Traveling in the air. The dream of many people some 100 years ago. Things have changed dramatically since then. Nowadays, traveling in the air and flying in the air has become one of the most exciting things to do. And it is the fastest way to travel. But today, we will talk about a different type of flying. And that is aircraft. Many of the fastest aircraft have exceeded the speed of Mach 2.0.
Several years ago, that speed was unthinkable. Nowadays, even some average aircraft exceed that speed limit. The first one to reach Mach 2 was test pilot Scott Crossfield. He was the first to fly at twice the speed of sound in a Douglas Aircraft in November 1953. It marked a significant benchmark.
We cannot imagine the feeling of flying in a supersonic aircraft. The moment when you push the throttle backward and experience the speed. Only several military pilots have experienced that.
Today, we will talk about the aircraft that have made that feeling possible. Here are some of the fastest aircraft in the world.
Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker
We talked about the speed limit of Mach 2.0. Today, the slowest aircraft on the list reaches a speed higher than Mach 2. For example, the Sukhoi Su-27 flanker can reach a top speed of Mach 2.35. The aircraft brings the cutting-edge of USSR craftsmanship with a twin-engine.
This plane also has the first fly-by-wire control system on a Russian fighter jet. Built for air superiority and trying to counter the American 3.5 generation fighters like the F-15 Eagle, the Sukhoi Su-27 has a 30 mm gun and 10 external pylons.
Fun fact: The Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker was once available for passenger fun flights.
General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark
The F-111 was a multipurpose tactical fighter bomber capable of reaching supersonic speed. At one point, it was a controversial aircraft to fly. But it achieved some of the safest operational records in history.
Do not think of it as a fighter. It is a tactical bomber able to fly at Mach 2.5. The army retired it in 1998. Before that, the bomber could carry 14,300kg of bombs, a nuclear bomb, air-to-air missiles, and a machine gun.
McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle
In the history of the US Air Force, the F-15 Eagle remains one of the most successful aircraft ever built. It has a twin-engine and thrust-to-weight ratio of almost 1:1. The 18,000kg aircraft can reach 2.5 times the speed of sound.
Introduced in 1976, the F-15 Eagle remains a part of the air force. And it will remain part of the US Air Force until 2025. There are more than 1200 F-15s produced, with the US exporting some of them to Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Israel.
Mikoyan MiG-31 Foxhound
The Foxhound could reach a speed of Mach 2.83, making it one of the fastest Russian aircraft. Designed to go straight very fast, the jet had the purpose of intercepting and destroying invading planes.
It is a modern replacement for the MiG-25 Foxbat from the late 1970s and early 1980s. To this day, it remains one of the fastest combat jets in the world. The Russian Air Force continues to operate it, as well as the Kazakhstan Air Force.
Let’s move on to some of the most unique aircraft. The XB-70 Valkyrie has six engines. Together, they can accelerate the 240,000kg aircraft to a speed of Mach 3. During that speed, the frame of the aircraft reaches heat of 330 Celsius in some areas.
Why the extreme speed? Well, the fighter jet had to accelerate away from Soviet interceptors. And secondly, the Valkyrie was designed to be able to escape the blast of the nuclear bombs it carried for dropping.
The XB-70 Valkyrie could carry fuel to make the flight to the Soviet Union and escape without refueling. All while carrying 14 nuclear bombs. Only two were built. But they were not used in any nuclear bombing. In fact, the aircraft is now retired.
Bell X-2 Starbuster
This rocket-powered and swept-wing research aircraft could investigate the structural effects of aerodynamic heating at high speed and altitude. Developed in 1945 to explore aerodynamic problems of supersonic flight, the Starbuster is a continuation of the X-2 program.
The sole purpose was to investigate and see how aircrafts behaved when flying at speeds higher than Mach 2.
Because it did not carry any weapons and had little air resistance, the experimental aircraft was able to achieve a speed of 3.196 Mach in 1956. Yet, after achieving the speed, the pilot made a sharp turn and the aircraft tumbled out of control. He could not regain control.
The fatal crash ended the Starbuster program. But the X-2 remains one of the fastest aircraft ever produced.
Mikoyan MiG-25 Foxbat
You probably wonder how the MiG-31, a more advanced aircraft, is lower on the list. Well, the Foxbat is definitely one of the best Soviet jets. Built to intercept American aircraft during the Cold War, including surveillance aircraft, it had to gain high speed.
The Soviets made it to intercept the SR-71, so, the Foxbat had to achieve an extreme speed of Mach 3.2 top speed.
It featured 4 air-to-air missiles, making it an interceptor and not a reconnaissance aircraft. While the Foxbat never shot down a Blackbird, the Soviets used it successfully for missions in the Iran-Iraq war.
Between 1964 and 1984, the Soviets made more than 1100 Foxbats. Today, however, their use is limited. Only Russia, Syria, Algeria, and Turkmenistan the fastest aircraft.
Fun fact: only 3 such aircraft were ever made. But the jet still made it into the history books for highest speed, highest altitude, and biggest interceptor records.
The interceptor prototype could achieve Mach 3.35 top speed and looked almost like the SR-71 Blackbird. Fun fact: the SR-71 was actually based on the YF-12.
The Lockheed Corporation developed this supersonic plane during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Yet, due to the pressing financial demands of the Vietnam War and other military priorities, the YF-12 found it hard to find funding for operational use.
To this day, the YF-12 remains the world’s largest, heaviest, and fastest crewed interceptor. After the retirement by the USAF, it served as research aircraft for NASA.
Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird
The US Army introduced the Blackbird in 1966. Since then, both the USAF and NASA have used it. To this day, 32 Blackbirds were built, and all were used for reconnaissance and experimental research.
The Blackbird featured stealth technology, but, if spotted by enemy forces, it could outrun the interceptors.
The supersonic jet was so fast that the air in front of it did not have time to escape. That is what built up huge pressure and raised the temperature of the jet.
The temperature could reach several hundred degrees and expand the metal. Hence, the army had to use small pieces to build the plane. Fun fact: the SR-71 actually leaked oil when standing still.
Designed in secrecy in the 1950s, it remains one of the fastest aircraft to this day. It could fly higher and faster than any other jet during the Cold War.
This fastest jet could venture into enemy territory without being shot or even detected. And if enemies spotted it, the Blackbird could outrun any interceptors and get away.
North American X-15
The North American X-15 reached a maximum speed of Mach 6.70 in October 1967. It remains a speed record to this day. But it was not hard to remain stable at these super high velocities. That is why the jet featured a big wedge-tail. At lower speed, the drag was extremely big for the tail.
To counter this, B-52 Stratofortress had to carry the X-15 up to an altitude of about 14,000 meters before dropping it and the X-15 would ignite its engine. This made the X-15 able to reach altitudes higher than 100km, a world record to this day.