14 Fastest Aircraft In The World Of All Time | 2024 Edition

Can you guess the fastest airspeed an aircraft has ever achieved? It is close to 10,200 km/h or 6,300+ mph. Quite astounding. But the more important question is how did we reach this level.

In the late 1930s, when the first fully jet-powered aircraft (Heinkel He 178) was introduced, it had a maximum airspeed of almost 600 km/h. The fastest ever recorded. Then, by 1941, the fastest airspeed achieved by any aircraft reached 900 km/h following the introduction of Messerschmitt Me 262, the world’s first operational jet fighter.

Between the 1940s and 1960s, the aviation industry made substantial advancements concerning engine output and the aircraft’s overall structural stability. These improvements allowed airplanes to operate at much faster speeds with increased durability.

Did you know? 

On October 14, 1947, US Air Force pilot Chuck Yeager carried out the first-ever supersonic flight (exceeding the speed of sound or Mach 1) on Bell X-1. During the flight, the aircraft reached the maximum airspeed of 1,600 km/h. But, of course, it was nowhere near the fastest aircraft in the world.

Below is our list of twelve crewed and two unmanned airplanes, all of which hold the record as some of the fastest aircraft ever produced. But before we dive in, let’s go over some technical terms to help you better understand.

Mach Regimes

An aircraft’s speed is often measured by the Mach number, a dimensionless quantity representing the ratio between an object’s speed and the speed of light in the surrounding medium. Depending on how fast an aircraft is compared to the speed of sound, we can put flights into different Mach regimes.

Mach Regime Speed (Mach Number)
Subsonic Less than 988 Km/h (<0.8)
Transonic 988–1,482 km/h (0.8-1.2)
Supersonic 1,482–6,174 km/h (1.2-5)
Hypersonic 6,174–12,350 km/h (5-10)
High-hypersonic 12,350–30,870 km/h (10-25)

14. Mikoyan Ye-66/ MiG-21

MiG-21 (retired) of Vietnam People’s Air Force at the National Museum of the United States Air Force

Initial Flight: June 16, 1955
Recorded Top Speed: 2,175 km/h or 1,351 mph

The MiG-21 is a single-engine jet fighter capable of flying at twice the speed of sound. The aircraft entered the service in 1959 as a low-cost fighter that could only operate in the daytime. However, it was highly maneuverable in the air and could operate from unpaved runways.

More than 50 different nations across the globe have, at one time or another, utilized MiG-21 or its variants. It remains the most-produced supersonic aircraft in the world and has the third-longest production run of any combat aircraft.

Throughout the history of the MiG-21 program, many prototypes and design variants have been produced. One such prototype was Ye-6T or Ye-66 (unofficial), developed in 1958. This particular prototype would later establish multiple airspeed and altitude records. According to some sources, the fastest speed achieved by a Ye-6T prototype is 2,681 km/h or 1,666 miles per hour.

However, the maximum speed of a production MiG-21 is redlined at 2,175 km/h (Mach 2.05).

13. Convair F-106 Delta Dart

Convair F-106B Delta Dart trainer of Air National Guard | Image Courtesy: USAF

Initial Flight: 26 December 1956
Recorded Top Speed: 2,484 km/h or 1,544 mph

The Convair F-106 Delta Dart was the last true interceptor aircraft to serve the US Air Force. It was born out of the USAF’s interceptor program in 1954 and made its first test flight three years later from Edwards Air Force Base. However, the test yielded disappointing results.

Due to various performance issues and production delays, the Air Force cut down its initial order of Convair F-106 by 75 percent, acquiring less than 350 units. On 15 December 1959, about two months after being introduced into service, Major Joe Rogers set the world single-engine speed record (official) on an F-106 at 2,455 km/h or Mach 2.39.

However, the fastest airspeed of a Convair F-106 Delta Dart was recorded at 2,484 km/h or 1,544 mph by aviator Charles Myers in 1959 as well.

12. Sukhoi SU-27

Sukhoi Su-27 | Image Courtesy: Vitaly V. Kuzmin

Initial Flight: 20 May 1977
Top Speed: 2,500 km/h or 1,600 mph

With the arrival of fourth-generation warplanes, such as the F-14 Tomcat and F-15 Eagle, in the late 1960s and early 70s, the United States gained a commendable technological superiority over the existing Soviet military aircraft.

