircraft have had a spotty track record, as each has had an accident during its active years of operation—a Tupolev Tu-144 crashed on a test flight in 1978, while Air France’s Flight 4590 crashed in July 2000, killing all passengers and crew on board.
The Tupolev was retired in 1999, while the Concorde was similarly retired in 2003.
On a mission to “build the tools to connect a modern global society,” Hermeus is a startup developing a Mach 5 aircraft with the goal of massively reduced flight times and increased safety for long-haul business class air travel.
Able to fly from New York (JFK) to Paris (CDG) in just 90 minutes (versus the usual 7-8 hours), Hermeus’ new aircraft prototype will be capable of a range of 4,600 miles at a cruising speed of 3,300 miles per hour.
The product’s design enables it to operate with minimal changes to current aviation infrastructure.
Hermeus’ founders– AJ Piplica, Glenn Case, Mike Smayda, and Skyler Schuford– are alumni of SpaceX and Blue Origin, and all four have also been principal founders of Generation Orbit, a company that developed a hypersonic rocket plane and other new space technologies.
Hermeus also has a notable board of advisors, including former Blue Origin president Rob Meyerson and former Federal Aviation Administration official George Nield.