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It's easy to find information about the fastest airplanes, in different categories (e.g. X-15, SR-71, the Concorde etc), but what is the slowest one? Which powered, manned airplane is capable of sustained level flight at lowest velocity?

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    $\begingroup$ A hovering helicopter is an aircraft! An airship is an aircraft. Are you asking only about fixed-wing powered aircraft? $\endgroup$ – RedGrittyBrick Jun 27 '17 at 8:57
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    $\begingroup$ All VTOL will tie for the win. $\endgroup$ – ratchet freak Jun 27 '17 at 10:41
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    $\begingroup$ I wonder if any of these would take the prize? $\endgroup$ – Wayne Werner Jun 27 '17 at 12:58
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    $\begingroup$ Nobody has mentioned the military jets such as the Harrier which can hover (or even fly backwards) using vectored thrust. I guess this is "cheating" in the context of this question, or possibly not sufficiently sustained before it consumes a full load of fuel. $\endgroup$ – nigel222 Jun 28 '17 at 11:26
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    $\begingroup$ Note that an autogyro is kept aloft by lift from its wings, which (unlike the rotor blades of a helicopter) are not powered; a separate propeller provides forward thrust to keep the aircraft moving forward,which causes air to flow past the wings. And an autogyro can fly very slow. But since the wings autorotate, the autogyro is not considered a fixed wing aircraft; it's a footnote to this question rather than an answer. $\endgroup$ – David K Jun 28 '17 at 21:30

14 Answers 14

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The Gossamer Albatross is a human-powered plane with a top speed of 29 km/h (18mph).

Gossamer Albatross in flight, with two bicycles following it on the ground

It was used to cross the English Channel and seems to meet the criteria of the question.

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The Antonov AN-2 has no stall speed quoted in the operating manual and can fly under full control at about 30 mph. Thus if the headwind is sufficiently large the aircraft will move backwards with respect to the ground.

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ DHC-2 Beaver is similar. Normal landing speed is about 45mph, meaning it can be operated significantly slower than that. $\endgroup$ – jwenting Jun 27 '17 at 8:44
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    $\begingroup$ I've flown one (as a passenger) on a sightseeing flight. Nice machine, albeit not the most comfortable one. $\endgroup$ – el.pescado Jun 27 '17 at 11:22
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    $\begingroup$ Does that mean a 30mph wind will lift the airplane off the ground? $\endgroup$ – Chloe Jun 27 '17 at 22:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Chloe, that is why they strap-down light aircraft if heavy winds are expected: pilotweb.aero/polopoly_fs/1.4881486!/image/image.jpg_gen/… $\endgroup$ – Brilsmurfffje Jun 28 '17 at 10:50
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    $\begingroup$ if the headwind is sufficiently large the aircraft will move backwards with respect to the ground technically, this is true of all aircraft. $\endgroup$ – egid Jun 30 '17 at 6:35
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The Harrier, Yak-38, Yak-141, XV-15, and V-22 are all fixed wing aircraft. All can hover in mid air, controlled. So they are in controlled flight at 0 velocity.

At least the Harrier can even be in controlled flight flying backwards, so with negative velocity. The others may as well, I don't know.

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    $\begingroup$ I should have expected this;) How about "ordinary", non-VTOL aircraft? $\endgroup$ – el.pescado Jun 27 '17 at 6:33
  • $\begingroup$ Another trick answer would be - small model aircraft. In fact, do those things fly slowly?? Or does it not scale like that? $\endgroup$ – Fattie Jun 29 '17 at 0:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Fattie the requirement for the airplane to be manned may exclude all but the largest model aircraft, not even considering whether manning them would be safe, legal, feasible, ... $\endgroup$ – Michael Schumacher Jun 29 '17 at 12:18
  • $\begingroup$ Oh sorry - I missed that requirement. $\endgroup$ – Fattie Jun 29 '17 at 13:58
  • $\begingroup$ You could also use the trick of requiring a very small "man" (see Jessica Dubroff). $\endgroup$ – hypehuman Jun 29 '17 at 14:31
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now, if you're looking at modern, more commonly used transportation, powered paragliding would probably take the cake.

enter image description here
CC BY 3.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13110495

Powered paragliders usually fly between 15 and 50 mph (25 and 72 km/h) at altitudes from 'foot-dragging on the water' up to 24,000+ ft (5400 m)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powered_paragliding

The beginners equipment are often the slowest, and with proper skill, and the right weather, can have a stall speed of zero. Whilst being lifted by a thermal, the only thing that will push the glider forward is the natural tilt. naturally, on a still day, the slowest of equipment will stall at below 10mph.

Disclaimer: this is not an airplane, but it is a fixed wing vehicle, made to primarily move forward to generate lift, akin to most airplanes.

