As another era of supersonic air travel approaches, one of the niche industry’s small but growing players is looking further into the future – towards flights that are even faster.
Hermeus, an Atlanta start-up, is developing hypersonic aircraft that could take passengers on transatlantic routes from New York to London in 90 minutes non-stop and across the Pacific from LA to Tokyo in two hours and 45 minutes with a stopover.
Supersonic aircraft travel faster than the speed of sound, or Mach 1, while hypersonic planes travel at more than five times the speed of sound, or Mach 5.
"It is not an easy mountain we have picked to climb here," AJ Piplica, chief executive of Hermeus, said on the Acquisition Talk podcast last week.
"But when we looked at the technology, the national security applications of the technology and then the private funding environment that we are in today, it was pretty clear to us that we are in this perfect storm of timing to actually make something like this a reality today where five years ago this was not the case."
The global hypersonic technology industry is expected to grow to $12.18 billion by 2030, from $4.98bn in 2020, expanding at an annual rate of 9.7 per cent from 2021 to 2030, according to Allied Market Research.
A rise in the number of territorial conflicts and a surge in the development of hypersonic technology have boosted the global hypersonic travel market, it said.
Founded in 2018, the privately funded start-up is working on Mach 5 aircraft for both commercial and defence markets.
"Mach 5 aircraft have the potential to create an additional $4 trillion of global economic growth per year, unlocking significant resources that can be utilised to solve the world’s great problems," said Hermeus.
Still, the start-up's hypersonic passenger plane is still a long way off, with the first jet slated for commercial private travel in 2029.
It would be capable of flying at speeds of more than 4,800 kilometres an hour and have a flight range of 4,600 nautical miles.
The company is currently testing the engine, a General Electric J85-21 turbojet, which will form the core of its larger hypersonic engine.
The company is expanding beyond its headquarters in Atlanta, with a permanent presence already established in Washington, after a new $60 million partnership with the US Air Force, according to its website.
"To prevail in the contest with China, the US needs to leverage innovative companies at the nexus of commercial technology and national security,” said Daniel Kliman, a national security expert who joined the company to lead its operations in the US capital.
In March, Hermeus also teamed up with Nasa to carry out research and develop high-speed aircraft.
"While this partnership with the US Air Force underscores US Department of Defence interest in hypersonic aircraft, when paired with Hermeus' partnership with Nasa announced in February 2021, it is clear that there are both commercial and defence applications for what we are building," said Mr Piplica.
The start-up developing hypersonic aircraft is named after the Olympian deity Hermes, the swift-footed divine herald in Greek mythology who is often depicted as having winged sandals.