The world’s fastest manned planes are nothing short of engineering marvels.
Capable of flitting through the air at multiple times the speed of sound, these planes take the pilot to the fringe of science fiction.
Although a number of these aircraft have since been retired, they continue to be the fastest manned aircraft in history.
The designs and advances achieved with these planes have also left an immense impact upon the development of the planes that succeeded them.
Here’s a look at the world’s nine fastest manned aircraft ever flown.
F-4 Phantom II
Maximum speed: 2368km/h
Maximum range: 2599km
First flight: May 27, 1958
The supersonic F-4 Phantom II jet was originally developed just for the US Navy and officially entered into service in 1960. In the mid-1960s, the interceptor was adopted by the US Marine Corps and the US Air Force.
The F-4 carries more than 18,000 pounds of weapons, including air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground missiles, and various bombs. The primary fighter jet during the Vietnam War, the Phantom II was gradually replaced by the F-15 and the F-18 Hornet.
Convair F-106 Delta Dart
Maximum speed: 2454km/h
Maximum range: 2896km
First flight: December 25, 1956
First introduced into service in 1959, the Convair F-106 was designed to intercept and destroy Soviet bombers during the Cold War. The Delta Dart carried sophisticated radar, infrared missiles, and a nuclear-tipped rocket, according to the Aerospace Museum of California.
The F-106 still holds the world record as the fastest single-engine fighter at 1,525 mph. The F-106 is considered one of the most challenging fighter jets to operate because of its heavy cockpit workload.
Mikoyan MiG-31 Foxhound
Maximum speed: 2993km/h
Maximum range: 3299km
First flight: September 16, 1975
First introduced into service on May 6, 1981, the Soviet MiG-31 remains one of the fastest combat jets ever designed. Built as an interceptor aircraft, the Foxhound continues to serve in the Russian and Kazakh air forces.
Despite its age, Russia plans to keep the aircraft in service until 2030.
Maximum speed: 3030km/h
Maximum range: 1469km
First flight: July 10, 1959
The Ye-152 was first introduced in 1959 and was an operational interceptor derived from the Mikoyan Ye-150. The Ye-152 is best known for paving the way for the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 Foxbat.
Maximum speed: 3308km/h
Maximum range: 6900km
First flight: September 21, 1964
The XB-70 was a prototype of the never-completed US B-70 nuclear-capable strategic bomber. The bomber was intended to bomb targets while travelling at over Mach 3 at high altitudes.
Soviet missile defences and the expansion of the role of intercontinental ballistic missile systems ultimately led to the abandonment of the B-70 program. The only two completed XB-70 prototypes were then used as test vehicles for high-speed flight.
Bell X-2 ‘Starbuster’
Maximum speed: 3369km/h
First flight: September 18, 1955
The Bell X-2, which only flew for a brief span between November 1955 and September 1956, was a research aircraft jointly constructed by the Bell Aircraft Corporation, the US Air Force, and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. The plane was developed to test flight between Mach 2 and 3.
On September 27, 1956, the X-2 reached its recorded maximum speed of 2,094 mph. During the flight, however, test pilot Milburn G. Apt died. He was the first man to break Mach 3.
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 Foxbat
Maximum speed: 3492km/h
Maximum range: 2573km
First flight: March 6, 1964
The Soviet MiG-25, which was first introduced in 1970, was built as a supersonic interceptor and reconnaissance aircraft. Due to the aircraft’s large wings, the US assumed it was a highly manoeuvrable fighter. Instead, the Foxbat needed the large wings due to its weight.
The MiG-25’s maximum speed of Mach 3.2 is not sustainable without causing engine damage. Its top sustainable speed is 3089km (Mach 2.83).
Maximum speed: 2,200 mph
Maximum range: 3540km/h
First flight: December 22, 1964
The SR-71, designed by Lockheed Martin, was a marvel of a plane. It flew at altitudes of over 24,000m at speeds greater than 3540km/h. The plane, engineered for surveillance, flew for more than 30 years and was capable of outrunning antiaircraft missiles lobbed at it.
For perspective, on its retirement flight from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., the SR-71 flew coast to coast in only 67 minutes.
Maximum speed: 7274km/h
First flight: June 8, 1959
The world’s fastest manned aircraft is the rocket-powered X-15. The X-15 flew for the first time on June 8, 1959, after successfully deployed at 13,700 metres from another aircraft. A few years later, on October 3, 1967, the X-15 pulverized all flight-speed records with a stunning 7274km/h, or Mach 6.72, speed.
Three X-15s were made and flew a total of 199 flights before the $US300 million program was retired.
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