As a counter, the Soviets launched the “Prospective Frontline Fighter” program to develop a highly agile fighter plane with Mach 2+ speed. The program concluded with MiG-29 and Su-27.

The Sukhoi Su-27 (NATO reporting name “Flanker”) is relatively heavier and larger of the two, while both are versatile and capable of performing different combat roles. The aircraft is known for being supermaneuverable, meaning it can execute highly advanced tactical maneuvers that go beyond what traditional flight control surfaces like flaps, rudder, and air brakes can achieve.

At an altitude, the maximum airspeed of a Su-27 is 2,500 km/h (Mach 2.35).

11. McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II

An F-4 Phantom II of fighter squadron VF-74 U.S Navy

Initial Flight: 27 May 1958
Recorded Top Speed: 2,585 km/h or 1,606.3 mph

The supersonic multirole aircraft F-4 Phantom II had been a cornerstone of the US Armed Forces for over three decades between the 1960s and 1990s. The aircraft was initially developed to replace the aging F3H Demon (carrier-based) fighters. However, due to the aircraft’s high adaptability, it was quickly embraced by the US Air Force and the Marine Corps.

The F-4 Phantom established as many as sixteen world air records, all during its initial service years. Some of them were not broken until the mid-1970s. On 22 November 1961, during Operation Skyburner, a modified F-4 Phantom II reached a record speed of 2,585 km/h.

Due to its large airframe and massive firepower, the F-4s were heavier and less maneuverable than its Russian counterparts, such as the MiG-21. Nevertheless, the aircraft had been used extensively by other countries and wars.

10. McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle

A USAF F-15C flying over California

Initial Flight: 27 July 1972
Recorded Top Speed: 2,655 km/h or 1,650 mph

The F-15 is a twin-engine, multirole combat aircraft developed by McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing Defense) that entered service nearly five decades ago. When the plane was first introduced, the Air Force labeled it as “the first dedicated USAF air superiority fighter since the 1940s’ F-86 Sabre.”

The aircraft is powered by two afterburning turbofan engines producing 105.7 kN thrust and have a maximum achievable speed of 2,655 kilometers per hour (Mach 2.5).

The F-15s have been a dominant force in the skies, whether as an air-to-air fighter or a ground-attack aircraft (F-15E Strike Eagle). They were highly effective during the Gulf War, winning most of their air-to-air battles.

While the USAF remains the largest operator of the F-15s, they are an integral part of the other air forces, such as the Royal Saudi Air Force, Japan Air Self-Defense Force (licensed variant), and the Israeli Air Force.

9. Mikoyan-Gurevich Ye-152/ Ye-166

Initial Flight: 21 April 1961
Recorded Top Speed: 2,681 km/h or 1,665 mph

The Ye-152 was an experimental heavy interceptor aircraft designed by the Mikoyan Gurevich Design Bureau in the late 1950s and early 60s. It was part of the Ye-150 family of aircraft. The net weight of a Ye-152 prototype aircraft was more than 12,300 kg, about 150 times that of its contemporary MiG 21F (4,819 kg). It is due to heavier avionics and armaments.

The aircraft had a potent yet unreliable single Tumansky R-15 turbojet engine, which was later used in the MiG-25. Despite its unreliability, this engine enabled the aircraft to reach speeds of 2,681 kilometers per hour. Interestingly, the record achieved by the Ye-152 is officially recorded under the incorrect name Ye-166.

8. Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 “Foxbat”

MiG-25 | Image Courtesy: Dmitry A. Mottl/ Wikimedia Commons

Initial Flight: 6 March 1964
Recorded Top Speed: 3,000 km/h (Mach 2.8)

The MiG-25 “Foxbat” (NATO reporting name) is a supersonic military aircraft developed by the Russian Aircraft Corporation MiG in the 1960s. The jet has a maximum operating speed limit of Mach 2.8. However, it’s capable of reaching much higher Mach 3+ speeds but not without permanent damage to the engine.

