Wondering what the fastest aircraft are? This post shares everything you need to know about the fastest jet aircraft in the world.
What are the top 5 fastest planes?
- North America X-15 – Mach 6.7 / 4,520 mph / 7,274 km/h
- Lockheed Martin SR71 Blackbird – Mach 3.32 / 2,200 mph / 3,540 km/h
- Lockheed Martin YF-12 – Mach 3.2 / 2,070.101 mph / 3,331.505 km/h
- Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 – Mach 3.2+ (but limited to Mach 2.83/ 1,900mph / 3,000 km/h)
- Bell-X2 Starbuster – Mach 3.2 / 2,094 mph / 3,370 km/h
- XB-70 Valkyrie- Mach 3.1 / 2,056 mph / 3,310 km/h
- Mikoyan MiG-31 Foxhound – Mach 2.83 / 1,900 mph / 3,000 km/h
- McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle – Mach 2.5 / 1,875 mph / 2,655 km/
- General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark – Mach 2.5 / 1,650 mph / 2,656 km/h
- Sukhoi SU27 flanker – Mach 2.35 / 1,600 mph / 2,500 km/h
10 Fastest Jet Aircraft
1. North Amercian X-15 – Mach 6.7 / 4,520 mph / 7,274 km/h
The North American X-15 was a joint project between the United States Air Force (USAF) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as part of the X Plane experimental aircraft.
The project aimed to push the boundaries and gather research in manned speed rocket propulsion and testing the limits of how high humankind could travel. The fastest speed achieved by the X-15 was Mach 6.7 (4,520 mph (7,274 km/h) by William J Knight at 102,000ft.
This remains the world record for the fastest crewed, powered aircraft. The X15 was a hypersonic powered rocket aircraft. The X-15 had several flight control challenges that had to be overcome to allow flight at these very high altitudes where the air is very thin coupled with these very high speeds.
The X-15 used a combination of thrust vectoring (Reaction Control System) and aerodynamic control surfaces to remain controllable.
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2. Lockheed Martin SR71 Blackbird – Mach 3.32 / 2,200 mph / 3,540 km/h
The SR71 was a ‘Skunkworks’ project where the CIA approached Lockheed in 1957 to develop a follow on spy aircraft to the U2. Although the U2 could fly extremely high (>60,000ft), the U2 did have vulnerabilities speed-wise, as was demonstrated when it was shot down in 1960 by Soviet Air Defences.
The SR71 came about as an improvement to the Lockheed A-12. The Lockheed A-12 could cruise at greater than Mach 3 and was a high altitude reconnaissance aircraft. The SR71 allowed for greater fuel and payload compared to the A-12.
The defence mechanism for both the A-12 and SR71 from enemy air defences was to simply outrun surface to air missiles. The SR71 maximum speed was Mach 3.32 at 80,000feet.
Unique to the A-12 and SR71 was its shape specifically designed to reduce its radar cross-section footprint on enemy radar.
The SR-71 holds the world record for the fastest human-crewed air-breathing jet-engined aircraft, set on 28 July 1976 by Eldon W. Joersz and George T. Morgan Jr. near Beale Air Force Base, California, USA.
3. Lockheed YF-12 – Mach 3.2 / 2,070.101 mph / 3,331.505 km/h
The YF-12 was a derivative of the A-12 (the precursor to the SR71 Blackbird). Compared to the resonance only A-12, the YF-12 had a Hughes AN/ASG-18 fire-control radar and could be fitted with AIM-47 Falcon (GAR-9) air-to-air missiles.
Unfortunately, because of the pressures from the Vietnam war, the YF-12 never become operational despite successful evaluation by the USAF. The YF-12 set and held the speed record of Mach 3.2 / 2,070.101 mph / 3,331.505 km/h.
Although the YF-12 would not become operational with the USAF, it did become a testbed and research aircraft for NASA.
Some of the significant contributions the YF-12 made to future aircraft design included:
• How AWACS (Airborne Early Warning and Control) would control supersonic aircraft
• Engine inlet performance and its effect on airframe and propulsion
• Boundary layer
• Heat transfer at high Mach numbers
• Supersonic behaviour
The learnings and improvements derived from the YF-12 ultimately led to the step in performance available to the SR71.
