The need for speed for military aircraft has long been crucial, especially during the Cold War Era. Whether it’s to outrun the enemies, shorten the aircraft’s exposure to enemy airspace, or prevent the anti-aircraft systems from achieving a full lock and targeting it, speed has long been a reliable form of defense. This had changed in recent years when modern advances focused on stealth and progress in interception methods means the once untargetable and speedy SR-71 was no longer invulnerable.
Regardless, there are still those fastest aircraft flying and in service today that stood the test of time and remained useful and impressive even after all the modern advances that happened. Here are some of them:
McDonnell Douglas F-15, 1,875 mph
The McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle is an American twin-engine, all-weather tactical fighter aircraft that has become a symbol of the US airpower with its proportions and powerful engines. It was designed by McDonnell Douglas, which is now part of Boeing, with its early stages of development beginning in the 1960s.
The F-15 met the United States Air Force’s need for a dedicated air superiority fighter, so it’s no surprise that it was heavily armed and had an incredible performance. The Eagle first soared in July 1972 and entered service in 1976, becoming one of the most successful modern fighters with over 100 victories and no losses during aerial combat, with the majority of its hits by the Israeli Air Force. Its turbofan engines are Prat & Whitney F100-PW-220 and could produce almost 24,000 pounds of thrust each with afterburners, giving a high speed of 1,875 mph or 3,017 kph.
Due to its brilliant design, it has remained in service for 45 years and has been exported to Israel, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. As of 2021, F-15 is being produced in several variants and has no signs of slowing down in terms of being an impressive and ultra-fast aircraft.
MiG-31, 1860 mph
The Mikoyan MiG-31 is a Russian supersonic interceptor aircraft used by the Soviet Air Forces. The Mikoyan Design Bureau designed it as a replacement for the MiG-25 “Foxbat,” which has a similar design, but it toned down its extremely high performance in exchange for more well-rounded capabilities, which makes sense.
MiG-31 is among the fastest jets in the world, armed with 23 mm GSh-6 autocannon, and can carry both air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles. Its two highly powerful D-30F6 turbofan engines output 34,000 pounds of thrust each with afterburners. This amount of power enabled MiG-31 to reach speeds of almost 1,900 mph. What’s more impressive is that its speed is limited to this because making it faster would already damage the aircraft.
After the Cold War, MiG-31 continued to be operated by the Russian Air Force and the Kazakh Air Force and is expected to remain in service until 2030. At the moment, only the two aforementioned air forces use the MiG-31.
MiG-25, 2170 mph
On the number one spot is the predecessor to the MiG-31 mentioned above, the MiG-25. If MiG-31 is built for more well-rounded capabilities, MiG-25 is only focused on one thing: Speed.
The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 is a supersonic interceptor and reconnaissance aircraft designed by the Mikoyan-Gurevich Bureau, one of the few combat aircraft built primarily from a nickel steel alloy. Compared to other fast aircraft that use complex engineering to achieve high speeds, MiG-25 mostly relies on brute force. Its two enormous turbojet engines are Tumansky R-15B-300s. These engines enable the aircraft to zoom at 1,900 mph. For brief periods, it could reach a crazy supersonic speed of 2,170 mph, although only for a few minutes.
The aircraft was something of a PR stunt for the Russians as it had some serious limitations in flight. Its engines just guzzled fuel limiting its range to less than 200 miles and at high speeds, the engines would destroy themselves at full throttle.
The aircraft first flew in 1964 and was designed to intercept high-altitude, fast planes like the SR-71. MiG-25 could carry four of the world’s largest mass-produced air-to-air missiles, the R-40, up to 70,000 feet, and it would only take a brief 9 minutes to get there. One of its 29 world records was climbing to 98,000 ft in only 3 minutes and 9.8 seconds in 1975!
As of 2018, the aircraft remains the fastest manned serially produced plane in operation and the fastest plane that was offered to civilian customers for supersonic flights and edge-of-space flights. Would you want to try that?