Thanks to its remarkable speed and high cruising altitude of 23,000 meters, the MiG-25 served both as an interceptor and a reconnaissance aircraft. The highest altitude ever reached by a modified MiG-25 was 37,650 meters, achieved by a Soviet pilot in 1977.

Initially, Western Allies, upon analyzing intelligence data on the MiG-25, mistakenly thought of it as an agile fighter rather than an interceptor. This misunderstanding led the United States to launch its air superiority fighter project, resulting in the development of the F-15 Eagle.

A MiG-31 of the Russian Air Force | Image Courtesy: Dmitriy Pichugin

Despite the success of MiG-25, the Soviets were still without a supersonic interceptor that could engage Western fighters directly with adequate firepower. As a result, a replacement was introduced with additional capabilities but keeping the most critical aspects of the supersonic jet: speed and operational altitude.

The new model, designated as MiG-31 “Foxhound,” featured some of the most advanced avionics and radar technology of its time. It has a similar outer appearance and, most importantly, maximum speed to its predecessor.

7. Bell X-2 Starbuster

Bell X-2 (below) drops away from its B-50 Superfortress mothership | Image Courtesy: NASA (NACA)

Initial Flight: 18 November 1955
Recorded Top Speed: 3,050 km/h or 1,900 mph (Mach 2.87)

The Bell X-2 was a research aircraft developed by Bell Aircraft in collaboration with the National Committee of Aeronautics (the predecessor of NASA) and the US Air Force to explore and investigate flight qualities above Mach 2 speeds.

The X-2, nicknamed “Starbuster,” featured a swept-wing configuration and was driven by a powerful single Curtiss-Wright XLR25 rocket engine producing 67 kN thrust.

On 23 July 1956, on his ninth and final X-2 test flight, Frank “Pete” Everest became the “fastest man alive” after achieving a record airspeed of 3,050 km/h at 20,764 m altitude. However, it was not the fastest recorded speed on a Bell-X-2.

Approximately two months after Everest’s historic flight, on September 27, 1956, pilot Milburn Apt achieved a remarkable Mach 3.1 speed, equivalent to 3,369 km/h, during his initial X-2 test flight.

Apt’s achievement would have been a flawless record if he had safely returned to the ground. Unfortunately, moments after reaching the maximum speed, Apt lost control of his jet, leading to a nosedive. Tragically, Apt was unable to eject in time, and he lost his life shortly after the aircraft crashed.

6. North American XB-70 Valkyrie

XB-70A Valkyrie on a runway before the test flight

Initial Flight: 21 September 1964
Recorded Top Speed: 3,250 km/h or 2,020 mph (Mach 3.8)

In the mid-1950s, due to the rapidly evolving strategic needs, the US Air Forces started investigating potential bombers, or ground attack aircraft, that could carry heavy payloads (including nuclear missiles) at supersonic speeds over long distances.

The probe ended with the experimental aircraft North American XB-70, nicknamed ‘Valkyrie.’ Only two units of XB-70 were ever produced. Both of them had delta wing arrangements and were made mostly of stainless steel and titanium. The aircraft was powered by six turbojet engines producing a thrust of 120 kilonewtons (with afterburner).

As an experimental aircraft, the XB-70 played an instrumental role in developing the late B-1 bomber and Tupolev Tu-144 programs.

Read: NASA vs SpaceX – How Different They Are?

5. Lockheed YF-12

Lockheed YF-12A flying over a mountain

Initial Flight: 7 August 1963
Recorded Top Speed: 3,331.5 km/h or 2,070.1 mph

YF-12 was a prototype interceptor aircraft developed by the Lockheed Corporation in the late 1950s and the early 60s for the US Air Forces. The aircraft was based on the Lockheed A-12, an experimental spy plane developed as a “black” project.

Unlike its predecessor, the YF-12 was a two-seater aircraft capable of carrying a fire control radar and multiple air-to-air missiles. The YF-12 set a record for the maximum airspeed, reaching 3,331.5 km/h during a test flight on May 1, 1965, earning it the title of the fastest airplane in the world at that time.

However, its reign was short-lived as it was soon surpassed by the SR-71, another advanced military plane based on the Lockheed A-12 design.

The YF-12 still holds the records for the fastest and heaviest crewed interceptor to date.

