Just out of vague curiosity, what aircraft has the highest recommended landing speed for an earth bound (atmospheric) craft? And, btw, when I say "landing" I define it as thus:

  • Controlled
  • Powered (though if you want to note unpowered, feel free)
  • Safe, with the vehicle/aircraft fully recoverable
  • On a runway
  • On wheels or skids

I know there may be multiple answers, even with my trying to narrow it down, so feel free to list a few different scenarios. I'm mostly wondering about planes that are in common usage though, both military and civilian (past and present)... I'd have to think something like the SR-71 or MIG-25 would be very close to the top of the list, if not the top.

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    $\begingroup$ Concorde's landing speed was 300 km/h (britishairways.com/en-au/information/about-ba/…), whereas the SR-71's was about 290 km/h (airliners.net/aviation-forums/military/read.main/29176). If it counts, the Space Shuttle landed at 350 km/h. $\endgroup$
    – Hugh
    Jun 10 '14 at 6:01
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    $\begingroup$ The Space Shuttle wasn't capable of leaving Earth orbit, so one could argue it was every bit as "Earthbound" as any other aircraft... ;-) $\endgroup$
    – TypeIA
    Jun 10 '14 at 13:35
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    $\begingroup$ @dvnrrs sigh Try and ask a bunch of engineers and enthusiasts a simple question........... ;) $\endgroup$
    – Jay Carr
    Jun 10 '14 at 17:58
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    $\begingroup$ @JayCarr If someone had taken the time to build a jet pack with appropriate guidance systems and harness, then pigs could easily fly... ;-) OK, I'm done, I promise! $\endgroup$
    – TypeIA
    Jun 10 '14 at 18:15
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    $\begingroup$ @dvnrrs lol, you have captured the spirit of the discussion perfectly ;). $\endgroup$
    – Jay Carr
    Jun 10 '14 at 18:18

Based on its fixed-wing hypersonic design and inordinately high wing loading, I would predict that the X-15 has the highest recommend landing speed of any earthbound aircraft, with a preliminary search seemingly bearing this hypothesis out. According to an ostensibly legitimate NASA source (link below), the X-15's normal landing speed was 200+mph (173.8kts=321.9kph),


But if unofficial sources are to be believed, its actual landing speed was much higher, closer to 390kph=208kts (although these numbers are admittedly more dubious):

“According to an early edition of 'the Guinness book of world records' the X15 also holds the record for fastest landing speed at 242 mph compared with 210 mph for the space shuttle.”


If only powered aircraft are open to consideration, then the F-104 Starfighter would have to be up there as well. It needed a blown-flap flow control system just to be sane during landing...

“To make landing speeds “reasonable,” The F-104 forced engine air through the wings to smooth the airflow and give more lift. With bleed air, the Zipper could land at the challenging but not extreme speed of 160 to 165 knots. If the air-bleed system was not working, landing speeds climbed to 240 knots.”


So, if mechanical failure scenarios are deemed admissible, then the F-104 without its crucial boundary layer control systems would be the clear winner for powered landing speed, weighing in at an absolutely terrifying 240 kts. Otherwise, it would appear that the X-15 (unofficially) reigns supreme.

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    $\begingroup$ NASA's 200mph was probably design speed, while the 240 was actual as used during missions. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Jun 11 '14 at 10:34
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    $\begingroup$ And the XF-104 made a deadstick landing on at least one occasion. $\endgroup$ Dec 7 '15 at 17:56

More high speed lawndarts:
Presenting the F-102A Delta Dagger.
http://www.amazon.com/Convair-Dagger-Pilots-Flight-Operating/dp/1430310464 lists final approach speeds as high as 185 KIAS, with touchdown speed of 145 KIAS for the same fuel load.

And the B-58 Hustler
http://www.aviation-history.com/convair/b58.html says it had a touchdown speed of 165 KIAS. Which would lead to an approach speed even higher than that of the F-102.
http://wikimapia.org/7029449/Important-B-58-landing-approach-aid says it landed at "just under 200 knots", even higher then unless they mean approach speed rather than touchdown speed.

The XB-70
http://www.nasa.gov/centers/dryden/pdf/87774main_H-587.pdf mentions an approach speed of 200-210KIAS, with touchdown at 175-185KIAS.
And that for a lightly loaded prototype, the production machines would have been heavier...

So that may well be the top candidate for the job (excluding non-normal operations), if we exclude the X-15 and Space Shuttle which were gliders during their landing phase.


Concorde's landing speed was 300 km/h. Its high speed was due to its small wings, designed for supercruise, which required higher airspeeds to maintain lift during the approach. Possibly the XB-70 Valkyrie, being also a large supersonic aircraft, would have had higher landing speeds, but I can't find a reference for its landing speed.

The Space Shuttle regularly landed at 350-400 km/h under control, though without power.

Image from NASA link

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    $\begingroup$ Since in your comment you cite the Concorde and the SR-71 as well, it would be nice if you could include them also in the answer. $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    Jun 10 '14 at 8:01
  • $\begingroup$ I'd have to concur. My guess is the answer to this will end up looking somewhat like the "what's the fastest plane" question. Which will hopefully satisfy my curiosity... $\endgroup$
    – Jay Carr
    Jun 10 '14 at 18:01
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    $\begingroup$ Sadly, even though your source is NASA, that press packet is inexplicably full of misinformation. It's true that very early missions targeted 185 knots (approximately 343 km/h), but after that it was actually faster. They used 195 knots for "light" and 205 knots for "heavy" orbiters (361-380 km/h). See the Shuttle Crew Operations Manual for more accurate information. $\endgroup$ Jun 11 '14 at 2:38
  • $\begingroup$ @BretCopeland I implicitly trust your information over its rivals because you correctly refer to the STS landing vehicle as the “orbiter.” Over the years I have had many a NASA colleague correct me after erringly referring to it as “The Space Shuttle. ” $\endgroup$
    – Bryson S.
    Jun 11 '14 at 12:56
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    $\begingroup$ I didn't say that my friends weren't snobbish ;-) $\endgroup$
    – Bryson S.
    Jun 11 '14 at 17:34

The CF-101 Voodoo had a landing speed of 175 kts plus fuel weight over 3000 lbs over which it was 5 kts per 1000 lbs of fuel. BTW crash landed one at 195 kts in Feb 82.


The USAF 101-B (ADC)did fly final approach at 175 plus fuel...it also had a 300 foot altimeter error subsonic at most landing altitudes! This was an all-weather interceptor! I will never forget landing at Kingsley fold, Klamath Falls, OR,at night, in a rain storm wth my rain clearing system inop!


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