Aircraft manufacturers claims commercial passenger aircrafts cruise at the speed of 400-500 knots.

But is the top speed of a commercial passenger aircraft recorded (while in air)? If so, what is the top speed?

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    $\begingroup$ You may precise if you exclude the Concorde. Including it seems unfair. $\endgroup$ – Manu H Feb 2 at 12:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Gokul Nath KP you need to define whether or not your definition of top speed is for level flight under power, or in a dive with gravity helping. Veritible ASE lives are in the balance... $\endgroup$ – John K Feb 2 at 23:59
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    $\begingroup$ Concorde/TU-144 absolutely should be recorded. (Tu-144 may have been a few knots faster). Surprised Virgin Galactic doesn't add 2-3 Concordes to their portfolio, but their Spaceship 2 will soon take the title. Great story about the DC-8 below. $\endgroup$ – Robert DiGiovanni Feb 3 at 1:56
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    $\begingroup$ @RobertDiGiovanni Virgin tried to shame BA into selling (read: giving) their Concordes to Virgin Atlantic rather than retire them, but it was all a Branson PR stunt because he had utterly no intention of carrying through with the request (he also knew that Airbus had withdrawn the type certificate, so they couldn't fly again - Airbus was no longer supporting them). $\endgroup$ – Moo Feb 3 at 2:48
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    $\begingroup$ Rules and paperwork shut down a great plane, then they tried to build the A380. In this day and age an internet marketing survey may have them asking for the Concorde. $\endgroup$ – Robert DiGiovanni Feb 3 at 5:19

"Speed" is not a singular term in aviation. There are many different ways to measure speed. See for example Why is there a difference between GPS Speed and Indicator speed? Most commercial jets cruise with a true airspeed in the range 400-500 knots and an indicated airspeed in the range 200-300 knots.

For the purpose of passenger transportation, ground speed is interesting since it is a determining factor in how long it takes to get from A to B. But do note that ground speed has relatively little to do with aircraft performance, since two identical aircraft could have vastly different ground speeds if one was flying in a headwind and the other in a tailwind.

According to groundspeedrecords.com, the fastest ground speed ever recorded for a commercial aircraft is the Concorde with a record of 1205 knots. This website relies on pilots snapping a picture and uploading it to the site as proof, so it is possible that that record has been broken without it being recorded.

Excluding the Concorde, which is no longer in service, the fastest record is a Boeing 747-400 recorded at 752 knots in 2010. At the time of reaching that speed, the aircraft had a 213 knot tailwind (probably flying in a jetstream).

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    $\begingroup$ I wonder if that site has any record of the 747 which went supersonic during an incident.... $\endgroup$ – Moo Feb 3 at 4:48
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    $\begingroup$ fyi 1205 knots is 2232 km/h (Concorde), or Mach 1.81. $\endgroup$ – Ring Ø Feb 3 at 16:43
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    $\begingroup$ @RingØ You can't convert groundspeed to mach though $\endgroup$ – J. Hougaard Feb 3 at 17:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Moo You don't mean this flight? It was reported (speculated!) to have gone supersonic, but the final report seems to state it had hit a max speed of M0.98. Lost a couple of wing panels and one of the flaps fell off during (after?) landing. $\endgroup$ – J... Feb 3 at 19:07
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    $\begingroup$ @RingØ Mach number is based on airspeed. Also, the airspeed-to-Mach-number conversion varies with altitude and atmospheric conditions. Mach 1 is always the speed of sound through the medium in question, but that speed can vary quite a bit depending on the medium. $\endgroup$ – reirab Feb 4 at 6:57

Other than the TU-144 and Concorde, the record for the fastest True Airspeed in an airliner probably belongs to a DC-8.

Wikipedia Douglas DC-8

On August 21, 1961, a Douglas DC-8 broke the sound barrier at Mach 1.012 (660 mph/1,062 km/h) while in a controlled dive through 41,000 feet (12,497 m) and maintained that speed for 16 seconds. The flight was to collect data on a new leading-edge design for the wing, and while doing so, the DC-8 became the first civilian jet – and the first jet airliner – to make a supersonic flight. The aircraft was DC-8-43 registered CF-CPG later delivered to Canadian Pacific Air Lines. The aircraft, crewed by Captain William Magruder, First Officer Paul Patten, Flight Engineer Joseph Tomich and Flight Test Engineer Richard Edwards, took off from Edwards Air Force Base in California, and was accompanied to altitude by an F-104 Starfighter supersonic chase aircraft flown by Chuck Yeager.

enter image description here Douglas DC-8-43 N9604Z is accompanied by a U.S. Air Force Lockheed F-104A Starfighter, near Edwards Air Force Base, California. (Douglas Aircraft Co.)