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    $\begingroup$ AKA, "Disclaimer: This doesn't actually answer the question and I know it but I'm going to post it anyway." $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Jun 28 '17 at 8:15
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby Are you saying this seriously, or is there a tongue in cheek aspect to your comment? $\endgroup$ – user9394 Jun 28 '17 at 8:49
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    $\begingroup$ @BaileyS I'm saying it seriously. This isn't an answer to the question at the top of the page, the author knows it and they shouldn't have posted it. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Jun 28 '17 at 8:57
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    $\begingroup$ Further comments regarding the appropriateness of this answer to the question can be found in chat. $\endgroup$ – Shog9 Jul 26 '17 at 15:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Shog9 If you're going to move comments, please move all of them. $\endgroup$ – tuskiomi Dec 17 '18 at 0:04
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If you are including historical aircraft, the Wright Flyer averaged 10 fps (approx 6.8 mph or 11 kph) over it's first 120 foot flight in 1903.

Reference: https://airandspace.si.edu/exhibitions/wright-brothers/online/fly/1903/triumph.cfm

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    $\begingroup$ Wind did a lot to make this slow speed possible. $\endgroup$ – Peter Kämpf Jun 27 '17 at 20:08
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    $\begingroup$ What is "kph" for a Unit? Or did you mean km/h? $\endgroup$ – 12431234123412341234123 Jun 28 '17 at 13:59
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    $\begingroup$ @12431234123412341234123 Yes, kph and km/h are the same thing: kilometers per hour. $\endgroup$ – GalacticCowboy Jun 28 '17 at 16:38
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    $\begingroup$ Did anyone else see "10 fps" and think "10 frames per second"? $\endgroup$ – tonysdg Jun 28 '17 at 19:18
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    $\begingroup$ @GalacticCowboy The thing with kph is that it's not actually used all that much in countries that use kilometers. In fact, it mostly seems to be used by north Americans who try to to convert mph into metric. $\endgroup$ – AndrejaKo Jul 1 '17 at 17:42
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Building it just for very slow speed does not look practical (if you really need this, use helicopter). Some old planes may be slower, but they do not use the newest technologies and may not be built for slow flight anyway. Some patrol, agricultural planes may benefit from slow flying, but we need something more extreme.

I expect such aircraft to be some specific machine that has a huge wing and low weight for other reasons, and should be recently built to benefit from latest technologies.

Solar impulse looks like a good candidate. It has take-off speed of 35 km/h (22 mph) only. Looks like its minimal speed is about 20.67 mph only. Its large wing holds the solar batteries. It has a wingspan larger than Boeing 747 and the weight close to Cessna 172!

Solar Impulse from Wikipedia Commons

(picture from Wikimedia Commons).

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    $\begingroup$ Agricultural planes can fly very slow in general $\endgroup$ – Brilsmurfffje Jun 27 '17 at 6:56
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    $\begingroup$ Even if not designed to fly slow, some airplane simply has to be the slowest one. $\endgroup$ – el.pescado Jun 27 '17 at 7:00
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    $\begingroup$ @el.pescado The math pedant in me wants to add "assuming there are only finitely many airplanes". ;-) $\endgroup$ – Charles Jun 27 '17 at 17:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Charles actually, there might be infinitely many airplanes, it's only neccessary that every totally ordered subset has lower bound ;-) $\endgroup$ – el.pescado Jun 28 '17 at 4:53
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    $\begingroup$ @ChrisW how many mathematicians does it take to fly an aeroplane? ;-) $\endgroup$ – el.pescado Jun 28 '17 at 9:12
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Gossamer Condor, the first human powered airplane capable of basic maneuvered flight. When it finally won the Kremer prize for a 1 mile figure 8 course it did that course in 7 minutes and 22 seconds.

The later Gossamer Albatross that crossed the English Channel had to be faster.

This assumes that the question criteria was AIRSPEED (not groundspeed) for a fixed-wing, man-carrying aircraft that could take off and land under its own power and maneuver both into and out of the wind (figure 8 maneuver).

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  • $\begingroup$ Wow. 7mph! That's slower than most paragliders $\endgroup$ – slebetman Jun 28 '17 at 3:37
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The Ruppert Archaeoptrix Electro (Wikipedia, official website) apparently has a stall speed of 30 km/h (19 mph / 16 kn), and I think that makes it a candidate for the current "slowest" fixed wing aircraft.

It is a relatively new glider that can be foot launched, but there are also wheeled and motorless configurations, and it can also be launched by towing.