4. MiG-25 Foxbat – Mach 3.2+ (but limited to Mach 2.83/ 1,900mph / 3,000 km/h)
The MiG 25 is a remarkable fighter and reconnaissance aircraft. One of the few aircraft in the world built from stainless steel, it is capable of a top speed of Mach 2.83.
The engines are sufficient to propel the MiG-25 to Mach 3.2 and beyond, but the aircraft was speed limited to prevent overspeeding the engines and causing permanent damage.
The MiG-25 had a good radar, carried four air to air missiles, and had a ceiling of 89,000ft. When the MiG-25 first came out, the west was seriously worried about its capabilities. This paranoia led to significant improvements in the F15 Eagle program in the late 1960s.
The MiG-25 still holds the world record for the fastest human-crewed serially produced aircraft. By the time production ended in 1984, a remarkable 1,186 aircraft had been built.
The MiG-25 development in 1969 was the Soviet counter to the threat produced by the Mach 3 plus American Lockheed A-12 aircraft.
The decision to produce the MiG-25 from stainless steel rather than titanium (which would have been preferred) resulted from the difficulties in fabricating and manufacturing an aircraft from titanium.
5. Bell X-2 Starbuster – Mach 3.2 / 2,094 mph / 3,370 km/h
The Bell X-2 was a belly launched rocket aircraft aimed at improving the understanding of flight at speeds between Mach 2 and Mach 3 in the 1950s. The X2 swept-wing aircraft was a joint development between Bell Aircraft Corporation, the USAF and NASA.
The Bell X-2 development was challenging because of the technological step needed to allow flight at speeds approaching Mach 3. Issues the Bell X-2 had to overcome included thermodynamic heating.
The design team was essentially starting from scratch to figure out the aerodynamic design, control, and materials to allow flight close to Mach 3. The Bell X-2 pioneered throttle rocket motors in the US.
The first powered flight by the Bell X-2 was completed on 18 November 1955, years behind schedule. The Bell X-2 set a new speed record of Mach 2.87 (1,900 mph, 3,050 km/h). Even though it did well on speed, flight test reports found significant control difficulties a thigh speed.
On 7 September 1956, Captain Iven C. Kincheloe was the first-ever pilot to climb above 100,000ft. Milburn G. “Mel” Apt achieved Mach 3.2 (2,094 mph, 3,370 km/h) in the Bell X-2 when the aircraft went into an unrecoverable spin on all three axis.
The investigation found that the ejection equipment was not up to scratch.
6. North American XB-70 Valkyrie – Mach 3.1 / 2,056 mph / 3,310 km/h
The North American BX-70 Valkyrie was bourne out of the need for a high-speed high-level bomber to evade Soviet air defences and deliver a nuclear bomb but have sufficient speed to then away after bombing the target.
Designed in the late 1950s, the XB-70 never went into service because Soviet surface to air missile development caught up, allowing mislies to reach targets above 70,000ft. The tactics then moved to low-level bombing runs to evade Soviet air defences.
The rationale was that radar technology from fighters at the time did not allow look-down-shoot-down capability. Ground return clutter would effectively allow bombers to remain hidden from enemy fighters.
In addition, the surface to air missiles needed a minimum height of 2,000ft before being able to lock onto their targets. The XB-70 was a prototype of the B-70. The Valkyrie was six engined, and to provide the extra thrust needed to cruise at Mach 3 plus, boron-enriched Zip fuels were used.
Zip fuels had the benefit of increasing the energy density of jet fuel by 40%, but with the downside of increasing particulates in the engine nozzle, which ultimately reduced efficiency. Using Zip fuels in the afterburner got around this problem.
7. Mikoyan MiG-31 – Mach 2.83 / 1,900 mph / 3,000 km/h
The Mikoyan MiG-31 was developed for the Soviet airforce with a top speed of Mach 2.83 at 21,500 m (70,538 ft). The role of the MiG-31 was to be a supersonic interceptor but it was not really designed for close combat or rapid turning.
At supersonic speeds, due to the wing loading, the aircraft has a 5g performance restriction. The Mikoyan design bureau designed the MiG-31 to replace the single set MiG-25 Foxbat. The prototype first flew 16 September 1975 with production running between 1979 through to 1994.
The MiG-31 entered service in 1981. The MiG-31 remains in service to this day with the lifetime of the airframe extended from 2,500 to 3000hrs.