4. Lockheed SR-71 “Blackbird”

An overhead front view of SR-71 “Blackbird” | Image Courtesy: U.S Air Force

Initial Flight: 22 December 1964
Recorded Top Speed: 3,529.5 km/h

The fastest aircraft on earth to date made its initial flight more than fifty years ago. The backstory of why and how SR-71 came into existence is rather intricate. The idea was to develop a reconnaissance aircraft that could operate without being detected by most radars and be faster than any other existing airplanes at that time.

Lockheed’s Skunk Works, an advanced research lab for military projects, was responsible for designing this groundbreaking aircraft.

The SR-71 was an almost invincible asset for the US armed forces in the air due to its speed and ability to operate at extremely high altitudes. The highest altitude achieved by an SR-71 was 25,929 m. At such height, most surface-to-air missiles, at that time, were ineffective.

Apart from its most popularized nickname, “Blackbird,” the SR-71 is occasionally known by other names such as “Habu.” During its more than three decades of service, only 32 units of SR-71 were produced.

3. North American X-15

An X-15 in flight | Image Courtesy: NASA

Initial Flight: 8 June 1959
Recorded Top Speed: 7,274 km/h or 4,520 mph (Mach 6.7)

On 3 October 1967, William “Pete” Knight, a US astronaut and test pilot, shocked the world after flying at a staggering speed of 7,374 kilometers per hour, reaching close to Mach 7. His record of the highest speed achieved by a crewed aircraft remains intact.

The aircraft on which he achieved such speeds was part of the legendary X-plane series of high-speed experimental aircraft, designated North American X-15. Like most other X-planes, the X-15 was launched mid-air with the help of a ‘mothership.’

The aircraft was initially powered by a modified XLR99 engine (that powered Bell X-1 flight), providing a thrust of 27 kN. It was later replaced by a more powerful rocket engine with a thrust output of 250 kN.  

The X-15 featured a distinctive tail design, thick and wedged, which enabled it to maintain stability even at hypersonic speeds.

2. NASA X-43

Artist’s concept of NASA X-43A | Image Courtesy: NASA

Recorded Top Speed: Mach 9.6

While the X-15, at Mach 6.7, remains the fastest crewed aircraft to date, the bar is set much higher when it comes to unmanned flights. The fastest unmanned plane on record is the X-43, an experimental aircraft developed to study the aerodynamics of hypersonic flights. It was part of NASA’s Hyper-X program, which started in the late 1990s.

Following an unsuccessful first attempt in 2001, the X-43 successfully achieved hypersonic speeds in subsequent tests. In March 2004, during its second flight, it reached Mach 6.8. In its third and final flight on November 16, 2004, the aircraft soared to an astonishing Mach 9.6, equivalent to 10,240 km/h. Both successful flights involved the launch of the aircraft from a B-52 Stratofortress at an altitude of 13,000 meters.

Initially, the Hyper-X program planned for additional tests, but it was eventually curtailed with the introduction of the X-51 Waverider, an experimental scramjet aircraft.

1. HTV-2 Falcon 

The baseline flight test trajectories

Airspeed: 17.2 Mach or 13,201 mph

The Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (HTV-2) Falcon is an experimental hypersonic glide vehicle developed by DARPA. It is launched into the atmosphere on a rocket and then glides back to Earth at hypersonic speeds. This glide phase allows for maneuverability and precise targeting.

HTV-2 Falcon is designed to travel at extremely high speeds, more specifically at hypersonic speeds greater than Mach 10. 

Its body is made of carbon composite materials that are known for their strength and ability to withstand high temperatures. The surface temperature of the vehicle during flight is expected to exceed 1,930 °C. This is well beyond the melting point of conventional materials like steel, which melts at around 1,370 °C. 

The use of advanced materials is crucial to ensure the structural integrity of the vehicle as it encounters intense heat and aerodynamic forces at hypersonic speeds. 

To date, HTV-2 Falcon has undergone multiple test flights, including two test flights in 2010 and 2011. However, both of these test flights ended prematurely due to technical issues.

More to Know

Key Milestones in Aviation Speed

Aviation history is usually considered to have started on December 17, 1903, with the first powered flight conducted by Orville and Wilbur Wright. Since then, we’ve marked significant milestones over the century. Here are some key moments.

