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The emergency landing of Hauptmann Siegfried Heltzel in a Lockheed F-104G Starfighter at the Nörvenich Air Base on 02 June 1965 is often mentioned as the record for the highest landing speed. The emergency landing became necessary after a mid-air collision with a Dornier Do-28. The landing speed is given as 435 km/h (270 mph). According to German-language sources, this value refers to touchdown; however, I didn’t find any source that mentions whether it corresponds to airspeed or ground speed.

Is this (still) the absolute record?

I am mainly interested in comparable parameter values of similar incidents in order to judge whether the above-mentioned emergency landing really was (or still is) an absolute record. Nevertheless, I would be glad about any information on possibly record-breaking incidents in closely related categories.

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  • $\begingroup$ What is your criteria for measuring speed? At threshold, at touchdown, something else? Airspeed, groundspeed? $\endgroup$ – mins Dec 27 '16 at 21:33
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    $\begingroup$ @mins preferably at touchdown; however, if other records use a different reference value, I would be happy to accept that. $\endgroup$ – user5604 Dec 27 '16 at 21:37
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    $\begingroup$ @Loong you should edit your question to put this precision into it. $\endgroup$ – Manu H Dec 27 '16 at 21:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Loong Also, please edit to specify ground speed or airspeed, as mins mentioned. $\endgroup$ – reirab Dec 27 '16 at 22:19
  • $\begingroup$ Do we include the Thrust SSC? $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Dec 28 '16 at 20:19
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If that's the case, Hauptmann Hetzel was one uped by an Israeli F-15 pilot named Zivi Nedivi, who landed his jet with only one wing after a MAC with an A-4. The touchdown speed was estimated to be at 260 kts (300 mph, 480 km/h). That's the fastest landing I'm aware of where the pilot lived to tell the tale.

https://theaviationist.com/2014/09/15/f-15-lands-with-one-wing/

Now the highest known approach speed during normal operations, I believe, goes to the North American X-15 research aircraft/spacecraft, which crosses the fence at some 211 KIAS (242 mph, 388 km/h).

https://www.nasa.gov/centers/armstrong/news/FactSheets/FS-052-DFRC.html

Also known to have very high approach speeds were the M2-F2, M2-F3, HL-10, and X-24A lifting body research aircraft with Vrefs in the 190-200 KIAS range.

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    $\begingroup$ Don't forget the Space Shuttle! Flying final at around 300 kt. Granted, it bleeds off about 100 kt of that during the flare before actually touching the ground. $\endgroup$ – reirab Dec 28 '16 at 10:03
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    $\begingroup$ All the test aircraft I described begin their approaches st somewhere in the order of 300kts, then fly a long round out, losing 100 or so knots prior to touchdown. $\endgroup$ – Carlo Felicione Dec 28 '16 at 13:40
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    $\begingroup$ For the Shuttle, the 300 kt was short final, about 12 seconds before crossing the threshold. :) It was about 240 KIAS at the runway threshold. $\endgroup$ – reirab Dec 28 '16 at 16:42
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Missing the F-104G by just 5 mph, Cathay 780 was probably the highest landing speed achieved in a commercial airliner. The engines on the A330 were not responsive to thrust inputs, and the crew landed with 230 knots (426 km/h) groundspeed.

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I doubt 270 mph has been exceeded for an airliner, but it is possible depending on the aircraft.

The worst case scenario would be a max weight takeoff followed by an immediate flap less landing.

The B747-800 has a max takeoff weight over 900,000 lbs. If one had to had to do a flap-less emergency landing shortly after a max weight takeoff (and unable to dump fuel), it would use Vref 30+40 (about 226 knots) for an approach speed, and that would be about 260 mph.

I don't have access to all the B747 speeds, but this chart does give an idea of the speeds needed for a flaps up landing.

Source: B-747-400 Flight Crew Training manual enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ It's just 747-8, not 747-800. $\endgroup$ – Sean Apr 27 '18 at 1:38

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