I would like to know some examples of aircraft (specific models) which can fly at FL600 or higher.

I am interested in aircraft which can or could fly at that altitude on a regular basis (service ceiling included). Space exploration or launcher systems are out of the scope.

As far as I know, commercial airplanes cannot fly that high so I can only think of jet fighters, aerostatic balloons, and rocket-powered aircraft.

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    $\begingroup$ Are you interested in one-offs and limited-production aircraft such as White Knight Two? $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 22:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Mark I am interested in aircraft which often fly (or have flown) in that altitude range. But any other "experimental airborne system" is welcome as well. $\endgroup$
    – ppinto
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 7:55

2 Answers 2

  • Commercial Airliners:

    Both Concorde (service ceiling FL600) and the Tupolev Tu-144 (service ceiling FL660) could reach FL600. Most airliners have a service ceiling of around FL410 though.

  • Business Jets:

    According to this article the highest service ceiling for various business jets is at FL510, so none can reach FL600.

  • Military Reconnaissance Aircraft:

    The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird had a service ceiling of FL850 and routinely operated above FL600. Many other aircraft in this category (e.g. MiG-25, Tsybin RSR, U-2, RB-57F, M-17 and M-55) can also fly above FL600.

  • Military Fighter Jets:

    Most fighter jets have a service ceiling below FL600, but there are a few that can fly higher (e.g. F-15 and F-22 with service ceilings of FL650, the MiG-25 again, and MiG-31 with the highest service ceiling of FL820+ for a fighter).

  • Experimental Aircraft:

    Wikipedia has a list of altitude records, often by experimental craft. The 60,000 feet limit was surpassed around the end of the second world war with the advent of rocket and turbojet engines. Two notable achievements:

    The rocket powered X-15 reached space twice. In 1963 it climbed to 67 miles, nominally corresponding to FL3530. Note that the X-15 did not self-start.

    The glider (!) Perlan II has a service ceiling of FL900 and actually reached 76,124 feet. It utilizes standing waves forming at mountain ranges which under certain conditions can extend into the stratosphere. From wikipedia: "A sailplane at 90,000 feet altitude flies in approximately the same aerodynamic regime [...] to be experienced by a moderate size aircraft flying near the surface of Mars."

High altitude balloons and rockets can of course fly higher.

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    $\begingroup$ As I recall, the U-2 (in the Reconnaissance class) also operated above FL600, though I don't remember its service ceiling (which was limited by "coffin corner", where Mach limit of the airframe intersects stall speed). $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 13:11
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    $\begingroup$ James May goes to 70000 feet in this vid youtube.com/watch?v=w-COlil4tos but at that altitude there is still 40kts margin above stall and they are still climbing and bleeding speed, so the U2 could make it to at least 75000. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 13:33
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    $\begingroup$ There's also the RB-57F Canberra. I think NASA still has a few flying. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 17:27
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    $\begingroup$ @FredLarson they do. One of NASAs WB-57's was used to record infrared video of the Crew Dragon In Flight Abort test earlier this week. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 20:26
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    $\begingroup$ I took the liberty of editing in M-17 & M-55. Punched them under the reconnaisance category, M-55 is basically a research aircraft, but I bet that it's not solely used for scientific purposes ;) $\endgroup$
    – Jpe61
    Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 20:54

Depending upon the definition of Service Ceiling the English Electric Lightning just squeaks into the military fighter list. For early variants, if the climb profile was carefully managed, it could operate for about 90 seconds at FL600 before the airspeed bled off to the stall point.

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    $\begingroup$ While interesting, I don’t see how this answers the question as asked by the OP. $\endgroup$
    – dalearn
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 12:36
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    $\begingroup$ @dalearn The OP asked I am interested in aircraft which can or could fly at that altitude on a regular basis. if the Lightning could do it, even if only for a short period, why isn't it a valid answer to the question? $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 14:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Graham the poster says that it depends upon the definition of Service Ceiling, but It seems like the EE Lightning had a negative rate of climb at FL600, which would mean it is not an answer. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 14:42
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe not, but English Electric certainly belongs on the list, thanks to the original Canberra (leading to the RB-57) $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 16:54
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    $\begingroup$ There's a difference between "flying at FL600" and "reaching FL600 in a zoom climb". $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 21:55

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