How Fast do Planes Fly

Guides · 4 min read · Nov 04, 2021
How Fast do Planes Fly

Travel by plane became the main option for reaching the places people never dreamed of seeing long decades ago. Not just because we are talking about one of the main means of transportation capable of reaching places previously inaccessible – or challenging to reach – to most people.

A little bit of context

By the middle of the last century, humanity has finally acquired the technology that still allows us to reach the most distant corners of the world at speed never seen before.

However, the space-age introduced us to speeds that are much higher than modern commercial airplanes can acquire.

A black jet fighter speeding across grey sky.

On the other hand, high-speed rail and much more modern ground transportation technologies are still evolving at an extremely fast pace, earning extra passenger mile and their market share even faster than some predictions from a decade ago were telling us, as they are making such options an increasingly acceptable alternative for those who want to save time at least for traveling not very long distances.

The legend isn’t forgotten

We also know that since the famous Concorde retired from its service at British Airways at the beginning of this century, travel time between New York and Paris or London has almost doubled.

We are still building the future

​​However, it wasn’t the only supersonic plane that flew the skies and ended the whole era after it was grounded – it was just the last to fly on commercial routes.

Outside the world of civil aviation today, there still are a lot of equally fast planes.

Four blue-and-yellow aircrafts performing an air show trick.

What is more, several exciting projects are already being developed, and new supersonic planes probably will be available for the general public sometime in the future.

We will also discuss them while trying to answer the question of how fast do airplanes, namely, passenger jets fly.

Will we take into account the plane’s ground speed?

When trying to describe how fast do planes fly, the ground speed of an aircraft is a reasonably accurate way to define its top speed, since most of the in-flight time commercial airliners spend, let’s say, keeping the nose of an aircraft straight – and that is precisely the time when they are truly able to demonstrate how wast can they fly.

The beginning was not so fast

When talking about aircraft as something significantly faster than its alternatives on the ground, the first aircraft to consider from a historical perspective probably would be the British Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2. It could gain speeds as high as 116 km/h (72 mph).

Royal Aircraft Factory BE2 planes stationed at an airfield in black and white.
Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Aircraft_Factory_B.E.2

But, of course, that meant that its true speed wasn’t usually greater than the airplane’s ground speed – at least, mid-flight.

However, we are talking about pre-war technology here, of course – B.E.2. aircraft was introduced as early as 1914.

By the time of WWII, we’ve already learned to fly faster – the famous Spitfire aircraft could then reach 710 km/h (440 mph).

The miracle of Messerschmitt Me 163

According to the accounts made by the end of the war, the Messerschmitt Me 163 aircraft hit an incredible speed of 1129 km/h (about 700 miles per hour) in 1944.

Telling us how fast planes fly, these records, of course, are too old to tell us about its fuel efficiency as we know it today – or if any wind speed or other factors, such as weather conditions, were taken into account.

Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet aircraft.
Image source: https://www.warhistoryonline.com/war-articles/the-nazi-super-weapons-of-wwii-that-actually-saw-service.html/attachment/me_163_at_melbourne_c1950?full-theme=1

The jet era set the new records

With the introduction of a completely new engine design, after-war decades were witnessing jet aircraft conquering the skies – and the powerful engines, recognizable by large-diameter front fans, were among the main reasons for that.

The last generation of the world’s first commercial jet airliner, The de Havilland DH.106 Comet aircraft, has a cruising speed of 840 km/h or 522 miles per hour – way greater than other commercial planes in the middle of the century.

Take into account the difference between the true speed of an aircraft and the ground speed at the cruise altitude of the plane, and you’ll probably be able to imagine even a bit greater numbers.

Mexicana de Havilland Comet APM flying in a blue sky.
Image source: Aviation Photography of Miami

And what about Concorde?

The fastest passenger aircraft, the Concorde, on its part has a maximum speed of 2,179 km/h or 1354 miles per hour, which equals the mach number of 2.04.

That’s way faster than the speed of sound – the aircraft is known to hit the sound barrier when approaching the speed of 1234 km/h or about 767 miles per hour.

However, the whole trip was definitely worth it for those who paid a decent amount for a trip in business class – the first class equivalent on long haul routes of the time.

There were simply no other seats to choose for those who have decided – and could afford – to fly on the Concorde.

British Airways Concorde G-BOAC 03 aircraft taking off.

How fast do passenger jets fly today?

As most of the biggest passenger planes today are flying at very similar speeds, today, the fastest among them all – which is still in service – is the Boeing 747-8i aircraft, which is capable of sustaining maximum speed as high as 1062 km/h or 660 mph – while even then it is still able to fly demonstrating a great fuel economy.

What is the fastest private jet you can fly today?

Since the year 2019, the fastest private jet in the world is Gulfstream G700 aircraft. It is designed to fly at a speed of 1142 km/h (710 mph) but has already beaten the record of 1222 km/h or 759.3 mph, which equals the mach number of 0.99.

Travelling at the speed of sound isn’t exactly fuel efficient, right?

Generally speaking, flying at speeds close to the limits of a given aircraft means more fuel consumption, so flying faster eats more fuel – therefore, to fly almost at the speed of sound in such a situation doesn’t mean you can reach a designated destination in one hop – which means flying without the need for a relatively long refueling stop.

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Aeroclass Team
A team of professionals with a deep passion for the aviation industry bringing you the newest and the most striking industry-related news and content.

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