Futuristic Quarterhorse reusable aircraft scores $60 million from USAF

Private aircraft developer Hermeus has scored a $60 million deal with the United States Air Force (USAF), the company has announced. The funds are earmarked specifically for flighting testing the aerospace firm's Quarterhorse, a sleek aircraft featuring Hermeus's own turbine-based combined cycle (TBCC) engine and a futuristic, nearly sci-fi appearance.

Quarterhorse is Hermeus's first aircraft and, according to the private aerospace company, the soon-to-be world's fastest reusable aircraft. Quarterhorse represents multiple 'firsts' — it will be the first aircraft of this type to use a TBCC engine, for example, and it is the first of what Hermeus expects to be a line of autonomous high-speed jets.

Quarterhorse is intended to validate Hermeus's TBCC engine, the company explained as part of its funding announcement. The Air Force Research Laboratory will support the flight testing; the funds were awarded as part of the AFWERX Strategic Funding Increase program.

Hermeus says it is using three strategies to reduce the costs for full flight testing the TBCC, including by using reusable systems with autonomous tech. The team will be able to, among other things, deliberately push the flight test to the point of failure for data purposes, ultimately making for a quick engineering lifecycle.

Hermeus previously partnered with NASA to commercialize hypersonic aircraft tech. The Department of Defense clearly has an interest in the same technology, though for use in defense applications. Lt. Col. Joshua Burger expanded on the USAF's interest in the tech, saying in a statement:

Small business partnership is recognized by the U.S. Air Force as an important component to driving innovation. Reducing risk in high speed transport technologies, as we are doing with this contract, provides near-term and long-term benefits to both the U.S. Air Force and the defense industrial base. We are very excited to see Hermeus translate their demonstrated successes in engine prototyping into flight systems.