Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Hermeus unveils new high-speed, unmanned, jet-powered aircraft

U.S. hypersonic developer Hermeus has unveiled its new high-speed, unmanned, jet-powered aircraft, Quarterhorse Mk1. This is actually their second fully integrated vehicle in the past year, which shows their commitment to the pace of aircraft development.

The Quarterhorse Mk 1 is an unmanned aircraft powered by a single GE Aerospace J85 engine. It will not attempt to break the M5 hypersonic barrier; the uncrewed aircraft will instead be used for flight testing at subsonic speeds. Its main mission is to demonstrate high-speed takeoff and landing, which is a key capability for future hypersonic aircraft.

The flight tests are scheduled to be held at Edwards Air Force Base in late 2024. The vehicle will undergo a variety of tests across its subsystems, ground station, operations, and human factors to prepare it for flight tests.

“Moving into the integrated test program is the culmination of a huge team effort and a significant emotional event for the entire company,” said Hermeus, Vice President of Test, Don Kaderbek. “As we begin the journey to the first flight, we will conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the aircraft’s performance while simultaneously examining the effectiveness of our test procedures, safety culture, and interdisciplinary team collaboration. We’re excited and humbled to conduct this testing at the legendary Edwards Air Force Base.”

The Quarterhorse program has a unique approach where every aircraft built is more complex than the previous one, incorporating the knowledge and experience gained from the previous builds. This not only minimizes program risk across multiple vehicles but also speeds up the delivery of products and services to the esteemed customers of Hermeus.

Artist’s rendering of Quarterhorse Mk 2.
Artist’s rendering of Quarterhorse Mk 2. Credit: Hermeus

“The most unique and important aspect of our approach to developing a hypersonic aircraft is our rate of iteration – designing, building, and flying an aircraft in less than a year, every year,” said Hermeus CEO and Co-Founder AJ Piplica. “It’s a pace that hasn’t been seen in the aircraft world for half a century. This approach has been proven successful in delivering massive improvements in the capabilities of rockets, satellites, and small drones. We’re now bringing that power of iteration speed to aircraft. It’s a capability that is absolutely necessary for solving the challenges of operationalizing hypersonic aircraft.”

In addition to showing off their aircraft, Hermeus also revealed details about the next version of Quarterhorse – Mk 2. This new model is said to incorporate the Pratt & Whitney F100 engine and is expected to achieve supersonic speeds as early as next year.

“For just over 50 years, the F100 has powered the F-15 and F-16 with industry-leading reliability, and now it enters a new era of aviation,” said Josh Goodman, Senior Director of the F100 Program at Pratt & Whitney. “From the J58 powering the SR-71, to the F119 in the F-22 and the F135 in the F-35, Pratt & Whitney has a long history of building cutting-edge engines and that will only continue as we strengthen our partnership with Hermeus. Seeing a new aircraft flying the F100 supersonic next year will be nothing short of extraordinary.”

The company has made a strategic decision to switch to a more capable engine for its Quarterhorse Mk 2, which will help accelerate the development of its Darkhorse multi-mission hypersonic aircraft for defense and national security purposes. This upgrade will also allow the company to deliver a purpose-built high-Mach drone, which is a unique product in the market.

According to Skyler Shuford, the COO and Co-Founder of Hermeus, this iterative approach will help the company build the right aircraft for the current moment and get it in the air in less than a year. With the Mk 2 being the third sub-year aircraft system build, the company is reducing a significant amount of programmatic risk by having the next airplane closely following.