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    $\begingroup$ Hey that's not level flight, that's cheating lol. But still holy crap that's impressive. We'll need the poster to clarify if he means absolute speed or level flight speed to settle this "shock(wave)ing" situation. $\endgroup$ – John K Feb 2 at 17:19
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    $\begingroup$ The captain should have has a shirt made, reading "Chuck Yeager is my chase pilot" $\endgroup$ – Chris H Feb 3 at 9:27
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    $\begingroup$ The 747 also went supersonic on a few occasions. I bet Terry could give more detail. $\endgroup$ – Peter Kämpf Feb 3 at 18:10
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    $\begingroup$ I didn't realize such planes could even survive the stresses of supersonic speed. Impressive. $\endgroup$ – Mast Feb 4 at 10:33

I think I know what you're asking, and the Concorde-excluded answer is almost certianly the Convair 990 which could get just shy of Mach 1. From wikipedia:

The Convair 990A is still the fastest non-supersonic commercial transport to have ever been produced. During May 1961, one of the pre-production 990 prototype aircraft set a record of .97 Mach in level flight at an altitude of 22,500 ft. (6.9 km), equivalent to a true airspeed of 675 mph (1 086 km/h).[5] This was before the various aerodynamic drag-reduction changes were applied to the later 990A in order to meet certain performance guarantees which Convair had made to American Airlines. These subsequent modifications made to the later 990A (consisting of the four wing-mounted anti-shock body "speed capsules" and substantial streamlining of the engine pylon/wing interface) increased the velocity at which onset of transonic drag would occur by 0.09 Mach. As such, the 990A would have been capable of speeds slightly in excess of 700 mph (1 130 km/h).[6]


If the fastest crossing of the Atlantic is your metric, the winner is the Vickers VC-10. It was very advanced for its time with airfoils close to what today would be called supercritical. In 1979, Super VC-10 G-ASGC took off from JFK to land just five hours and one minute later at Prestwick. The scheduled time was six hours and twenty minutes. This record has never been beaten to this day by a scheduled aircraft.

Of curse, it helped that ground control was supportive. As Captain Gwyn Mullet describes in his autobiography:

… so I asked what the record was for the route and they ferreted around and said that it was held by a 707 at five hours and eight minutes. My tail was up and so I put a little bit of extra fuel on and told the people that we were out to beat that time. Little did I know that they informed the control tower and so just after take-off we were told to route direct to Gander, Newfoundland and to ignore any speed restraints and they wished us good luck in our venture.

“Wow, we are off and running!” I said to the rest of the crew triumphantly.

After about two hours or so we were in the Gander area and we called for our ‘Atlantic clearance’ and would you believe it they were in the picture as well. They told to route direct to Prestwick and not on the normal track system. As for the speed we were given a free hand as to how fast to go.

The maximum operating speed of the VC-10 was Mach 0.886 or 505 kts.

  • $\begingroup$ Nautically at that speed takes four hours. Scheduled for six, it took one more hour than what's physically possible. $\endgroup$ – Mazura Feb 4 at 2:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Mazura By "Nautically" do you mean, if you fly a Great Circle route JFK-PIK? In 1979 (pre-GPS), would that have been possible? You'd have to continually adjust your bearing, but how would you know your position to sufficient accuracy? Is that what he means by the comment about flying direct? Can I only ask questions? $\endgroup$ – Oscar Bravo Feb 4 at 7:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Mazura The Great Circle from JFK-LHR is 2999NM and at 505 Knots would take 6:50. They obviously had to rely on a tailwind. What do you mean "physically possible"? gcmap.com/… $\endgroup$ – Mike Sowsun Feb 4 at 13:52

Most of the fastest airliners are limited by the speed of sound, and their speeds (actually Mach numbers) are within a narrow range so the values are quite similar. This is because the aerodynamics of a transonic airplane will create various instabilities and stalls near the sound speed limit where the local flow at the wing is already locally supersonic. The drag will also be high.

There is also an indicated airspeed limit, but at cruising altitude the indicated airspeed is not high due to low air pressure (and density).

The maximum operating Mach numbers (Mmo) are like these: 747-400 has one of the highest values: 0.92; VC10 has been reported even as 0.94, but I do not know if it is reliable; DC-10 0.88. B737 and A320 are much lower at 0.82.

The aircraft are allowed to reach slightly higher values, but not by much: the overspeed sound may sound already at Mmo.


And this just in: In Peter Kämpf's answer he presented Atlantic crossing as one of the metrics, and the age-old Vickers VC-10 record has been beated.

The new subsonic atlantic crossing record (this time New York JFK to London LHR) stands at 4 hours and 56 minutes. A staggering 80 minute gain enroute!

BBC: Storm Ciara helps plane beat transatlantic flight record

The Boeing 747-436 reached speeds of 825 mph (1,327 km/h) as it rode a jet stream accelerated by Storm Ciara.

The four hours and 56 minutes flight arrived at Heathrow Airport 80 minutes ahead of schedule on Sunday morning

  • $\begingroup$ It was a British Airways flight and it impressively shows why their callsign is Speedbird. $\endgroup$ – PerlDuck Feb 10 at 8:30
  • $\begingroup$ But it was storm „Sabine“ 🤔 $\endgroup$ – pcfreakxx Feb 10 at 10:44
  • $\begingroup$ @pcfreakxx In Germany it's called "Sabine", in the UK (and probably elsewhere) it is called "Ciara". $\endgroup$ – PerlDuck Feb 10 at 10:46
  • $\begingroup$ @PerlDuck Oh M8 $\endgroup$ – pcfreakxx Feb 10 at 10:48

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