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Flight airspeed record

From PlaneSpottingWorld, for aviation fans everywhere
The world's fastest aircraft, the SR-71 Blackbird.

An air speed record is the highest speed attained by an aircraft of a particular class.

The rules for all official aviation records are defined by Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), and they also ratify any claims. Speed records are divided into multiple classes with sub-divisions. There are three classes of aircraft: landplanes, seaplanes and amphibians; then within these classes, there are records for aircraft in several mass bands. There are still further sub-divisions for piston-engined, turbojet, turboprop and rocket-engined aircraft. Within each of these groups, records are defined for speed over a straight course and for closed circuits of various sizes carrying various payloads. There are still further records for the speed between specified cities such as London to New York.


Year Pilot Airspeed Aircraft Location
mph km/h
1903 Wilbur Wright 9.800 15.77 Wright Flyer Kitty Hawk, USA
1905 Wilbur Wright 37.85 60.91 Wright Flyer III
1908 Henry Farman 40.26 64.79 Voisin biplane
1909 Louis Blériot 47.82 76.96 Blériot XII
1910 Alfred Leblanc 68.20 109.8 Blériot XI
1911 Edouard Nieuport 82.73 133.1 Nieuport Nie-2 N
1912 Jules Vedrines 108.2 174.1 Monocoque Deperdussin
1913 Maurice Prevost 126.7 203.8 Monocoque Deperdussin
1914 Norman Spratt 134.5 216.5 RAF SE.4
1918 Roland Rohlfs 163.1 262.4 Curtiss Wasp
1919 Joseph Sadi-Lecointe 191.1 307.5 Nieuport-Delage 29v
1920 Joseph Sadi-Lecointe 194.5 313.0 Nieuport-Delage 29v
1921 Joseph Sadi-Lecointe 205.2 330.3 Nieuport-Delage
1922 William Mitchell 224.3 360.9 Curtiss R-6
1923 Alford J. Williams 267.2 430.0 Curtiss R-2C-1
1924 Florentin Bonnet 278.5 448.2 Bernard Ferbois V2
1927 Mario de Bernardi 297.8 479.3 Macchi M.52
1928 Mario de Bernardi 318.6 512.7 Macchi M.52bis
1929 Guiseppe Motta 362.0 582.6 Macchi M.67
1931 George H. Stainforth 407.5 655.8 Supermarine S.6B seaplane Lee-on-the-Solent, UK
1933 Francesco Agello 440.6 709.0 Macchi M.C.72
1941 Heini Dittmar 623.65 1003,67 Messerschmitt Me 163 AV4 Peenemünde
1944 Herlitzius 596.51 1004 Messerschmitt Me 262S2
1944 Heini Dittmar 702 1130 Messerschmitt Me 163 BV18 Lagerlechfeld
1945 H. J. Wilson 606.4 975.9 Gloster Meteor F Mk4 Herne Bay, UK
1946 E. M. Donaldson 615.78 990.79 Gloster Meteor F Mk4 Littlehampton, UK
1947 Chuck Yeager 670.0 1078 Bell X-1
1948 Maj. Richard L. Johnson, USAF 670.84 1079.6 North American F-86A-3 Sabre Cleveland, USA[1]
1953 Neville Duke 727.6 1171 Hawker Hunter F Mk3 Littlehampton, UK
From this point records are set at altitude and not sea level.
1955 Horace A. Hanes 822.1 1323 F-100C Super Sabre Palmdale, USA
1956 Peter Twiss 1132 1822 Fairey Delta 2 Chichester, UK
1965 Robert L. Stephens
and Daniel Andre
2070 3332 Lockheed YF-12A Edwards AFB, USA
1976 Eldon W. Joersz 2188 3521 SR-71 Blackbird Beale AFB, USA

Official records versus unofficial

The SR-71 "Blackbird" holds the official Air Speed Record for a manned airbreathing jet aircraft with a speed of 3,529.56 km/h (2,188 mph). It was capable of taking off and landing unassisted on conventional runways. The record was set on 28 July 1976 by Eldon W. Joersz near Beale Air Force Base, California, USA.[2]

However for many people the term 'air speed record' implies simply the fastest aircraft. Other aircraft have flown faster without breaking the official air speed record. This is because they do not comply with FAI rules. For example, experimental high-speed aircraft are often unable to take off under their own power, and require a carrier aircraft.

For a period of time, during and immediately following World War II, the unpublicised absolute speed record of 1004.5 km/h (623.8 mph) set by the Messerschmitt Me 163A third prototype rocket aircraft, on October 2, 1941 was actually the fastest velocity any aircraft had been measured as traveling to that time. That figure, set during wartime, was achieved by the Me 163 A V3 in an essentially air-launched mode, as it was towed behind a Bf 110 from the ground to altitude, to set the record. Many record attempts were stated as being "set" after World War II by such aircraft as the Gloster Meteor, claiming to have exceeded the 755 km/h (469 mph) velocity record of the Messerschmitt Me 209 V1 piston engined aircraft, but none of these so-called "records" actually exceeded the Me 163 A V3's figure, until the Douglas Skystreak did so on August 20, 1947.

The Space Shuttle is the fastest aircraft, but it is unable to take off solely under its own power, requiring two solid rocket boosters during its ascent to orbit. During its ascent through the atmosphere the Shuttle's airspeed is under Mach 2. However, during re-entry it flies into the atmosphere at 17,500 miles per hour because of its residual orbital velocity, making it easily the fastest manned aircraft (in this case a glider).

The Boeing X-43A is the fastest air-breathing aircraft, having set a speed record of 11,200 km/h (7,000 mph), or Mach 9.68, on November 16 2004. However, it is unmanned, and relies on a carrier aircraft to reach altitude, and a discardable booster rocket to reach the operating speed of its scramjet engine. It is incapable of landing.

The rocket-powered X-15 was the fastest powered, manned aircraft, reaching a top speed of 7,274 km/h (4,510 mph) on October 3, 1967. However, it was a rocket-powered test aircraft incapable of taking off from the ground and was launched at altitude from a carrier aircraft and operated at the margins of the atmosphere.

Year Pilot Airspeed Aircraft Comments
mph km/h
1955 unknown 623 1003 Republic XF-84H propellor driven plane record
1967 'Pete' Knight 4510 7258 North American X-15 rocket plane; incapable of breathing air
1981-2010 several Mach 2 on launch
17,500 mph on descent
NASA's Space Shuttle rocket boosted, rocket powered glider with disposable tank
1986 John Egginton 249.1 401.0 Westland Lynx helicopter world speed record
2004 unmanned 7000 11270 NASA's X-43A hypersonic scramjet, but unable to take off, unable to land,
requires air launch and is unmanned


  1. Jackson, Robert (1994). F-86 Sabre: The Operational Record. Smithsonian Institution Press. 
  2. Current air speed record. Retrieved on 2006-10-18.

External links