Aerospace company Hermeus Corporation, based in Atlanta, said it has obtained finance from seed funders and private investors to develop a plane that will travel at Mach 5 – five times faster than Mach 1, the speed of sound.
If the project succeeds, it could revolutionize commercial transatlantic flights. Currently, air travel between London and New York takes more than seven hours.
The creators hope the aircraft will be capable of a range of 4,600 miles, with a cruising speed of 3,300 miles per hour.
“We’ve set out on a journey to revolutionize the global transportation infrastructure, bringing it from the equivalent of dial-up into the broadband era, by radically increasing the speed of travel over long distances,” AJ Piplica, Hermeus’ co-founder and CEO, said in a statement on the company’s website.
The Hermeus founders include former employees from SpaceX, Elon Musk’s rocket start-up, and Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’ secretive space venture. All four founders worked together at Generation Orbit, where they worked on the development of a hypersonic rocket-plane and the US Air Force’s newest X-Plane.
Paul Bruce, senior lecturer in the Aeronautics Department at Imperial College London, sounded a note of caution.
“The biggest challenge for hypersonic flight is propulsion,” he said. “We’ve sent small vehicles up and flown them hypersonically using scramjets, an advance type of jet engine. This is quite experimental and we’ve got a long way to go before we see these on a passenger aircraft.
“There are many other difficulties with flying that quickly routinely – we do have the engineering capabilities to do it.
“The bigger issue is the financial and perhaps the environmental issue; flying that fast will burn an awful lot of fuel, and will be much more inefficient than flying slowly. But if there is a market for it, I don’t have any doubt that we could build one of these types of planes.”
Hermeus co-founder and CEO AJ Piplica told CNN that a passenger aircraft would take a decade to develop.
“We have a ton of flying to do in that time – we’ll have at least two smaller iterations of aircraft that we’ll build, test, and learn from in that time,” he said.
“The main challenge is integrating the core technologies together and testing them. It’s really difficult to recreate the Mach 5 environment on the ground, which calls for a rethinking of how we develop vehicles that operate in this environment. That means you have to fly. We have to build a lot of hardware and fly it early so we can learn and iterate quickly.”
The tickets would cost around $3,000 for a one way ticket between New York and London, Piplica added.
Hermeus Corporation is not the first to venture into hypersonic travel. In June 2018, Boeing unveiled plans for a hypersonic passenger plane. Lockheed Martin and Aerion Corporation are also working to create hypersonic aircraft.
If successful, Hermeus’ plane would be twice as fast as Concorde, a the supersonic plane that made its final transatlantic flight in October 2003 and traveled between New York and London in under four hours.