For the motorized version:

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    $\begingroup$ Which powered, manned airplane is capable of sustained level flight at lowest velocity? While your answer does not cover "powered" I love the picture. $\endgroup$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 27 '17 at 14:02
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    $\begingroup$ That plane somehow reminds me of the Flintstones' cars... $\endgroup$ – el.pescado Jun 27 '17 at 14:38
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    $\begingroup$ @KorvinStarmast It has in fact a motor, which is not used in this picture. I recommend taking a look at the manufactureres website =) $\endgroup$ – flawr Jun 27 '17 at 15:41
  • $\begingroup$ Can you find an image of it configured with a motor? $\endgroup$ – user9394 Jun 30 '17 at 8:28
  • $\begingroup$ The preview image of the video shows one. It doesn't look that much different, I just has a folding prop sticking out of the back, also e.g. here: upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/b/bb/… $\endgroup$ – flawr Jun 30 '17 at 11:44
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You should check out planes with custer wings.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Custer_CCW-5

It was claimed that the aircraft could fly under control at 11 mph (18 km/h) and that it could take off with a 1,500 lb (680 kg) load at 70% power in 90 ft (28 m).

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome. Interesting addition that should be a comment, not an answer. $\endgroup$ – mins Jun 28 '17 at 10:48
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    $\begingroup$ Seems pretty answery to me, @mins. Addresses all the items in the OP: Powered. Fixed wing. Sustained flight at very slow air(?) speed. Has a link for more info, but provides the necessary facts in case Wikipedia ever dies...;) $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Jun 28 '17 at 18:41
  • $\begingroup$ @FreeMan: The question is about existing airplanes. $\endgroup$ – mins Jun 28 '17 at 18:56
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    $\begingroup$ @mins: The question isn't very explicit about that. It does use the present tense, but seems to leave the door open for interesting answers about past planes as long as they really flew, and weren't just designs on paper. $\endgroup$ – Peter Cordes Jun 29 '17 at 1:00
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your feedback. Even if it's not used anymore in civil or military aviation, the concept of channel wings is still used for modelism or prototypes (Handiwork 181, in 90s). $\endgroup$ – Foo Jun 30 '17 at 9:22
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Slepcev Storch

(A 3/4-size replica of the Fieseler Fi 156 Storch, a German WW2 reconnaissance aircraft well known for its slow-speed performance)

36 km/h or 40 km/h (19kn/22kn)

enter image description here

Picture Source

Performance according to Wikipedia:

  • Maximum speed: 150 km/h (93 mph; 81 kn)
  • Cruise speed: 133 km/h (83 mph; 72 kn)
  • Stall speed: 40 km/h (25 mph; 22 kn)
  • Rate of climb: 6 m/s (1,200 ft/min)


Performance according to ulm.it:

  • Maximum speed: 150 km/h
  • VNE: 182 km/h
  • Stall speed: (flaps out) 36 Km/h
  • Climb rate: 9,1 m/s (1800 ft/min)
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  • $\begingroup$ If the question involves non experimental fixed wing aircraft that were actually in general use, the Storch would have been the one I would think of. $\endgroup$ – tj1000 Jul 19 '17 at 1:07
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I was at the Biggen Hill airshow many years ago where not one but two different aircraft flew backwards. One was the AN-2 which was able to nose up into the headwind so far that it actually flew backwards for a short distance down the runway. The other was a Russian super jet, (possibly a Sukhoi 27 or Sukhoi 35?) that did a vertical climb on afterburners that shock the ground then slowed to a stop before falling on its tail while still vertical. It flew tail first towards the ground before lowering the nose.

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    $\begingroup$ That manoeuver is called Pugachev's Cobra. $\endgroup$ – el.pescado Jul 3 '17 at 13:16
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    $\begingroup$ @el.pescado Thank you. That was the stunt he flew that left me stunned. As you can imagine, there was no way to hear what the commentator had to say. $\endgroup$ – Paul Smith Jul 3 '17 at 13:36
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Alaskan Bush Planes are modified to fly very slowly for short landings:

Features include: "Short runway requirements, typically gained through high aspect ratio wings and high-lift devices such as flaps, slots and slats to improve low speed flight characteristics, allowing shorter ground rolls on landing or takeoff."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bush_plane

This might be helpful too: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_STOL_aircraft

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Here is a video showing that the Gossamer Albatross flew at lowest speed, 7mph (11.2kmph). Very slow. But the save speed will be 10mph (16.1kmph), as mentioned in that video. It lasted 2 hours to cross England strait from England to France.

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It is the shock ultra by savage. Stalls at 18 mph. 2016 savage produced it and it by far out flies all other planes by a mile in the low and slow cathegory

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    $\begingroup$ Fairly sure a stall speed of 18mph doesn't beat the An-2's lack of a stall speed. $\endgroup$ – 0xdd Sep 25 '18 at 20:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Jules, this is a myth. First, An-2 does stall; it just remains somewhat controllable and very stable. This mode is called 'parachuting'; An-2 can 'parachute', fully stalled, to the ground and survive. Second, An-2 can sustain flight at 40 km/h (~21 kt) the lowest (more practically 50-70 km/h, depending on the age and configuration). At anything slower it will descend. $\endgroup$ – Zeus Sep 26 '18 at 3:01

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