The U.S. Air Force and venture capital funded a $60 million contract awarded on July 30 to Atlanta-based Hermeus Corp. to speed the commercial development of hypersonic aircraft and propulsion systems, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio said on Aug. 5.

AFLCMC’s Presidential and Executive Airlift Directorate, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), and venture capital funded the contract, part of a larger effort–the “Vector Initiative”–to spur high speed passenger travel and the possible advancement of Air Force technologies for senior leader transport; air mobility; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; and other missions.

The AFWERX arm of AFRL’s Technology Directorate “has been an integral part of the initiative’s ability to reach out to industry, and helped make the joint funding effort possible, via its Strategic Financing (StratFI) program,” AFLCMC said. “The program is designed to connect airmen, DoD acquisition offices, and private investors to facilitate the delivery of strategic capabilities for the Air Force. The Hermeus contract will be the first time that the StratFI program has been used.”

Hermeus has been developing a Mach 5 hypersonic plane able to fly from New York City to Paris in 90 minutes, for example.

Air Force Col. Nathan Diller, the director of AFWERX, said that the latter is “transforming the Air and Space Force into an early-stage ‘investor’ that leverages private capital, accelerates commercialization of technology and grows the number of companies partnering with the Department of the Air Force,” while Air Force Brig. Gen. Jason Lindsey, the program executive officer for AFLCMC’s Presidential and Executive Airlift Directorate, said that the contract helps expand the participation of small, innovative companies in Air Force efforts to build aircraft and develop hypersonic propulsion.

“The contract establishes a number of objectives for Hermeus to meet within three years,” AFLCMC said, including increasing the understanding of enabling technology and mission capabilities for reusable hypersonic aircraft; scaling and flight testing a reusable hypersonic propulsion system; developing, building and testng three of Hermeus’ Quarterhorse concept aircraft; providing a payload integration guide for future hypersonic flight testing with Quarterhorse; and providing wargaming data for use in Air Force strategic analysis tools.

Air Force Maj. Gen. Heather Pringle, the commander of AFRL, said in a statement that “hypersonic aircraft and propulsion systems are truly game-changing, and will revolutionize how we travel, just as automobiles did in the last century.”

After the three-year contract with Hermeus, the Air Force plans to evaluate the company’s progress, the maturity of hypersonics, and the alignment of the Hermeus effort with service priorities.

Air Force Capt. Mark Kite, the Vector Initiative’s action officer, said that “Hermeus is well poised to develop future commercial products that have military application and we look forward to partnering with future companies that exhibit similar opportunities for the Air Force.”