On December 17th 1903, Orville Wright finally achieved something that mankind had dreamed of for the entirety of human history. He made the first sustained and controlled heavier than air powered flight, and even though that pioneering flight was only 120 feet long, Orville, and brother Edgar inspired a thousand others to build bigger, better, and above all faster flying machines in the century that followed their historic achievement.
Although that first revolutionary flight occurred only just over 100 years ago, mankind has increased his technological and engineering excellence in leaps and bounds since then. The birth of flight revolutionized warfare, travel and scientific progress beyond measure, and helped create the global society we life in today. Every human being alive today who has travelled on a plane or marvelled at the wonders of space exploration should ultimately be thankful to those brave and brilliant brothers for the legacy they left mankind.
But what sort of speed capability has our collective quest for faster flying machines created up to now, and how far could we push the boundaries of technology and science in the future? Let’s find out.
Top 10 Fastest Airplanes and Jets in the World In 2023
Without further ado, here are the fastest manned planes in the world (their respective top speeds will also be listed).
10. The Eurofighter Typhoon – Top Speed: 1320 mph
The Eurofighter Typhoon, as its name implies, was a collaboration between different European countries including the UK, Spain, Italy, France, and Germany. Built during the height of the Cold War, it was designed to be an effective dogfighter and was highly agile, able to travel up to 1320 mph. Later models were also equipped to undertake strike missions, with various types of missiles. While its development began in 1983, it wasn’t until 1994 that it took its first flight.
There are currently two variants: a single-seater and a twin-seater. While the latter is combat capable, it’s typically only used for training.
To this day, it’s the most advanced swing-role combat aircraft in the world and is in service with the air forces of the UK, Germany, Italy, Australia, Oman, and Saudi Arabia. Not only that but Qatar and Kuwait have also ordered the aircraft.
In 2011, the Eurofighter Typhoon had its combat debut during the military intervention in Libya with the Italian Air Force and the UK’s Royal Air Force, where it performed ground-strike and aerial reconnaissance missions.
9. The Grumman F-14 Tomcat – Top Speed: 1544 mph
The Grumman F-14 Tomcat is a supersonic, twin-engine fighter aircraft that was originally developed for the US Navy’s Naval Fighter Experimental program. The first of the Teen Series fighters, it was designed for aerial combat during the height of the Vietnam War. It took its first flight on December 21, 1970, and made its first deployment with the US Navy in 1974, replacing the F-4 Phantom II.
In the 1990s, an infrared navigation and targeting system was also added, which allowed it to participate in precise ground-attack missions. Up until the 2000s, the F-14 Tomcat served as the U.S. Navy’s fleet defense interceptor, tactical aerial reconnaissance platform, and air superiority fighter.
After more than three decades, the aircraft was retired by the U.S. Navy on September 22, 2006. Since then, several of them have been put on display across the country. For example, they can be seen at the Virginia Aviation Museum and Pacific Aviation Museum in Hawaii. In Iran, however, several F-14 aircraft remain active in service (The Imperial Iranian Air Force is the only foreign country to have purchased the aircraft). Due to a lack of spare parts, however, only a few are combat-ready.
8. The Shenyang J-11 – Top sped: 1553 mph
The Shenyang J-11 is a Chinese twin-engine jet fighter that’s based on the Sukhoi Sui-27, a Soviet-designed plane that’s still in production. Operated by the People’s Liberation Army Air force, it was originally designed as a replacement for the MiG-19 with a better climb rate and maneuverability. An all-round fighter, the J-11 is capable of performing aerial dogfights as well as bombing runs.
Following the fall of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, China acquired the Su-27 fighter in a deal known as the ‘906 Project’. They later began to assemble and manufacture the aircraft domestically. By the early 1990s, they had successfully created a batch, which were stationed at the Wuhu Air Base. Later in 1996, they acquired 200 additional Su-27s for $2.7 billion.
In 2015, the existing aircraft were upgraded with a new missile approach warning system. Not only that but fire control systems, as well as improved cockpit displays, were also added to a number of J-11s. A variant, known as J-11D, is also equipped with a fixed electronically scanned array radar as well as air-to-air missiles. Some reports also claim that it has a new fly-by-wire control system, though it’s unconfirmed.
7. The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23 – Top Speed: 1553 mph
The MiG-23, aka “Flogger”, is a fighter-bomber hybrid that was produced by the Soviet Union in 1970. A third generation jet fighter, it’s similar to many Soviet aircraft such as the Su-17. Not only is it the first Soviet fighter to field the RP-23 Sapfir, a look-down/shoot-down radar system, but it’s also one of the first to be equipped with BVR missiles.
Its predecessor, the MiG-21, while agile, had limited operational capabilities due to its limited weapons load, short range, and primitive radar. The MiG-23, on the other hand, has a much better range and is able to carry more weapons including BVR missiles.
The basic design of the MiG-23 was also used as a basis for the MiG-27, which is designed as a ground-attack variant with a TV camera and laser designator.
Production for the aircraft began in 1969 and within a few years, they had reached a fleet of more than 5,000. To this day, it’s the most-produced variable-sweep aircraft in history. Having said that, it’s no longer used by the Russian armed forces. It is, however, actively employed by the Sri Lankan and Indian defense forces.
6. The Sukhoi SU-27 – Top Speed: 1600 mph
The Sukhoi Su-27, nicknamed the “Flanker”, is a twin-engine fighter aircraft that’s still in use today. Introduced in the 1970s, the aircraft was originally developed as a direct competitor for the F-14 Tomcat and F-15 Eagle. Designed for air superiority missions, it features high maneuverability, sophisticated avionics, an impressive 3,530km range, and can read top speeds of 1,600 mph, which allows it to participate ini almost all aerial warfare operations.
