Quarterhorse hypersonic mock-up goes public with live engine fire
Aerospace startup Hermeus recently unveiled a full-size, partly-functional mock-up of its highly-streamlined, delta-winged Quarterhorse hypersonic aircraft before an invited audience of investors, military and government officials, and others.
Normally, when an aircraft mock-up is rolled out, it's usually just a 1:1 scale model made out of glass fiber with nothing inside except some structural support. However, the Quarterhorse mock-up is different in that the builders indulged in a bit of theater by installing a test engine that was started up and raised to maximum afterburner throttle at the climax of the unveiling.
Attending the event were Indian-American billionaire businessman and venture capitalist Vinod Kholsa and Program Executive Officer for Presidential and Executive Airlift, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base United States Air Force Brigadier General Jason Lindsey, who were guest speakers.
Founded by former members of SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Generation Orbit in 2018, Hermeus is working under a US$60-million contract from the United States Air Force to build and test a prototype titanium-construction hypersonic demonstrator. Called Quarterhorse, the new aircraft is expected to fly at speeds in excess of Mach 5 and have a range of 4,600 miles (7,400 km) using a Turbine-Based Combined Cycle (TBCC) engine built around a commercial GE J85 turbojet engine.
Similar to the power plants of the famous SR-71 Blackbird, TBBC engines use a conventional turbojet to accelerate to a high enough speed for a ramjet or scramjet to ignite as the craft climbs to hypersonic velocity. The tricky bit is to design the engine so the turbojet doesn't just sit there and produce drag while the aircraft is in supersonic or hypersonic modes.
According to Hermeus, the building of the Quarterhorse mock-up was not just about making a prop, but was also an exercise in multidisciplinary design, manufacturing, and the integration of complete systems. A flying prototype is expected to take to the sky by the end of the decade.
"When an aerospace company typically unveils a new aircraft it’s nothing more than Styrofoam and fiberglass," says Skyler Shuford, Hermeus COO. "But at Hermeus, we drive to integrated products. And we really, really like to make fire. We designed, manufactured, and integrated the aircraft, from nothing but an outer shape, in four months."
The video below recaps the unveiling ceremony.