Top 4 Fastest Aircraft in the World 2023

Aircraft · 5 min read · Nov 22, 2022
fastest aircraft in the world

Throughout the history of aviation, many aircraft have captured the public’s imagination with their speed. Recently, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell’s famous quote from 1986’s Top Gun film “I feel the need, the need for speed” was revived in the Top Gun Maverick sequel.

In one of the first scenes of the sequel, Maverick reaches a stunning speed of Mach 10 before having to eject because the aircraft was not capable of withstanding that speed. But what does that mean? And has any aircraft in the world reached such extreme speeds?

In this blog post, we will look at some of the fastest aircraft in the world and what sets them apart from the competition. If you want to discover the answers to the questions above, we invite you to keep reading.

The Importance of Speed in Aviation

While many people see speed as a primary goal in aviation, it’s important to remember that there are other factors that can be just as important, if not more so. Factors like range, payload capacity, and fuel efficiency all play a role in determining whether an aircraft is suitable for a particular task.

That being said, there are still times when speed is king. Military applications like air-to-air combat and intercepting cruise missiles require fast aircraft, as do various record-setting attempts. Even commercial airlines get in on the act from time to time, with Air France and British Airways both operating supersonic services between London and New York during the 1990s.

A fighter jet shown creating a sonic boom cloud.

The Mach speed

Before we go into the names of the fastest aircraft in the world, it is important that we make clear what is the meaning of the Mach speed. In short, the Mach numbers are representative of how the speed of sound compares to the speed of a flying object, so Mach speeds usually refer to supersonic speeds.

Mach numbers are normally used when speaking of the top speed of air-to-air missiles, surface-to-air missiles, fighter jets, or any supersonic aircraft. And this is because those missiles and aircraft are capable of reaching and surpassing the speed of sound, hence the adjective supersonic.

For those reaching above Mach 5, the adjective hypersonic is used. However, Mach numbers can also be used to speak of commercial aircraft’s top speed in form of a fraction of the speed of sound.

For example, a fighter jet that flies at Mach 1 is flying at the speed of sound, while a fighter jet that flies at Mach 2 is doubling that speed. In the case of commercial aircraft, most of them fly at Mach 0.6 or 0.7, which means 6/10ths to 7/10ths the speed of sound.

With this in mind, we could expect a fighter jet to be the fastest aircraft in the world. Let’s see whether this is true or not.

The 4 world’s fastest aircraft

North American X-15 – Max. Speed: 4,520 mph (Mach 6.72)

The North American X-15, considered by many the fastest fighter jet, was a hypersonic rocket-powered aircraft operated by the US Air Force and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as part of a program to research the capabilities of aircraft at high altitudes and speeds, and the effects of such altitudes and speeds on pilots.

The X-15 set numerous world records, including becoming the first winged spacecraft to attain speeds greater than Mach 6. The X-15 aircraft also holds the official world record for the fastest manned aircraft. It was flown by Air Force test pilot William J. “Pete” Knight who reached a top speed of Mach 6.72 (4,520 mph; 7,274 km/h) on October 3, 1967.

The X-15 had a remarkable flight career, setting numerous other records including the altitude record for winged aircraft which stands at 354,200 feet (107,960 m) while in service between 1959 and 1968.

The fastest aircraft in the world: North American X-15

Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird – Max. Speed: 2,200 mph (Mach 3.35)

The SR-71 Blackbird was an advanced, long-range Mach 3+ strategic reconnaissance aircraft developed by Lockheed-Martin for the United States Air Force during the cold war. The SR-71 was operated by both the USAF and NASA.

The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird was one of the most successful aircraft in terms of autonomy, as it was capable of unrefueled flight over 2000 miles at speeds exceeding Mach 3.2, and it could fly at altitudes of 85,000 feet (25,900 m). The SR-71 served as a reconnaissance and experimental research platform during the cold war and for more than three decades until it was retired in 1998.

Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.

MiG-25 Foxbat – Max. Speed: 1,650 mph (Mach 2.83)

The only real fighter jet on the list, the MiG-25, was a supersonic interceptor aircraft developed by the Mikoyan Design Bureau in the Soviet Union. Operated by various countries around the world including Russia, Syria, India, and Iraq, the MiG-25 can reach Mach 2.83 (1,650 mph or 2,660 km/h) making it one of the fastest military aircraft ever built, and the fastest fighter jet in service despite only reaching half the speed of the X-15.

This fighter jet entered service with the Soviets in 1975 and remained in active service until 2010 with various air forces around the world.

The fastest aircraft in the world Mig-25 Foxbat
Image source: (CC) George Chernilevsky / Wikimedia

Concorde – Max. Speed: 1,350 mph (Mach 2.04)

The only aircraft that is not a military or fighter jet on the list is the Concorde, a supersonic passenger airliner jointly developed and manufactured by British Airways and Air France.

The Concorde had a maximum speed of Mach 2.04 (1,354 mph or 2,180 km/h) and could seat up to 100 passengers in a pressurized cabin altitude of 6,000 m (20,000 ft). It was only allowed to fly at such speeds on overwater routes to avoid the sonic boom from affecting populated areas.

Unfortunately, on July 25th of 2000, the fatal crash ended with the hopes for more passenger supersonic flights. The Concorde was in service from 1976 to 2003 and carried over two million passengers during that time.

Concorde aircraft propped up on poles for display.

Some closing words

There are many other jet aircraft running for the fastest fighter jet crown, as well as other types of aircraft that are capable of supersonic flight apart from those on this list. For example, the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle, although not the fastest fighter jet, is capable of reaching Mach 2.5, and the XB-70 Valkyrie which is a tactical bomber capable of reaching Mach 3.0 to name a couple.

As you can see, there have been many fast aircraft throughout history but these are just a few that have stood out due to their maximum speed.

When flying these machines pilots need to be extra careful because of how powerful they are. All it takes is one small mistake for something to go wrong. Thankfully we now have technology that continues to make these decisions easier for everyone involved. Will we see supersonic passenger flights again? Only time can tell. We will have to seat tight, buckle up and wait for it.

An aircraft creating a sonic boom cloud.

FAQ

What are some other fastest aircraft contenders?

Bell X-2 project also held the position as one of the world’s fastest aircraft. However, after a fatal ground collision with an attempt to use only the small parachute of the escape shuttle happened, the Starbuster program was brought to a close and never fully finished.

What is the fastest accelerating aircraft?

The fastest acceleration is usually applied only to automobiles, but you can probably measure this aircraft performance metric with something called thrust to weight ratio. The aircraft that take up the highest position in this list are Su-35BM (T/W ratio 1.30) and F-15K (T/W ratio 1.29)

What’s the fastest unpressurized aircraft?

Some of the fastest unpressurized aircraft that fly below 16,000 ft are Beechcraft Bonanza, Cirrus SR22 and Cessna 172.

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Carlos Collantes
Carlos Collantes
A mechanical engineer and aviation enthusiast dedicated to share some knowledge by creating top-notch content, especially in engineering and aviation topics.

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