U.S. Air Force All in With Quarterhorse – The 3D Printed Mach 5 Hypersonic Aircraft – The United States Air Force is now working with Atlanta-based Hermeus to develop what has been touted as the “world’s fastest aircraft.”
It wouldn’t be the first time that the U.S. military has gone down this road, or rather taken to the sky, to develop such a speed demon.
Yet, where aircraft such as the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird required years of development, and relied on space-age materials including titanium that was difficult to source, the new hypersonic Quarterhorse will be quite different.
Much like its namesake, the American quarter horse, this aircraft is meant to excel in sprinting short distances – primarily to validate Hermeus’ Chimera engine in-flight, and to break the records held by the SR-71.
More importantly, that engine is still very high-tech and truly space age. But it is also partially 3D printed, while it will also be capable of repeatedly transitioning from a turbojet mode designed to launch the autonomous jet into the sky, into a high-Mach speed ramjet mode.
You Can Print That
The aircraft’s developer has gone all in to acquire special 3D printers from additive manufacturing firm Velo3D, which are being used in the production of the aircraft.
This includes a large-format Sapphire XC, which was designed for high-volume production. The Sapphire and Sapphire XC printers employed by Hermeus will be calibrated for the “superalloy” Inconel 718.
These printers will provide the ability to produce the complex, mission-critical parts that were previously “impossible” to manufacture. Velo3D has worked on projects with SpaceX, Honeywell, Honda, Chromalloy, and Lam Research.
“Metal additive manufacturing is a core component of our plan to vertically integrate production,” Glenn Case, founder and chief technology officer of Hermeus, told AINonline.com. “As we explore the capabilities of Velo3D’s additive manufacturing technology, we’ll be looking for ways to increase performance, consolidate components, reduce weight of our aircraft, and minimize external dependencies.”
Founded in 2018, Hermeus is now focused on the Quarterhorse-scaled autonomous aircraft, which is set to complete its first flight later this year.
The aircraft is being developed to reach a cruising altitude of 95,000 feet and fly at a hypersonic Mach-5 top speed.
In February, the Altanta-based startup took its 10 percent scale model of the aircraft to Calspan in Buffalo, New York for wind tunnel testing, where it was subjected to Mach 0.3 to 1.3 airflow.
“These subsonic and transonic regimes are critical to understand in preparation for our first flights of Quarterhorse,” the company said in a statement.
The goal of these tests was to create a comprehensive understanding of the aerodynamics of Quarterhorse, and to find any discrepancies and make improvements before it makes its first flight.
The “Horse” Race is On
Even after the Quarterhorse makes that maiden flight, it won’t be the end, but rather just the beginning. The Quarterhorse is still just to validate the company’s proprietary Chimera engine. That will then lead to the Darkhorse, a full-scale hypersonic remotely piloted aircraft that is being developed for the defense and intelligence communities.
Designed to have multi-mission flexibility, it will incorporate a Pratt & Whitney F100 engine turban to act as the turbine portion of the Chimera II. This engine will ultimately power the Darkhorse.
This speed demon is on track for its engine testing in 2025.
Author Experience and Expertise:
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.