While the military is currently the lead in hypersonic flight missions, there are some entrepreneurs and investors in the private arena looking to disrupt air travel with hypersonic flight. Some believe hypersonic flight could be the next technological frontier in commercial aviation. Perhaps if commercial airlines were able to fly people at Mach 5 (or more than five times the speed of sound), we wouldn’t be having so many current travel struggles.
Hypersonic Flight Over the Years
In 1976, the North American X-15A-2 reached Mach 6.7, setting a record for manned flight that still stands today. In 2004, NASA’s X-43 had an unmanned experimental flying craft reach Mach 9.6. But hypersonic development among the world’s militaries continues. Back in August 2021, China held a hypersonic test flight with a nuclear-capable mission. This was an unexpected test and although it was not a complete success the test was a wake up call to the U.S. that China’s capabilities far exceeded their expectations.
The U.S. Space Force is working to defend against these threats. They selected Raytheon for the Millennium Space Systems to design sensors that can track the extreme high-speed missiles. Besides hypersonic missile defense the U.S. military is also working on hypersonic weapons. The White House requested $7.2 billion for long range fires, including hypersonic missiles, in the 2023 Defense Budget.
Civilian Hypersonic Travel
But what would it be like if you could travel across the Atlantic in under 90 minutes? Currently, a standard flight from New York to London would take you almost six to seven hours. This new idea of traveling in a fraction of time may seem far fetched, but investors are betting it could happen in the future. Back in March, Atlanta-based Hermeus announced they had closed a $100 million Series B round of investing to continue development of a hypersonic civilian aircraft.
“The science of hypersonic is well established, the difficulty lies in coming up with a clean sheet design in which all the different elements work in unison,” said Skyler Shuford, co-founder and COO of Hermeus.
Hermeus has created its first prototype, called Quarterhorse. The turbine-based combined cycle engine concept is built on the proven jet engine of the GE J85. Hermes’s vision is that their jet will take off like a standard airplane of today and then once it hits cruising altitude, it will then use the technology of the ramjet to be hypersonic.
Each jet is expected to only hold about 20 passengers. And while the cost of this fast travel seems like something for only a select few, the current pricing expects to be in the same ballpark as those on conventional business class. The opportunity to save time could in the future lead many to opt for this new way of travel.
Possible Changes for Other Markets
But Hermeus isn’t the only company working to change the aviation industry. Destiny’s is working to change the express delivery market. Their focus is flying up to the Mesosphere, one of the highest layers of the atmosphere. And while it may seem far-fetched, in November of 2021, they held a flight test for its first 1-ton subsonic prototype. The goal is to fly a 10-ton vehicle in 2027 or 2028 time frame.
While there is still a long way to go to make these new ways of aviation travel the norm or even viable, it is exciting to see the innovation taking place as investors are beginning to bet big on the possibilities these hypersonic aircrafts will no longer just be dreams of the future but the reality of today.