How Fast do Airplanes Fly?
24 December 2021 | Updated on November 21, 2023
Airplanes are an amazing invention, and they are the fastest means of mass transportation. The speed of a plane allows it to travel vast distances within the possible shortest time, cutting down journeys that might have taken several days by boat or train into mere hours. This feat is primarily responsible for developing a global travel industry worth several trillions of dollars.
How fast a plane can fly is determined by its shape, design, and weather conditions. We looked at the speed of helicopters before, but aircraft offer some unique advantages when it comes to speed.
Let us dive into the mystery of flight to unravel how fast the different planes fly and how fast the most famous aircraft of this era go.
How Does an Airplane Fly?
Four forces are keeping an airplane in the sky. These are lift, weight, thrust, and drag.
Thrust is what pushes or propels the plane forward; it’s created by the airplane’s engines providing power to push the aircraft through the air.
Drag is resistance from the atmosphere on a moving object which slows down its progress; this includes things like wind turbulence, raindrops hitting wings at high speeds, and general atmospheric resistance.
Weight refers to gravitational pull holding onto the plane due to gravity pulling down on all objects with mass – including passengers and fuel inside an airplane.
Finally, lift is the force that holds an airplane up against the weight of gravity. This is created mainly by airflow over and under a wing.
All these forces converged to keep a plane airborne safely.
How Fast do Planes Fly?
How fast a plane flies depends on how its fuselage was designed to resist drag, the amount of thrust the engine produces, the size of its wings which generate lift, and how much it weights. Different types of aircraft are designed to perform various functions. Fighter jets designed to intercept enemy aircraft are designed to fly faster than commercial aircraft, whose primary purpose is to carry passengers safely around the globe. That being said, we look at different aircraft types and how fast they are.
How Fast is a Commercial Airplane?
The average speed for large long-haul commercial airliners is between 547-575 mph (880-926 km/h). In comparison, medium-to-short-haul airliners’ speed ranges from 494-544 mph (795-875 km/h). While impressive, commercial airplane speeds have dropped significantly over the past 20 years due to the desire to achieve peak fuel economy at slower speeds.
Commercial airliners are designed to be profitable for their operators. And airline owners generally avoid operating these planes at faster speeds to reduce engine and fuselage wear and prevent the airplane from burning more fuel per passenger mile.
How Fast is a Private Jet?
Private jets fly at roughly the same speeds as large commercial airliners (600 mph/ 965 km/h) at cruising altitude. However, how fast a private jet flies depends on the type of aircraft and its weight. The Citation X+ is the world’s fastest private jet with a top speed of 717 mph (1153.9 km/h), but it is far from the only business jet capable of such incredible speeds. Other private jets that can exceed Mach 0.9 speeds include the Bombardier Global 8000, the Gulfstream G650ER, and the G700.
How Fast is a Military Airplane?
There are different types of military airplanes, and trying to determine how fast military planes fly can be a bit difficult. Fighter jets can fly faster than most military planes, including cargo and transport aircraft, which fly at much slower speeds.
Although the actual top speed remains classified, the SR-71 Blackbird, a reconnaissance plane with a reported top speed of 2,200 mph/ 3,540 km/h, faster than any other fighter jet. The fastest military aircraft is the MIG-25 FOXBAT, over 2148 mph (3456 km/h).
Military transport airplanes fly at speeds ranging from 598 mph (962 km/h) to 644 mph (1,036 km/h). The Airbus A400M Atlas, a strategic, tactical airlifter for European countries military forces has a top speed of 485 mph (781 kph), the United States Lockheed C-5 Galaxy and the Soviet Union Antonov An-124 Ruslan top speeds are 532 mph (856 km/h), and 537 mph (865 km/h) respectively.
If you want to discover more fast fighter jets, check out our other article about this:
How Fast is a Propeller Airplane?
Propeller-engined planes typically fly at slower speeds. In general, we can distinguish between regular smaller propeller aircraft, like the popular Cessna 172, single-engine turbine-driven propeller aircraft like the Pilatus PC-12, and commercial multi-engine turboprops like the De Havilland DHC-8.
The official record for the fastest propeller-driven aircraft is the Tupolev Tu114, a Russian-made commercial airline with a top speed of 540 mph (869 kph). Smaller regional transport turboprop passenger airplanes like the De Havilland DHC-8 (Dash-8) have a top cruising speed of 414 mph (667 km/h). Single-engine propeller aircraft like the Cessna 172 Skyhawk and the Cirrus SR22 have top speeds of 188 mph (302 km/h) and 234 mph (376 km/h) respectively.
