NICEVILLE — The pace wasn’t quite five times the speed of sound, but it was close, as nine start-up companies pitched ideas Thursday for an Air Force program aimed at producing a missile capable of traveling at a mile per second or faster.


Such “hypersonic” weapons can quickly penetrate deep into enemy territory, giving little or no time to defend against them.


The pitches, from companies involved in everything from missile propulsion systems to communications technology to production of specialized materials, were part of the Air Force’s first-ever Hypersonics Pitch Day, an extremely fast-track approach to government contracting.


At stake for the pitching companies was a shot at an immediate government contract of up to $750,000.


“What would normally take 90 days, we’re doing in 15 minutes,” said Maj. Madeleine Jensen of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Eglin Air Force Base. Jensen headed the team that put together the Hypersonics Pitch Day, working with the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Arnold Engineering and Development Complex.


At Pitch Day, representatives of the nine start-ups gave 5-minute closed-door presentations to Air Force experts, followed by 5 minutes of questions. The start-ups also gave less-detailed presentations open to everyone, at which representatives also took questions.


“We’re really trying to find those innovative start-ups,” said Jensen, who called the Pitch Day approach “the express check-out line” of military contracting.


The Air Force currently is pursuing two hypersonic prototype efforts, the Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon and the Air Launched Rapid Response Weapon. Both are expected to achieve early operational capability by 2023, and both could eventually carry or benefit from the technologies explored at Pitch Day, according to Air Force Brig. Gen. Anthony Genatempo.


Genatempo is the Air Force’s program executive officer for weapons and director of the Armament Directorate at Eglin.


“Right now, we are absolutely in a period of investigation and discovery,” said Genatempo, who added that there are a lot of technical challenges with hypersonic weapons. At high speeds, he said, “you start melting lots of things, you start rattling lots of things.”


According to Genatempo, the United States “has been a leader in hypersonics technology.” But he acknowledged Russia and China, which have announced testing of hypersonic weapons, have made “an exponential uptick in investment” in the technology.


The fast-track approach of Hypersonics Pitch Day was welcomed by the selected companies.


“It’s kind of like back in the ’60s, with the Apollo project (the NASA effort to land a man on the moon),” said Bill Goodman, president and CEO of New Mexico-based Goodman Technologies.


Goodman pitched his work in developing exotic materials, and said Pitch Day is a vast improvement over the paperwork and other burdens of traditional government contracting.


John Edwards, CEO of Wyoming-based Fourth State Communications, was similarly enthusiastic.


“We’re huge fans of the Pitch Day. ... It’s not what you would expect from any Department of Defense program,” Edwards said.


Fourth State Communications was pitching a ground-based communications system that would mimic satellite communications without being as vulnerable to an attack or other mishap.


“I love this process,” said Edwards, who added that it aligns perfectly with the way that small companies do business.


“We are used to moving fast,” he said.