Companies across the globe developing supersonic and hypersonic jets have been struggling over the last few years to secure funding, especially after the pandemic which caused widespread disruptions. However, a US-based startup named Hermeus is marching ahead with its plans to develop a hypersonic aircraft capable of flying at Mach 5 speeds after being backed by Steve Case, an American billionaire who co-founded AOL.
Case is considered as one of the most accomplished entrepreneurs from the US. After co-founding AOL more than 3 decades ago, he led the company to become the world’s largest and most valuable Internet company. After AOL was merged with Time Warner in 2000, Case found interest in backing entrepreneurs at every stage of their development with his investment firm Revolution. Aerospace company Hermeus is one of them.
According to a Bloomberg report, one of the main reasons why Case got excited about Hermeus is that the was founded by a Georgia Tech graduate and is based in Atlanta, not one of the main startup hubs. The American billionaire has always shown interest in backing entrepreneurs from places outside of traditional venture hubs. “What they are doing is crazy,” Case said in an event while talking about how the company is utilizing the skills of Georgia Tech and that Atlanta is a center for aerospace. “There’s a reason to be there as opposed to 10 years ago when those graduates probably would have felt they had to go to California or some other place to start the company.”
The Atlanta-based company is currently working on a hypersonic jet named Darkhorse, which might remind you of the fictitious hypersonic jet Darkstar from the superhit movie Top Gun: Maverick. In fact, it even looks very similar and uses pretty much the same technology to fly at hypersonic speeds. The company recently took delivery of an F100-229 engine from Pratt & Whitney, which is best known for powering USAF F-15 Eagles and F-16s. The company was previously using a relatively small 5,000-pound thrust General Electric J85 jet engine, which could help the Darkhorse reach a top speed of Mach 4-plus speeds.
The hypersonic jet is propelled by Hermeus’ turbine-based combined cycle engine (TBCC), which is basically a hybrid powerplant that combines a traditional off-the-shelf jet engine with a ramjet. The F100-229 engine will be used by the aircraft to take off, land, and reach speeds up to Mach 2.8. The aircraft will switch to its ram jet engine which will help it propel from Mach 2.8 to Mach 5 (about 3,710 mph). Flying at that kind of speed, the travel time between New York to London will be reduced to 90 minutes, which is almost twice as fast as the iconic Concorde and around five times that of current transatlantic flights.
Darkhorse is being developed by the company as a versatile aircraft that can act as a payload-carrying hypersonic testbed as well as an unmanned aircraft for defense and intelligence needs. Once Hermeus is successful in building the hypersonic jet, it plans to start working on a 20-passenger hypersonic aircraft called Halcyon, which might play an instrumental role in revolutionizing the air travel industry. But don’t expect that to happen any time soon. Another American company called Spike Aerospace recently began taking pre-orders for its $100 million supersonic business jet called the S-512. However, even Spike has not been very transparent about its timelines, which is not very confidence-inspiring.