For many years, the Su-27’s primary role was to protect the Soviet coast from aircraft carriers. Not only that but it also acted as escort for heavy bombers such as the Tupolev Tu-160, Tu-22M, and Tu-95.
Nowadays, the Su-27 consists of a family of aircraft, including the Su-30, which is equipped with air-to-surface and air-to-air deep missiles, as well as the Su-33. There’s also a fighter-bomber variant as well as a multi-role fighter variant. Due to its all-around strength, many other aircraft, such as China’s Shenyang J-11, is built upon airframe.
Currently, the Su-27 aircraft is employed by many countries including Indonesia, Ukraine, Vietnam, Russia, Mongolia, Ethiopia, and Angola. Not only that but the United States also has four Su-27s, two of which were delivered from Belarus in 1995. The other two were purchased from Ukraine in 2009.
5. The McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle – Top Speed: 1650 mph
The McDonnell Boeing (formerly Douglas) F-15 Strike Eagle is an all-weather strike fighter that was originally designed in the 1980s for high-speed, long-range interdiction without the need for an escort. Since it was first introduced in 1988, it has been deployed for many military operations in Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, among others. During these operations, the F-15E aircraft has carried out deep strikes against various high-value targets and has provided close support for coalition troops.
Unlike several aircrafts on this list, the Strike Eagle has remained mostly unchanged throughout the years. In fact, it’s considered to be one of the most successful bombers to have ever been produced by the U.S. military.
Nowadays, it’s used by many militaries around the world including those of Israel, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia. For example, the Israeli Air Force operates the F-15I, a dual-seat variant known as the Ra’am, which features a different avionic system, GPS/INS system, central computer, as well as Elisra SPS-2110 warfare equipment. Some units have also been equipped with an AESA radar.
4. The Mikoyan MiG-31 – Top Speed: 1900 mph
The Mikoyan MiG-31, aka the “Foxhound”, is one of the fastest aircrafts in the world with top speeds of up to 1900 mph. A supersonic interceptor aircraft, it was originally developed by the Soviet Union in the mid 1970s as a replacement for the MiG-25. As such, the two share many design elements.
Not only does it feature incredible maneuverability but it’s also one of the first jets to use a radar system to intercept stealth fighters. That’s not all, it also has the ability to fire long-range, air to air missiles, making it one of only two planes in the Cold War era to be able to achieve such a feat.
Despite being introduced nearly five decades ago, it’s still used by the Russian Air Forces to this day. Just recently during the Russian Invasion of Ukraine, the MiG-31 aircraft was seen attacking several Ukrainian jets. The Russian Defence Ministry has also stated that they plan on using the aircraft until 2030 or beyond.
Aside from Russia, the MiG-31 is also employed by the Kazakh Air Defence Forces, who has an inventory of 31 aircrafts as of 2020. At one point, Syria also ordered a batch of MiG-31 but it was ultimately suspended due to lack of funds.
3. The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 – Top Speed: 2190 mph
The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 was the last aircraft designed by Mikhail Gurevich, a Soviet engineer who created numerous combat aircrafts throughout the Cold War. At the time, the plane was one of the fastest in the world with top speeds of up to 2190 mph. In fact, it was capable of going even faster, however, its speed was limited to prevent the engines from becoming overheated and damaged.
Built mainly using stainless steel, it flew for the first time in 1964 and later entered service with the Soviet military in 1970. If anything, it became a symbol of the Cold War as it was often flown by Soviet allies. Not only that but it was also used during the Iran-Iraq war. According to the Iraq government, it was responsible for shooting down at least 15 Iranian aircrafts.
After many years of use, its production ended in 1984. By then, a total of 1,186 aircraft had been produced. Having said that, the MiG-25 is continually used to this day. Take the Syrian Air Force, for example, they currently have two aircraft in service. Many are also on display around the world.
2. The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird – Top Speed: 2200 mph
The Lockheed Sr-71 Blackbird is a high-altitude, long-range, strategic reconnaissance aircraft developed by NASA and the US Air Force. Developed during the 1960s, the aircraft can be operated at high altitudes and speeds, which allows it to avoid or outrace threats, including missiles; it’s also equipped with signals intelligence sensors, an airborne radar and camera, which makes it ideal for reconnaissance operations. Due to the extended turnaround required, however, a Sr-71 can only be flown once a week.
Since its retirement in the 1990s, it has been replaced by unmanned aerial vehicles and reconnaissance satellites. A proposed successor, the SR-82, is also in the works, according to the aerospace company Lockheed, who built the original Blackbird.
To this day, the Sr-71 Blackbirds holds the world record of being the fastest manned aircraft in the world, which it set back in 1976. The record was previously held by the Lockheed YF-12, which like the Sr-71, was also manufactured by the Lockheed Corporation.
1. The North American X-15 – Top Speed: 4520 mph
The North American X-15 is the fastest manned aircraft in the world with a top speed of 4520 mph (6.7 Mach) and can travel at five times the speed of sound. To this day, the record remains unbroken. In fact, no modern aircraft has even come close to matching its benchmark. Operated by NASA and the United States Air Force, it was developed in 1959 and was mostly used for experimental flights during its service.
Several years after it was introduced, it set altitude and speed records after reaching the edge of outer space. By the end of the X-15 program in 1968, it had flown a total of 199 flights, several of which qualified the pilots as being astronauts as they, by Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) definition, travelled to the edge of space. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, the aircraft also had an ejection seat that’s designed to operate at 2,800 mph and 120,000 feet. However, it was never used.
Nowadays, several X-15s can be seen on display across the United States. For example, the X-15A-2 can be seen at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Ohio, where it has been since 1969. There are also mockups at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, Dryden Flight Research Centre, and Pima Air & Space Museum.