We’ve covered the largest aircraft, smallest aircraft, most produced aircraft, and most affordable aircraft. Now it’s time to talk about the fastest plane in the world. For today’s post, we’ve rounded up a list of the 10 fastest planes plus details about an 11th whose release is highly anticipated.
Think you know which supersonic aircraft made the cut? Let’s find out!
1. General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark
The U.S. Air Force flew the all-weather interdiction Aardvark from the 1960s until 1998. This multipurpose supersonic tactical fighter bomber, nicknamed the Pig, could be outfitted with a payload of bombs, a nuclear bomb, or air-to-air missiles. A machine gun was also an optional add-on, though it was rarely used.
Give the long-standing U.S. Air Force precision strike jet a place of honor in your military aircraft model plane collection. Take home a 1/48 scale mahogany model F-111 Aardvark.
Top speed: Mach 2.5
2. McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle
The twin engine U.S. Air Force air superiority fighter was conceived as a response to the release of the Soviet MiG-25 interceptor. The Eagle first flew in 1972 and this model is still considered a formidable military aircraft.
Due to its continued success, multiple variants of the F-15 were built including single-place and two-place versions plus Japanese and South Korean spinoffs. The F-15EX Eagle II is the most recent addition to the F-15 line-up, and this new Air Force fighter can carry almost 30,000 pounds of air-to-ground and air-to-air missiles.
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Top speed: Mach 2.5
3. Mikoyan MiG-31 Foxhound
The MiG-31 Foxhound Russian interceptor debuted in 1975 as a replacement to the MiG-25 Foxbat. The MiG-25 was unable to fly at low altitudes and carried fewer, less powerful weapons while the more maneuverable Foxhound was the first soviet fighter to have look-down and shoot-down capability. Although the MiG-35 was un upgrade from the MiG-25, it is interesting to note that the MiG-25 had a higher top-speed.
The MiG-31 was such a successful aircraft that it is still in use today. As the Foxhound was never exported, only the Russian Air Force has access to the MiG-31.
Top speed: Mach 2.83
4. North American XB-70 Valkyrie
The XB-70 supersonic strategic bomber debuted in 1964 as a planned replacement craft for the B-52 Stratofortress. The Valkyrie’s six engines generated the high speeds needed to evade Soviet interceptors and escape the blast of the nuclear bombs the Valkyrie was designed to drop.
Unfortunately, the XB-70 was not optimized to evade the type of surface-to-air missiles that were developed shortly after the Valkyrie’s debut. The Valkyrie’s design also suffered from hydraulic leaks, fuel leaks, landing gear issues, and weaknesses in its honeycomb construction. The program was ultimately cancelled, and only two Valkyrie aircraft were built.
There may have been only two full-size XB-70s produced, but you can take home a 1/150 scale XB-70 Valkyrie model aircraft.
Top speed: Mach 3.02
5. Bell X-2 Starbuster
The Bell X-2 Starbuster was an early swept-wing rocket style aircraft whose development started in the mid-1940s. It was meant to help the Air Force and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) research stability, control effectiveness, and the structural effects of aerodynamic heating at high speeds and altitudes. A modified Boeing B-50A bomber would carry the X-2 to its launch altitude, where the X-2 would drop away and fly under its own power.
Numerous glide flights were successfully accomplished, and in 1955, the first powered flight took place. Unfortunately, the following year, Air Force test pilot, Captain Milburn Apt lost control of the experimental fighter when he unexpectedly initiated a sharp turn following a successful test flight at speeds faster than Mach 3. Apt bailed out but did not survive the high-speed landing. His death led to the unfortunate demise of the X-2 program.
Top speed: Mach 3.196
6. Mikoyan MiG-25 Foxbat
The MiG-25 was the Soviet Union’s answer for a supersonic interceptor and reconnaissance craft fast enough to intercept American fighter jets like the Lockheed SR-71. The final design excelled at high-speed, high-altitude flights and had a steep rate of climb, but it was less agile and maneuverable, especially at low speed.
Debuting in 1964, the MiG-25 is still one of the fastest military combat aircraft ever built, and a few have remained in use in Russia. A variant, the MiG-29 Fulcrum (max speed Mach 2.25) has also been used to fly paying space tourists up to 22km above the earth through the Russian Edge of Space flight program.
Top speed: Mach 3.2
7. Lockheed YF-12
Only three prototypes of Lockheed’s YF-12 two-place interceptor design ever took to the skies, but this model still holds records for the largest, heaviest, and fastest manned interceptor ever flown.
The YF-12 was the two-seat version of the Lockheed A-12 Oxcart and was similar in design to its relative the SR-71 Blackbird, except the YF-12 carried an armament of three air-to-air missiles while the Blackbird was unarmed.
Although the YF-12 was tested by both the Air Force and NASA, the interceptor never flew any military missions. Instead, it provided NASA researchers valuable data about the aerodynamic, structural, and thermal impacts of sustained high-altitude flight on aircraft. The information gathered from the project was helpful for designing the aircraft used by the original space program.
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Top speed: Mach 3.2
8. Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird
One of Lockheed’s most famous designs is the SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance aircraft that was used by the U.S. Air Force. First constructed in 1964, the Blackbird was based on the designs for its predecessor, the A-12 Oxcart. The SR-71 got the moniker “Blackbird” after the special heat-dissipating black paint job covering its titanium alloy airframe. Unlike the similar YF-12, the SR-71 carried no weapons as it was built purely for speed and observation at ultra-high altitudes.
