How fast do planes fly?

Up until 2003 you could fly from New York to London in under 3 hours on Concorde. On those flights the cruising speed would have been twice the speed of sound, Mach 2, but today most aircraft cruise at less than half that speed. 

So what speed is that?

Well, most modern aircraft cruise at a specific Mach number due to the fact that as you approach the speed of sound (Mach 1), shockwaves begin to form which require a lot of extra thrust to overcome (breaking through the sound barrier). These shockwaves can also be damaging if the plane isn’t built to go through them. So for that reason, most airliners travel at a cruising speed between 0.75 and 0.85 Mach (75%-85% the speed of sound) which at typical cruising altitude is somewhere between 480 and 560 miles per hour (770-900kmh). 

With the aid of a tailwind, which can sometimes get as high as 200mph (320kmh), it’s not unheard of for planes to travel at over 700mph (1,120kmh). This is why flight times can vary quite a bit depending on which direction you’re traveling (high speed jet streams typically blow from west to east). 

What about when landing and taking off?

Again, this varies significantly between aircraft but a typical commercial jet will take off at around 150mph (240kmh) and land at around the same speed also. This figure can also vary with the weight of the aircraft (which can change depending on how many passengers are on board and how much fuel it is carrying).

Typical cruising speeds

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  • Commuter aircraft (turboprop) – 290mph (460kmh)
  • Shorthaul commercial jet (A320/737) – Mach 0.76-0.79 / 500-520mph (800-835kmh)
  • Longhaul commercial jet – Mach 0.80-0.85 / 530-560mph (850-900kmh)
  • Concorde (pre 2003) – Mach 2 / 1,320mph (2,100kmh)

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Top Speeds

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  • F22 fighter jet  – Mach 2 / 1,320mph (2,100kmh)
  • SR-71 Blackbird – Mach 3 / 1800mph (2,880kmh)
  • NASA X43 – Mach 10 / 7000mph (11,000kmh)  [/unordered_list]

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