An aircraft with the ability to clock speeds in excess of 2000 miles per hour! We are talking about the fastest plane in the world, the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.
The word ‘speed’ has always fascinated mankind. Our craze to find out which is the fastest vehicle or animal in the world speaks volumes about our obsession. Irrespective of whether it’s a car or an animal, the superlative adjective ‘fastest’ does trigger an adrenaline rush in our body. When we talk about speed, we cannot ignore supersonic aircraft, i.e., aircraft that travel at a speed higher than that of sound.
In order to determine which is the fastest aircraft in the world, you need to take into consideration the fact that an aircraft can be manned as well as unmanned. An aircraft is defined as a vehicle that can fly in the air, so the presence of human inside it to guide it, is not mandatory. Though there do exist unmanned planes which are faster than their manned counterparts, it makes little sense to take them into consideration when trying to find out which aircraft holds the airspeed record.
Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird
So the credit of being the fastest plane goes to the Lockheed SR-71, an advanced, long range, Mach 3+ plane which was developed by the Lockheed Skunk Works. (Mach 3+ signifies the ability of this aircraft to clock speeds that are three times the speed of sound.) It was designed by the famous aircraft engineer, Clarence “Kelly” Johnson. The plane took its first flight on December 22, 1964. Over the period, 32 Lockheed SR-71s were manufactured, which were primarily used by the United States Air Force (USAF) and NASA. In fact, its high speed and operating altitude acted as one of the defensive features owing to which it became a popular choice in the US Air Force.
On July 28, 1976, the Blackbird created history by setting a new speed and altitude record with an amazing speed of 2,193.167 mph over a straight course in horizontal flight―reaching an altitude of 85,068.997 feet―at the Beale Air Force Base, California. The pilots of the Blackbird on this historical occasion were Capt. Eldon W. Joersz and Maj. George T. Morgan. No aircraft has since been able to break this record. Lockheed SR-71 finally retired from service in 1988, but none of the aircraft which succeeded it were able to push it off the number 1 spot.
An unmanned experimental hypersonic aircraft, NASA’s X-43 has several airspeed records for jet-propelled aircraft to its name. Unlike other aircraft, X-43 doesn’t take off from the land. Instead it is launched by a B-52 military aircraft at an altitude of around 40,000 feet. The X-43 became the fastest unmanned plane in the world on November 16, 2004, by clocking an unbelievable speed of Mach 9+. Even though NASA revealed that this aircraft powered by scramjet engine had clocked a speed of Mach 9.6, others claim that the aircraft had reached a speed of Mach 9.8 during the test run. In terms of speed 9 Mach, i.e., 9 times faster than the speed of sound, is an amazing speed for any vehicle in any medium.
At the end of the day, the fastest plane in the world as of 2010 is the Lockheed SR-71, a.k.a. the Blackbird. Besides this, we have MiG fighter planes which have the ability of flying at a speed of Mach 2+. As we undergo more technological advancements, we will be able to manufacture more of such engineering marvels with the ability to clock speeds that were never imagined before. That, however, will be in the future. As of now, it is the Lockheed SR-71, with no other contender anywhere close.