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There are many airplanes that claim to be the fastest piston, private jet, airliner, but what is the all time fastest airplane? How fast does it travel?

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Sorry, I know the question kind of asks for "one" "all-time fastest, period" airplane, and my complicated answer gives a ton. If you want to provide specific definitions for "aircraft" and specify method of propulsion (namely, do rockets count) and any other restrictions (see my question) then I can probably give you one single definitive "fastest ever" answer :) –  dvnrrs May 2 '14 at 17:03
Thanks for the comprehensive answer. The question was for airplane not aircraft, which according to wikipedia is a fixed wing aircraft powered by a jet or propellor. –  Magnetoz May 2 '14 at 17:47
Somewhat related, due to the discussion of "relative to what?" is this xkcd comic about what object has traveled the furthest (which thus requires calculations of how fast things travel). It isn't specifically about aircraft, but still. –  Doc May 2 '14 at 19:02
what do you consider to be an airplane? –  shortstheory May 4 '14 at 9:57
@shortstheory Power-driven heavier than air aircraft that produces lift using fixed surfaces. –  user2168 May 16 '14 at 23:20

3 Answers 3

This is a broad question. The Wikipedia page on vehicle speed records gives a nice breakdown by various categories. Some criteria are manned vs. unmanned, air-breathing vs. rocket, civilian vs. military.

The fastest manned, air-breathing aircraft was the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird with an (unclassified) record of 2,193.2 mph on July 28, 1976.

However, some would consider the rocket-powered North American X-15 the fastest manned aircraft at 4,510 mph.

If you consider the Space Shuttle an "aircraft" during its re-entry phase, it passed Entry Interface at around 17,500 mph. This was unpowered flight though, and its speed dropped off as it entered the atmosphere.

I believe the rocket-boosted HTV-2 Falcon currently qualifies as the fastest unmanned aircraft at 13,201 mph.

The record for the fastest human-made craft of any kind is currently held by the Helios probes, at 157,078 mph. The fastest manned human-made craft was the Apollo 10 spacecraft at 24,790 mph. (Note that Apollo 10 holds the record not because it was any more or less capable than any other Apollo mission, but that its chosen moon fly-by trajectory resulted in a higher top speed relative to Earth. It could also have achieved a much higher top speed on a different trajectory had that been a goal for mission planners, but it wasn't.)

Finally, every single one of these is either military or NASA (not civilian). The fastest civilian, air-breathing aircraft were the Tupolev Tu-144 supersonic transport at 1,518 mph, and its Western counterpart, the legendary Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde, at 1,488 mph. Both are now retired. Several private organizations are developing civilian suborbital and orbital rocket-powered spacecraft; I'm not sure which is currently fastest.

And though these aren't crafts or vehicles, honorable mentions go to a 150,000 mph steel plate launched by a nuclear weapon, and to particle accelerators for propelling subatomic particles and "man-made" particle collision byproducts at ridiculously close to (99.99something percent of) the speed of light :-)

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SpaceShipTwo (or it's predecessor, SpaceShipOne; I am not sure whether SpaceShipTwo already flew the full planned profile) is civilian and faster than Concorde. It is rocket-powered though, so it leaves Concorde as fastest air-breathing civilian aircraft. –  Jan Hudec May 2 '14 at 16:35
I wonder what the fastest plane designed for private usage is... Since Concorde was commercial and all. –  Jay Carr May 2 '14 at 16:37
@JayCarr Possibly the Cessna Citation X at Mach 0.935. –  dvnrrs May 2 '14 at 16:43
Voyager 1 beats Juno - 3.6 AU / year (or about 38,610 mph) voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/fastfacts.html , but the fastest man-made object was a piece of steel launched at over 147,000 mph en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… –  David Wilkins May 2 '14 at 17:12
@JayCarr Not exactly. At least one supersonic MiG-29 is privately owned by a civilian but I'm not sure if it's been rendered incapable of supersonic flight or whether it can still be legally operated supersonically. Certainly supersonic flight over the continental US is banned (except in certain military areas). –  dvnrrs May 2 '14 at 18:16

At present (and since 1976) Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird holds record for the fastest aircraft. As mentioned here:

The SR-71 was the world's fastest and highest-flying operational manned aircraft throughout its career. On 28 July 1976, SR-71 serial number 61-7962, broke the world record: an "absolute altitude record" of 85,069 feet (25,929 m).

The speed it traveled was 1,905.81 knots (2,193.2 mph; 3,529.6 km/h), approximately Mach 3.3.

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A list of airspeed record is on Wikipedia.

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SR-71 = fastest manned, air-breathing aircraft. Important distinction. –  dvnrrs May 2 '14 at 15:42
Also, keep in mind, these are only declassified pieces of information... For all we know there's some aircraft out there that is significantly faster. –  Jay Carr May 2 '14 at 16:09
@JayCarr I don't know that. I am not told any classified information. –  Farhan May 2 '14 at 16:22
@Farhan - lol, it's just an observation. If you had access to classified information, I certainly hope you wouldn't share it here ;). –  Jay Carr May 2 '14 at 16:34
@JayCarr if he had classified information he'd not even be able to share that he has classified information... –  jwenting May 2 '14 at 20:07

The NASA X-43A got up to almost Mach 10, I think that's pretty close to a record for an air breathing atmospheric vehicle.

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