Althought the MiG-31 has the 5g limit at supersonic speeds, compared to the MiG-25, the MiG-31 lacked manoeuvrability and was susceptible to engine overheat issues at Mach 3.2.
The MiG31 featured an advanced radar and offered longer look up, look-down/shootdown capability for the first time. The MiG-31 also had double the range of the MiG-25. The MiG-31 was very advanced for its time and was the first aircraft with phased array radar.
To keep the MiG-31 current and flying, it had upgrades during its lifetime. Upgrades included improved avionics, multi-mode radar, hands-on-throttle-and-stick (HOTAS), weapons carrying improvements and digital data links.
The MiG-41 is in development and will replace the MiG 31 with a forecast entry date in 2025. Unlike the MiG-25, the MiG-31 is a two-seater, twin-engine aircraft with a two-person crew necessary to allow for a radar operator.
Like the MiG 25, the nickel steel alloy build allowed the airframe to be resilient to aerodynamic heating at speeds above Mach 3. That said, the MiG-31 is Temperature limited to Mach 2.83 as a maximum speed.
8. McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle – Mach 2.5 / 1,875 mph / 2,655 kph
The F15 Eagle has a maximum speed of Mach 2.5 (1,875 mph, 2,655 km/h). The Eagle is a twin-engine tactical fighter developed by McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing).
The goal during the development of the F15 was for it to be an air superiority fighter, and it needed to have air to ground capabilities to be considered. The first flight for the F15 was July 1972, and it entered service in 1976.
The F15 is one of the most successful fighters globally, with over 100 victories and no losses in combat. The F15 is still produced in 2022 and continues to be exported globally.
The requirement for an air superiority fighter and precisely how its mission would be carried out stems from the Vietnam war. Before the Vietnam war, it was assumed that long-range combat missiles would achieve air superiority.
To launch long-range combat missiles (and achieve air superiority from afar), the aircraft profile would be heavier, loaded heavily with a big radar and capable of very high speed—the compromise – poor manoeuvrability.
For example, some variants of the F4 Phantom did not have a gun as it was thought that close air combat would not be necessary.
During the Vietnam war, the engagement rules meant that F4s were going into close visual combat with MiG-21s, and ultimately, despite being faster, the F4s suffered heavy losses to the highly manoeuvrable MiG 21.
John Boyd’s energy manoeuvrability theory showed that manoeuvrability was more important than speed for a successful fighter design.
The specification given for the design of the next generation fighter was for:
- Thrust to weight ratio approx. 1:1,
- Mach 2.3
- Twin engine thought to provide better throttle reponse.
The McDonnell Douglas design was selected, and it featured a format similar to twin-tailed F14. The first version of the F15 Eagle was a single-seater, and later, a twin-seater TF-15 was produced.
The F15 featured Look down shoot down radar to distinguish clutter and enemy aircraft from ground returns. It also had advanced computer technology to reduce pilot workload.
Compared to F-14 or F-4, the F15 featured a single canopy layout.
The single-seat F15C & Two-seat F15D entered service in 1978. Further improvements were made in 1983 under the Multistage Improvement Program (MSIP). The program Improved avionics and armament, allowing the F15 to carry Aim-7, Aim 9 & Aim 120 missiles.
In September 2015- Boeing unveiled upgrades to keep F15 relevant until 2040. The F15 continues to be exported globally to this day.
9. General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark – Mach 2.5 / 1,650 mph / 2,656 km/h
The F-111 had a maximum speed of Mach 2.5 (1,650 mph, 2,656 km/h). The F-111 Aardvark was a medium-range multirole combat aircraft. The F-111 was designed for ground attack and strategic bombing rolls. The F-111 Aardvark etnered services in 1967 with the USAF.
The F-111 did have a shaky start during development: specifically pinning down what the requirements were – with the USAF and US Navy struggling to reach common ground on the requirements for the program.
The F-111 retired in the 1990s with the USAF and US Navy. The F15E strike eagle replaced the F-111. Unusual as it is, the F-111 Aardvark nickname comes from the aircrafts resemblance of the animal Aardvark (earth pig)!
F-111 came from the need for a long-range intercept aircraft to provide protection from anti-ship missiles. The US Navy needed an aircraft with more range than F4 Phantom. The United States Air Force and Navy wanted a high supersonic speed, twin engine, 2 seater.