The SR-71 still holds the world record for the fastest and highest-flying air-breathing manned aircraft as well as the fastest cross-country American flight. A Blackbird flew from Los Angeles, CA to Washington, D.C. in a mere 64 minutes 20 seconds.
Top speed: Mach 3.33
9. Lockheed A-12 Oxcart
Lockheed’s A-12 Oxcart built for the CIA bears a striking similarity to its SR-71 used by the U.S. Air Force. The family resemblance makes sense as the SR-71 Blackbird was a spinoff of the Oxcart, and both craft were used for reconnaissance. Although the SR-71 holds the official speed record for a piloted aircraft, Lockheed and the CIA agree that the A-12 had a slightly faster documented speed.
The Oxcart was developed between 1959 and 1965 as an intended successor for the very fast, high-altitude U-2 “spy plane” used to monitor activities in the Soviet Union. The A-12 was a stealth aircraft with a distinctive black iron-infused paint scheme and an exterior design that minimized its radar cross-section. Radar absorbing polymer composite materials made of iron ferrite, silicon laminate, and asbestos further absorbed and confused radar returns.
Despite the substantial time and financial investment in the project, President Johnson discontinued the A-12 program in 1968 after just a single year of active use and only one reconnaissance mission flown. Anti-aircraft-proof CORONA satellites were then available to carry out imagery missions without risk to the lives of American pilots, although the image quality was not as good. Plus, the SR-71 spin-off program for the Air Force was in the works, so it simply didn’t make sense to also continue with the similar A-12.
Top speed: Mach 3.35
10. North American X-15
The SR-71 holds the official world record for fastest air-breathing aircraft, but the rocket-powered X-15 became the fastest manned aircraft in the world in 1967. The X-15 program was launched in 1959 and was designed to aid in piloted hypersonic flight research ahead of and during the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo spaceflight programs. In fact, Chuck Yeager famously taught Neil Armstrong to fly the X-15 to the edge of space.
The X-15 was viewed as a bridge between manned flight within Earth’s atmosphere and the new world of manned flight into space. Although it was the first winged aircraft to fly at Mach 4, 5, and 6, the X-15 did not take off on its own. Instead, a modified B-52 Stratofortress air-launched the X-15.
The X-15 could fly to extreme altitudes, and in 1963, a NASA test pilot flew the X-15 beyond the Kármán line which officially marks the limits of the Earth’s atmosphere. X-15 pilots had to wear specialized full-pressure suits while in the cockpit as an added layer of protection should the cockpit lose atmosphere while at near-space altitudes.
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Top speed: Mach 6.72
11. Lockheed Martin SR-72 Son of Blackbird
Technically #11 is a bit of a cheat since the prototype isn’t expected to make its first test flight until 2025, but the SR-72’s debut is already highly anticipated. As its name suggests, the SR-72 is the updated, next-generation version of the now retired legendary SR-71 Blackbird. The SR-71 may hold onto its manned aircraft speed records, however, because the SR-72 is slated to be an unmanned reconnaissance, surveillance, and strike aircraft.
Rumor has it the Son of Blackbird will be outfitted with “Skunk Works’” proprietary High-Speed Strike Weapon (HSSW) and powered by new technology in the form of a turbine-based combined cycle (TBCC) propulsion system. The reusable hypersonic craft is anticipated to be capable of speeds that will allow it to fly around the world in just a few hours.
Top speed: Mach 6 (anticipated)
Aircraft Speed FAQs
- How fast do planes fly when taking off?
Minimum safe takeoff speed varies depending on aircraft size, weight, engine configuration, altitude, air temperature, and other factors. Smaller private aircraft can take off at as little as 56 knots while the necessary speed for large passenger airliners is closer to 130+ knots.
- How fast do planes fly in the air?
The Wright brothers’ first airplane had a “cruising speed” of 26 knots. By comparison, small private aircraft today have cruising speeds around 120 knots, and passenger jets are closer to 490 knots.
- How fast do planes fly when landing?
During landing, pilots must keep aircraft above the stall speed (VS0) and below the maximum flap extended speed (VFE). Like takeoff speed, landing speed depends on many factors such as aircraft type, weight, length of runway, altitude, air temperature, ground effect, and more. Small, single engine planes land at approximately 100 knots while commercial airlines are closer to 150 knots and fighter jets land at about 175 knots.
- How fast do commercial planes fly?
There is some debate, but the fastest commercial jet was either the supersonic Concorde SST at a top speed of Mach 2.04 or the Tupolev TU-144 at Mach 2.29. Due to safety issues, the Tupolev was retired from passenger service after just one year, having made only 55 commercial passenger flights.
The Concorde, on the other hand, had a twenty-seven year service which was largely brought to an end by the fatal crash of Air France flight 4590 in 2000, although a few Concorde flights were made until 2003.
The fastest commercial passenger aircraft currently in service is the Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental with a top speed of Mach 0.86, although supersonic airliner passenger flight may be making a return soon with the Boom Overture which is targeting a first flight in 2026 and is being designed for a speed of Mach 1.7.