Aerobatic aircraft are mostly prop-planes with faster top speeds than other single-engine planes. Two of the most popular racing planes are the Edge 540, a single-engine light airplane with a top speed of 265 mph (426 km/h), and the Extra 330, which has a top speed of some 220 kts (over 400km/h).
The Fastest Airplanes in the world
Although the fastest airplane in the world remains a hotly debated topic among pilots and aircraft enthusiasts, there are several airplanes that have been officially recognized as the world’s fastest.
North American X-15
Max speed: 4,520 mph (7,270 km/h)
The North American X-15 is an experimental aircraft powered by a single rocket engine. It held the record for the fastest human-powered aircraft and was owned and operated by the United States Air Force.
Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird
Max speed: 2,200 mph (3,540 km/h)
The SR-71 was an advanced spy plane jointly developed by the Lockheed Martin “skunkworks’ department and operated by the United States Air Force and NASA. The aircraft holds the record for the world’s fastest jet-powered aircraft, and it can outrace surface-to-air missiles during missions over enemy territory.
Max speed: 2,094 mph (3,370 km/h)
The Bell X-2 was a hypersonic research aircraft developed by the Bell Corporation and the United States Air Force to test the aerodynamic limits of supersonic aircraft at top speeds. It was equipped with a single rocket engine providing thrust levels exceeding Mach 3.
Max speed: 1,900 mph (3,000 km/h)
The Soviet Union’s MIG-25 is the world’s fastest combat aircraft flying at over three times the speed of sound. It was designed as an interceptor, and the air forces of several countries operate it.
North American XB-70 Valkyrie
Max speed: 2,056 mph (3,310 km/h)
The XB-70 Valkyrie is a United States nuclear-armed supersonic strategic bomber capable of flying more than three times the speed of sound. It featured an innovative fuselage design to help it maintain stability at top speeds, and it is capable of long-range, sustained supersonic flight.
Popular Airplanes and Their Maximum Speed
Aviation history is filled with several airplane models, and very few have captured our imaginations and attracted as much attention as the airplanes in the list below. We have compiled a list of the most popular aircraft and their speed.
Max speed: 1,354 mph (2,179 km/h)
Concorde is a supersonic passenger aircraft operated by British Airways and Air France. It is an iconic aircraft with a streamlined delta wing design to reduce drag at supersonic speed and a hinged cockpit that tilts downwards during landing, take-off, and taxing. Concorde is the world’s fastest passenger jetliner, and it was the epitome of luxury and speed. It could complete the lucrative New York to London route in 2 hours 52 minutes 59 seconds, more than twice faster than other subsonic passenger airliners.
Max speed: 617 mph (993 km/h)
The Boeing 747 is the world’s first -wide-body aircraft. Since its launch in 1970, it has captured the public’s imagination which gave it the nickname “jumbo jet.” The 747 has revolutionized the ture of long haul and international travel by carrying more passengers resulting in lower airfare tickets air travel affordable to most people.
Lockheed C-130 Hercules
Max speed: 370 mph (590 km/h)
The most successful military airlifter and cargo airplane, the C-130 Hercules is a versatile transport plane known for its rugged reliability. It has been the world’s oldest airframe in continuous production for over six decades and is in use by a diverse range of operators around the world.
Cessna Citation X
Max Speed: 612 mph (993 km/h)
Since its introduction in 1996, the Cessna Citation X has been one of the world’s most popular aircraft, with over 339 units produced. The combination of a sleek fuselage, luxurious cabin, fast speed, cost-effective operating costs, and transcontinental range is among the many reasons why the Cessna Citation X remains the most sought-after small business jet among private jet owners and a favorite of private business jet charter companies.
Cessna 172 Skyhawk
Max speed: 116 mph (188 km/h)
With over 14,000 units produced, the Cessna 172 is arguably the most popular aircraft in history. This single-engine plane was introduced in 195 and has since been made under license by numerous companies.
Pushing a plane to its speed limits takes more than just powerful engines. It requires meticulous maintenance and superb piloting skills. Most of us may never get to fly an airplane at its top speed, but it helps us know the capability of most of our favorite planes when we board one at an airport.
Finally, many fast aircraft’s speeds are expressed in Mach, but what exactly is that? Find out in our other article: