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You know that planes are fast, able to get you around the world in just a number of hours. But what’s the fastest plane ever?
The fastest plane ever built is the Lockheed Martin SR-71 Blackbird. A high-altitude, high-speed reconnaissance aircraft built in the 1960s, the SR-71 could reach speeds up to 2,193 miles per hour. The Cessna 172 is the faster learner plane, topping out at 188 mph.
If you clicked on this article to learn all about the world’s fastest plane ever — the SR-71 Blackbird — then we’ve got you covered. But that’s not all you’ll get from this as you read through. You’ll get a bit of an idea about what it takes to break the sound barrier, a glimpse into the fastest commercial planes in the world, and you’ll also learn about how fast the most common pilot training planes can fly.
Airspeed records, even for historically secret and stealthy planes like the SR-71 Blackbird, are public records. Breaking records has been a favorite pastime of humanity for as long as we’ve been around, so finding the fastest plane ever just required some time and research. To ensure that we are providing you with the most accurate information possible, we corroborated everything you read below with other experts in the field.
What Is The Fastest Plane In The World?
All planes are fast. Even the small single-engine aircraft that you would learn to fly in are still fast. Compared to cars that we all drive or ride in on a regular basis, pretty much all airplanes would be considered fast, capable of traveling anywhere from 100 - 500 mph without breaking a sweat. Commercial airplanes might get you from New York City to Los Angeles in just about five hours, traveling at over 500 mph. But that’s not even close to the fastest plane ever.
The title belongs to the famous Lockheed Martin SR-71 Blackbird.
Designed to act as the keynote stealth and strategic reconnaissance plane at the United State’s disposal, the Blackbird lived up to those expectations. Designed in the 1960s, the SR-71 Blackbird took its first flight in 1964 and was built to operate reconnaissance missions at high altitudes and high speeds.
And high speeds it provided.
The SR-71 Blackbird was designed to travel at Mach 3.3 at maximum speed — that’s 3.3 times the speed of sound, or a whopping 2,100+ miles per hour. Not only was it designed to be able to fly that fast, it actually operated at near max speeds, designed to carry out missions at Mach 3.2. The SR-71 Blackbird was so fast, its standard evasive maneuver if a threat was ever detected was to simply turn on the afterburners and outrun whatever it was. Now that’s speed.
Is The SR-71 Blackbird Still Used Today?
With how incredible of a piece of machinery the SR-71 Blackbird is, from performance to aesthetics, we wish we could say that it was still in service today. But unfortunately, the SR-71 was retired just before the turn of the millennium.
During its service life, the Blackbird was extensively utilized by both the United States Air Force and NASA due to its extreme versatility and capability to perform tasks that no other plane could. The retirement of the SR-71 in 1998 by the Air Force brought along with it a gap in coverage between high-altitude manned aircraft and much of the newer unmanned aircraft that are taking over the skies today.
To help close this gap and gain back as much air superiority as possible, Lockheed unveiled a new proposed plane in 2013 — the Lockheed Martin SR-72. It has come to be known as the “Son of Blackbird” among those close to the project, and it aims to take unmanned reconnaissance missions to the next level. As of now, the SR-72 is still under design, but Lockheed hopes to have a prototype ready to go by 2023.
How Fast Do Planes Need To Go To Break The Sound Barrier?
For a plane to break the sound barrier, it just needs to be traveling at faster than the speed of sound — which is 770 miles per hour at sea level and standard atmospheric conditions.
This might seem like an abstract concept on the surface, after all how does sound create a physical barrier for the plane to break through? While we could easily dedicate an entire article to how sound travels and the speed of sound, we’ll spare you the details and give you a quick overview of what really happens when a plane breaks the sound barrier.
Sound travels in waves, which move at a finite speed emanating from the object (in this case the plane). As the plane approaches the speed of sound, which will go down as altitude and temperature increase, the sound waves get bunched together at the front of the plane. If the plane keeps accelerating faster than the speed of sound, then it breaks through this grouping of waves and the resulting change in pressure sounds like a massive explosion to anyone nearby.
What’s interesting about traveling fast enough to break the sound barrier is that the sonic boom is a continuous noise, it’s not just a one-time event. The sound just travels in a wave (a sound wave) and that’s why it sounds like a boom to observers.
If you recall from above, the SR-71 Blackbird was able to fly at over 3.3 times the speed of sound — that's some serious speed!
What’s The Fastest Commercial Plane?
While it’s incredibly likely that nobody reading this has ever traveled at the maximum cruising altitude of the SR-71, many of us have flown on commercial aircraft. And they certainly are no slouches! Commercial aircraft have connected us like never before and enable us to travel anywhere in the world — from one side to the other — in less than a day.
Passenger and cargo jets fly fast, sure. But one commercial jet reigns supreme over the rest. The infamous BAC Concorde. Although the Concorde has been retired for nearly two decades, the famous passenger jet used to ferry passengers through the air at over 1,350 mph — twice the speed of sound. While supersonic travel is no longer done for commercial airliners, they still travel incredibly fast.
Most commercial aircraft have a maximum speed somewhere in the 500 - 700 mph range, here are the top speeds of some of the most common commercial airplanes you might fly in:
How Fast Do Pilot Training Planes Go?
As you can probably guess, smaller aircraft used for pilot training and for beginners don’t go as fast as commercial jets, and certainly not military aircraft. That said, they still travel far faster than most cars are reliably capable of traveling for extended periods of time. Expect most learner planes to top out at somewhere between 120 - 200 mph.
Here’s a table showing the top speeds of five of the most common learner planes used by beginner pilots:
So as you can see, these smaller planes don’t travel anywhere near the blistering speeds that commercial aircraft do, but they are far from slow. There’s still something exhilarating about traveling through the unencumbered airspace at 150+ mph!