If you’re wondering how fast planes fly, the answer is that it ranges from 160 mph (260 km/h) to 2,400 mph (3,900 km/h) depending on the type of plane (commercial airliner, single-engine, private jet, military planes) and whether the plane is taking off, at cruising altitude or landing.
So let’s take a closer look at how the speed a plane flies compares depending on these two factors.
How Fast Do Planes Fly?
A plane’s speed depends on several factors: its classification, engine, weight at take-off time, and aerodynamics amongst many other things.
We’ll take the example of an average commercial plane during the three different phases of flying.
During take-off, commercial aircraft speed varies anywhere between 260 km/h to 290 km/h or 160 mph to 180 mph.
Take-off speed depends mostly on factors like the aircraft’s weight.
When in the Air (Cruising Altitude)
The usual cruising speed for a commercial airplane is between 880-926 km/h or 547-575 mph.
Most airplanes fly slower than the maximum speed they are capable of while at cruising altitude to conserve fuel.
When Landing (Approach)
Most commercial airliners land with a speed of between 240 to 265 km/h or 150 to 165 mph.
Landing speed depends on the weight of the plane, the runway surface, and the plane’s flap settings.
Single Engine vs Private vs Military Planes Air Speed
Single engine, private and military planes all have different speeds (no to mention significantly different costs to own) compared to commercial airliners due to how they’re built.
Since most single-engine planes have propeller-based or piston engines, their airspeed is limited compared to other types of planes.
For example, the Cirrus Vision SF50 has a maximum cruise speed of 576 km/h or 358 mph.
Since private jets aren’t constrained by the operational logistics of a commercial airliner nor the cost-cutting policies of airlines, they can fly faster than most commercial planes.
The average private plane can cruise between 650-960 km/h or 400-600 mph. Some high-end private jets like the Gulfstream G700 can fly at speeds greater than 1,200 km/h or 740 mph.
Related: How Much Does a Private Jet Cost?
Since there are numerous types of military aircraft, their speeds vary a lot.
For instance, fighter jets are faster than cargo planes. Fighter jets can fly faster than 1,195 km/h or 717 mph with some like the F15 flying at an astonishing speed of 3,100 km/h or 1,920 mph.
In contrast, cargo planes fly at an average speed of 640 km/h or 400 mph, which is noticeably slower than fighter jets.
Maximum Speed of Most Popular Airplanes
Let’s take a look at the speeds of a few of the most popular airliners used in commercial aviation.
A Boeing 747 has a takeoff speed of 290 km/h or 180 mph, and it cruises at a speed of 900 km/h or 570 mph.
The Boeing 747’s landing speed varies on condition, but typically it’s within 265-280 km/h or 165-175 mph.
The Boeing 737 across all its variants has an average take-off speed of 250 km/h or 150 mph, and the cruise speed of its 737-800 variant is 842 km/h or 543 mph.
The Boeing 737’s landing speed is between 240- 260 km/h or 140-160 mph.
Airbus A380s have a take-off speed that ranges from 275-310 km/h or 170-195 mph, and they have a cruising speed of 1,050 km/h or 630 mph at a height of 11 km/ 36,000 feet.
The Airbus A380’s landing speed is between 240-260 km/h or 150-161 mph.
What is the Fastest Plane in the World?
Fastest Single Engine Plane
The Soviet Union’s Tu-114 has held the record for the fastest piston-engine plane since 1960.
It has a top speed of 870 km/h or 540 mph at a height of 7.9 km or 26,000 feet.
This plane was originally intended for military use, but they were later converted to be used in a luxury airliner.
Fastest Commercial Plane
The fastest commercial plane was the Concorde; it could reach speeds higher than 2,100 km/h or 1,300 mph.
The only thing limiting the Concorde’s speed was temperature; excess heat generated by air friction threatened to melt the plane’s skin off, which is the outer surface which covers much of its wings and fuselage.
If you’re wondering how long it would take to fly around the world, the Concorde currently holds this record at 31 hours, 27 minutes and 49 seconds, which was set in 1995.
The Fastest Plane Ever
The fastest plane overall that was ever built is the Lockheed SR-71. Also known as the ‘black bird’, the SR-71 is a military plane that can fly over 3,900 km/h or 2,400 mph.
It also holds the world record for the highest altitude of flight by any aircraft at over 25km/ 85,000 feet.
Why Do Planes Not Fly At Full Speed?
Commercial planes don’t fly at the maximum speeds they are capable of. Typically, the average commercial plane will cruise using only 75% of its total power. There are two main reasons for airliners to not have their planes use full power:
Airlines conserve fuel by flying their planes at lower speeds, which also helps keep maintenance and operating costs lower.
More passengers also prefer cheaper tickets instead of slightly earlier arrival times, so there is no need to change things as it stands.
In any case, if planes flew at full speed regularly, they would only arrive 20 to 30 minutes earlier on average. Most consumers do not value arriving 30 minutes earlier over getting a cheaper ticket.
So it makes less sense to go at full speed from a practical perspective.
It just isn’t worth it for airlines to use full power when it costs more and customers don’t value it.
- Technical Problems
Flying at lower speeds also helps reduce maintenance-related damage to an aircraft because of less air resistance.
Flying at higher speeds also makes it harder for crew members to use onboard instruments.
Flying at higher speeds would require more power, especially because most engines are designed to operate most efficiently at lower speeds.
Overall, it just doesn’t make sense to fly at higher speeds from both a practical and technical perspective.
In conclusion, planes can fly very fast (up to 2,400 mph or 3,900 km/h if we’re talking about the fastest speed ever), but the exact speed of a plane is subject to its classification and the conditions it is operating under.
Naturally, planes fly fastest when cruising in the air.