Nowadays, there is little discussion of aeroplane speed in commercial aviation because the majority of aircraft cruise at similar speeds. The sound barrier, however, wasn’t always an impediment to speed, and this wasn’t always the case. The future of supersonic travel and the fastest military and civilian aircraft are shown below.
Mach values are significant because they represent the aircraft’s speed in relation to the speed of sound. Therefore, if an aeroplane is travelling at Mach 1, it is moving faster than sound. At Mach 2, an aircraft is travelling twice as fast as sound, and at Mach 0.5, it is travelling at half the speed of sound.
In other words, most commercial aircraft fly over friendly skies at Mach 0.6–0.7, or about 6–7/10ths the speed of sound. This wasn’t always the case, though; in the latter decades of the 20th century, supersonic travel had a boom (no pun intended).
Nowadays, the only time you will hear a sonic boom is if fighter jets are being scrambled for an emergency mission and you live close to an air force base.
The fastest aircraft ever was a 1960s rocketship
The North American X-15, which was created for NASA to carry out high-speed aeronautical research, was the fastest aircraft. To reach the edge of space or travel as quickly as its lone Reaction Motors XLR99 rocket engine with 70,400 pounds of power could carry the aircraft, the X-15 was launched from a Boeing B-52. The X-15 set the previous record for the highest speed on October 3, 1967, reaching 4,520 mph, or Mach 6.7. It was obvious this one would be a rocket ship just by looking at it.
The fastest jet aircraft
If you look at more “conventional” aircraft, the honour goes to a different special design. The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird is an American high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft designed to evade interceptors and surface-to-air missiles. The plane was a development of the Lockheed A-12 “Oxcart,” which was made originally for the CIA. The SR-71’s two Pratt & Whitney J58 turbojet engines, each with a thrust capacity of 32,500 lbf, could propel the aircraft to a cruising speed of Mach 3.2.
Sadly, the SR-71 is no longer visible in the sky. In October 1997, the US Air Force, the CIA, and even NASA suspended SR-71 flight operations due to the aircraft’s exorbitant operating expenses and the end of the Cold War.
The fastest civilian jet aircraft
Here it is—the much-anticipated aircraft, the Concorde. Supersonic flight was made possible by the Aérospatiale and BAC-built aircraft, or at least by those who could afford to fly the highly quick but expensive means of transportation. The Concorde was capable of travelling at a top speed of Mach 2.04 (1,354 mph/ 2,455 kph). The Concorde was not permitted to fly anywhere near supersonic, unlike fighter jets. The sonic boom it produced infuriated nearby neighbours who had grown weary of the sudden loud noises and rattling windows. Only overwater routes were approved for commercial Concorde flights.
But unlike what was initially anticipated, the program didn’t transform travel. 3.5 hours from New York to London is a huge reduction in flying time, but the cost per ticket was way too high. After a catastrophic crash in July 2000, the plane was put on indefinite hiatus. By 2003, it was evident that Concorde lacked the commercial viability to compete in a market dominated by slower but more productive subsonic jets.
But a new supersonic transport is underway
With Boom Supersonic’s Overture, people in the general public will be able to satisfy their thirst for speed once more. By 2029, Boom aims to transport travellers up to Mach 1.7 for less per seat than Concorde. The Overture is designed to fly on 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and will only travel at supersonic speeds over water to prevent booms near populated areas. Boom was successful and had a good year despite some challenges last year, particularly in locating an engine supply for the big project. If all goes according to plan, supersonic travel may be entering its second and last phase.