Hermeus wins seed funding for hypersonic aircraft, with former Blue Origin president as adviser

This artist’s conception shows Hermeus’ hypersonic aircraft. (Hermeus Illustration)

Atlanta-based Hermeus Corp. says it’s won some high-profile seed funding for its effort to develop aircraft capable of flying more than five times the speed of sound

The startup’s advisers includes Rob Meyerson, the former president of Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture in Kent, Wash. And there’s at least one more Blue Origin connection: Hermeus’ chief technology officer, Glenn Case, worked as a propulsion design and development engineer at the company for four and a half years.

Hermeus, which was founded last year, is setting its sights on earthly hypersonic flight rather than the space frontier. It’s working on the propulsion technology for aircraft capable of flying faster than 3,000 mph. That could cut flight time between New York and London from seven hours to 90 minutes.

“We’ve set out on a journey to revolutionize the global transportation infrastructure, bringing it from the equivalent of dialup into the broadband era, by radically increasing the speed of travel over long distances.” co-founder and CEO AJ Piplica said today in a news release announcing the seed round and Hermeus’ advisers.

The financing round was led by Khosla Ventures, with additional participation from private investors.

““Hermeus is developing an aircraft that not only improves the aviation experience with very reduced flight times, but also has the potential to have great societal and economic impact.” said Vinod Khosla, founder of Khosla Ventures.

The investment amount was not disclosed. For what it’s worth, Hermeus came in as a runner-up two weeks ago in a $100,000 “Rise of the Rest” pitch contest that was sponsored by Steve Case’s Revolution venture capital firm and conducted in Florida. The company is also partnering with the ANSYS Startup Program.

Before starting up Hermeus, the company’s four co-founders — including Glenn Case as well as Piplica, chief product officer Mike Smayda and chief operating officer Skyler Shuford — worked together at Generation Orbit, where they led the development of the Air Force’s X-60A hypersonic rocket plane. The resumes for Smayda and Shuford also include stints at SpaceX

Hypersonic flight is defined as travel at greater than five times the speed of sound, or Mach 5. It’s one of the aerospace industry’s hottest frontiers, thanks in part to competition with Russia and China in military applications.

Last year, Boeing HorizonX joined in with Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems to invest $37.3 million in British-based Reaction Engines, which is working on its own hypersonic propulsion system. Meanwhile, Spokane, Wash.-based HyperSciences used a SeedInvest funding campaign to raise $9.2 million for accelerators that can fire projectiles and small aircraft at hypersonic speeds.

In today’s announcement of the seed round, Meyerson touted Hermeus’ connections to the commercial space industry. “With experience from the best of New Space companies, the Hermeus team is well-positioned to disrupt the hypersonics industry,” he said.

In addition to Meyerson, Hermeus’ advisory board includes:

Rob Weiss, former executive vice president and general manager at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works. Keith Masback, former CEO of the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation, with earlier leadership roles at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Army Intelligence Master Plan Office. Katerina Barilov, founder of Sparkplug Capital and managing director at Shearwater Aero Capital. George Nield, former associate administrator for commercial space transportation at the Federal Aviation Administration. Mitch Free, founder and CEO of ZYCI and former director of technical operations at Northwest Airlines.

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