Whether a variable wing configuration would be used remained a question mark during the design stage. The F-111 needed heavy armament and fuel loads, including high supersonic speed.
Eventually, the variable geometry wing was selected and allowed for good low speed and efficient high-speed flight. The prominent radar on the F-111 gave the Aardvark all-weather attack aircraft. The F-111s size allowed it to have an internal weapons bay.
First production F-111s were delivered 17 July 1967. The longevity of the F-111s allowed them to take part in Gulf War (Desert Storm). F-111C did exceptionally well with the Royal Australian Air Force, replacing English Electric Canberras.
10. Sukhoi SU-27 Flanker – Mach 2.35 / 1,600 mph / 2,500 km/h
The Sukhoi SU-27 flanker is capable of Mach 2.35 (2,500 km/h, 1,600 mph). The SU-27 is a Soviet twin-engine super manoeuvrable attack aircraft. Developed by Sukhoi, it was designed to compete with the F-14 Tomcat and F-15 Eagle.
Like the F-X generation of aircraft designed to gain air superiority, the SU-27 has a range of 3,530 km. The goal of the SU27 was to provide Long range air defence against the likes of the B-1B & B-52.
The SU-27 development came about from the worry that the F-15 Eagle would beat existing Soviet aircraft like the MiG-25.
The SU-27 T-10 was assigned the Flanker nickname by NATO forces. Early development of the SU-27 was a challenge because of the lack of maturity of the fly by wire flight control systems. Manufacturing issues also meant that appearances of the SU-27 were rare until 1990.
Fly by wire continued to plague the aircraft development, with the second prototype and subsequent aircraft suffering crashes. The problems with the fly-by-wire system were overcome with the SU-27 entering operational service in 1987.
The SU-27 was the first operational fly by wire Soviet aircraft. Various modifications were made to the SU-27, which led to the P-42 version. A ‘lightweight’ and suped-up version of the SU-27 held a number of records for time to height. The given aircraft had a thrust to weight ratio of around 2:1.
The SU-27-T10K version had canards and arresting hooks plus carrier landing avionics and inflight refuelling for the Russian navy. Further improvements led to SU-27KB for carrier trials in 1989 with the skijump method.
The Soviet union did not have much experience with catapult launch, so it was felt that the ski-jump method would reduce development times. Since 1998 the SU-27 has been produced by Shenyang (called the J-11) in China under licence.
Further updates in 2004 improved the air to air capability of the SU-27 with R-77 missile and radar homing head capabilities. From a design standpoint, the SU-27 aerodynamics are similar to the MiG-29. The SU-27 had Pulse-Doppler radar with look-down/shootdown capability.
What is the fastest combat aircraft?
The fastest combat aircraft is the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25, capable of Mach 2.83 – 3,000 km/h (1,900 mph, 1,600 kn).
The MiG-25 does have sufficient thrust to allow it to go at Mach 3.2 and above, but the speed is limited to prevent its engines from overspeeding and suffering permanent damage.
What is the fastest jet in the military?
The fastest jet in the military is the Lockheed Martin SR71 Blackbird. The SR-71 can reach Mach 3.32 / 2,200 mph / 3,540 km/h.
How fast is an F35?
The F35 can go as fast as Mach 1.6 (1,228mph/ 1,976kph).
Are missiles faster than jets?
Missiles are faster than jets. Air to Air missiles like the Advanced Medium Range Air To Air Missile (AMRAM) travel at Mach 4 (4,900 km/h; 3,045 mph). In comparison, most fighter jets have a maximum speed of Mach 1.8 to Mach 2.3.
Subsonic passenger jets are limited to Mach 0.86, so missiles are faster.
If we consider ballistic missiles, then the speeds are much higher. Ballistic missiles can travel at 24,000km/hr or Mach 20.
What is the fastest jet in the military?
The fastest jet in the military presence is the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 with a maximum speed of Mach 2.83 – 3,000 km/h (1,900 mph, 1,600 know).
If you have any questions on the fastest aircraft, please leave a comment in the section below.
Kudzi Chikohora is a B737 pilot with over 2,500 hours of flying in Europe. He holds a Master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering, is a chartered engineer, and is a member of the Royal Aeronautical Society.
Kudzi completed his pilot training via the self-funded modular pilot training route and created kcthepilot.com to share pilot training and aviation content.