  • First Official Airspeed Record (1905): The Wright brothers set the first official airspeed record by flying the Flyer III at 38.5 mph. This demonstrated a significant improvement in aviation speed within a short timeframe.
  • World War I Era: Planes like the Sopwith Camel and Fokker D.VII could reach speeds of around 115 mph. 
  • Gloster Meteor (1944): It was the first operational jet-powered aircraft used by the Allies during World War II. It had a top speed of around 600 mph. 
  • Breaking the Sound Barrier (1947): The Bell X-1 became the first aircraft to break the sound barrier, reaching a speed of Mach 1.06. 
  • SR-71 Blackbird (1966): It could reach speeds over Mach 3 (2,200 miles per hour) and still holds the record for the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft.
  • Concorde Supersonic Airliner (1969): The Concorde, a joint project between British and French aerospace companies, became the first supersonic passenger airliner. 
  • Space Shuttle (1981-2011): While not a conventional aircraft, the Space Shuttle could reach speeds of about 17,500 mph in orbit. It marked a new era in space travel and reentry capabilities.
Breakthroughs in Aerospace Technology

Technical advances in the aerospace industry transformed the way we travel, explore space, and defend nations. 

  1. Jet Propulsion in the 1930s replaced traditional propeller-driven aircraft
  2. Supersonic Flight in the late 1940s led to the development of high-speed military and commercial aircraft
  3. The launch of Sputnik 1 by the Soviet Union in 1957 marked the beginning of the space age.
  4. Satellite technologies in the 1960s enabled communication, weather monitoring, and navigation systems, profoundly impacting global connectivity.
  5. In 1969, NASA’s Apollo 11 mission successfully landed the first humans on the Moon, showcasing the capability of human space exploration.
  6. In the 1980s, Aircraft like the B-2 Spirit and F-117 Nighthawk demonstrated the ability to operate with reduced radar detection, influencing modern military aviation.
  7. Ongoing research into hypersonic technology could revolutionize air travel and military capabilities, with applications ranging from rapid passenger transport to high-speed weaponry.

Are there differences in speed criteria for military and commercial aircraft?

Yes. While military aircraft are evaluated based on factors like operational speed and agility, commercial aircraft prioritize fuel efficiency and top speed for long-haul flights. 

Military Aircraft Commercial Aircraft
Emphasizes high operational speed for rapid response Prioritizes efficient cruise speeds for long-haul flights
Focuses on agility and maneuverability for combat situations, Prioritizes stable and predictable flight characteristics 
Often designed for supersonic or hypersonic speeds Typically operate below supersonic speeds
Pilot comfort is a secondary consideration; it focuses on mission requirements  Designed to enhance passenger comfort, minimizing the effects of noise and turbulence
Which is the fastest passenger aircraft?

Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde holds the title of the fastest passenger aircraft in history. It was a turbojet-powered supersonic airliner known for its ability to travel at speeds exceeding Mach 2. It could cruise at a speed of around 1,354 mph. 

It entered commercial service in 1976 and operated until 2003. It was primarily used for transatlantic flights between Europe and the United States. 

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Written by
Varun Kumar

I am a professional technology and business research analyst with more than a decade of experience in the field. My main areas of expertise include software technologies, business strategies, competitive analysis, and staying up-to-date with market trends.

I hold a Master's degree in computer science from GGSIPU University. If you'd like to learn more about my latest projects and insights, please don't hesitate to reach out to me via email at [email protected].

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  • you have not given no.1 plane in this list bro! . :0 😉

    • What’s the matter… cat got your tongue?

  • Robert Arnold says:

    The photo for the X-2 (#6) is of one of the X-1 variations; I think its the E version but would need to check. Even the caption mentioned swept wings which should have tipped off the photo editor.

  • It’s interesting how the fastest US planes were only 2 to 32 built, while the fastest Russian’s had 1190+ built !

    • Usane Bolt can run the fastest 100m the fastest human over 100m sadly he has not much manouvering ability same goes with fastest aircrafts in a straight line ,have you seen vehicles run down a drag strip, once seen it becomes boring monouverability has a more important role but more importantly not getting into any fighting situation would be wiser.