How Fast Do Airplanes Go?


The speed of planes is really fast. Let’s get this out of the way first. The question is, how fast do planes really go?

You know how fast airplanes fly if you’ve ever been on one. The difference between a single-engine turboprop and a jet-powered military aircraft is substantial. The purpose of this article is to examine the top speeds of a few of the most common airplanes in each class, as well as how these planes can travel at such high speeds at first.

In this article, you’ll find a culmination of hours of research combined with expertise in the aviation industry – whether from our own experience or from discussions with pilots and other experts. The manufacturer’s specifications are used to calculate speed information for specific aircraft, so you can rest assured that the information you read is accurate.

Table of Contents

How Fast Airplanes Can Fly is Dependent on the Type and Purpose of the Plane

It doesn’t matter if you have flown commercial jets to get to your favorite vacation spot or if you are training to become a pilot and have flown your own smaller aircraft, one thing is certain. The speed of an airplane can be very high and it can vary depending on the type and purpose of the plane.

How Do Airplanes Fly So Fast?

There must be many factors behind airplane speeds that we cannot feel while driving in a car. Each of these could be discussed for days on its own, but we’ll just touch on the basics. In terms of power and aerodynamics, they are both of the utmost importance. So how do they manage to do that?


Power is the most important factor in determining how fast a plane can fly, and also how fast a car can go at maximum speed. Typically, smaller, single-engine planes use propeller engines, and some use piston engines similar to those found in cars. However, planes that are larger and faster use turbine engines that produce enormous thrust.

It doesn’t matter which power source the plane uses, it is typically able to produce significant amounts of power that is able to overcome wind resistance and carry the plane’s heavyweight at incredible speeds.


Aerodynamics play a significant role in how fast a plane can fly in addition to the power produced by its engines. Besides the engines’ power, the plane’s aerodynamic design allows the plane to slice through the air with ease. Generally speaking, the more aerodynamic and powerful a plane is, the faster it can potentially fly.

How Fast Do Planes Fly in Different Situations

Many factors determine an aircraft’s speed, including its classification, its engine, its weight at takeoff, and its aerodynamics. In order to explain how a commercial plane moves through the three different phases of its flight, we’ll look at an average commercial plane.

At Take-Off

Commercial aircraft take off at speeds ranging from    160 mph (260 km/h)  to 180 mph (290 km/h). The speed of takeoff is largely determined by factors such as the weight of the aircraft.

When in the Air (Cruising Altitude)

Commercial airplanes usually cruise at 547 mph (880 km/h) to 575 mph (926 km/h). The average airplane flies slower than its maximum speed at cruising altitude in order to conserve fuel.

When Landing (Approach)

It is common for commercial airliners to land at speeds between 150 mph (240 km/h) and 165 mph (km/h). In addition to the weight of the plane, the runway surface, and the flap settings of the plane all affect landing speed.

Airspeed by Type of Planes

Because of how they are built, single-engine, multi-engine, private, commercial, and military aircraft all have different speeds compared to commercial airliners.

Single Engine Aircraft

Compared to other types of planes, single-engine planes have a limited airspeed because they typically have propellers or piston engines.

A Cirrus Vision SF50, for example, has a maximum cruise speed of 358 mph (576 km/h).

Multi-Engine Aircraft

Due to their size and power requirements per surface area, multi-engine airplanes fly faster than single-engine airplanes despite having similar characteristics. At its maximum cruising speed, the Piaggio P.180 Avanti Evo reached 462 mph (744 km/h).

Private Jet

As private jets don’t have to deal with the operational constraints of commercial planes nor the cost-cutting policies of airlines, they can fly faster than most commercial aircraft. Private planes typically cruise between 400 mph (650 km/h) and 600 mph (960 km/h). High-end private jets, such as the Gulfstream G700, can fly at speeds exceeding 740 mph (1200 km/h).

Military Aircraft

It is not uncommon for military aircraft to have a wide range of speeds because there are a variety of types available. The speed of fighter jets is higher than that of military cargo planes, for example. Several fighter jets fly faster than 717 miles per hour (1,195 kilometers per hour), with some like the F15 reaching speeds of 3,100 miles per hour (1,920 miles per hour). Contrary to fighter jets, military cargo planes fly at an average speed of 400 mph (640 km/h).

Commercial Aircraft

The Boeing 737, among the most common passenger aircraft, can take off at 150 mph (250 km/h) and cruise at 543 mph (842 km/h). 

The Airbus A380, a large passenger plane that travels long distances, takes off at 170 mph (275 km/h) and has a cruising speed of 630 mph (1,050 km/h) at 36,000 feet (11 km).

It is true that commercial passenger planes have the capability of reaching high speeds, but they are not favored due to potential technical problems and fuel efficiency concerns.

What is the Fastest Plane in the World?

Fastest Single Engine Plane

Since 1960, the Soviet Union’s Tu-114 has held the record for the fastest piston-engine plane. At a height of 26,000 feet (7.9 km), it has a top speed of 540 mph (870 km/h). In spite of its original design, this plane was converted to be used as a luxury airliner later on.

Fastest Commercial Plane

Concorde was the fastest commercial plane, reaching speeds of more than 1,300 mph (2,100 km/h). Concorde’s speed was limited only by temperature; excessive heat generated by air friction threatened to melt the plane’s skin, which is the outer surface that covers its wings and fuselage. Currently, the Concorde holds this record for flying around the world in 31 hours, 27 minutes, and 49 seconds, which was set in 1995.

What’s The Fastest A Plane Has Flown?

In terms of overall speed, the Lockheed SR-71 is the fastest plane ever built. With a top speed of 3,900km/h (over 2,400mph), the SR-71 is also known as the ‘black bird’.

The aircraft also holds the world record for the highest altitude of flight by any aircraft at over 85,000 feet (25 kilometers).

Why Do Planes Not Fly At Full Speed?

There are limits to the maximum speed at which commercial planes can fly. A commercial plane typically uses only 75% of its total power while cruising. Technical problems and cost-savings are the two main reasons why airlines don’t use full power on their planes 

Technical Problems

By reducing air resistance, flying at lower speeds also reduces maintenance-related damage to an aircraft. Using onboard instruments becomes more challenging when flying at higher speeds.

Generally, engines operate most efficiently at lower speeds, so flying at higher speeds would require more power. From both a practical and technical standpoint, higher speeds just don’t make sense.


By flying their planes at lower speeds, airlines conserve fuel, which also reduces maintenance and operating costs. As things stand, more passengers prefer cheaper tickets instead of slightly earlier arrival times, so there is no need to change anything.

Anyhow, planes would only arrive 20 to 30 minutes earlier if they flew at full speed regularly. A cheaper ticket is more valuable to most consumers than arriving 30 minutes earlier. A full speed run makes less sense from a practical standpoint.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What Happens When A Plane Breaks The Sound Barrier?

The ability of planes to break the sound barrier is often regarded as one of their greatest achievements. What does it actually mean to break the sound barrier, and at what speed do planes need to fly?

We’ll spare you the details about the sound barrier and how it works, but here’s a quick rundown so you know what it means when a plane breaks it. Sound travels at 770 miles per hour (345 meters per second) at sea level and under standard atmospheric conditions. For this discussion, we’ll use this speed as a baseline. It will change based on temperature and altitude.

Airplanes, typically reserved for military aircraft, emit soundwaves as they fly overhead. As the jet approaches the speed at which these waves are flying, they start to almost pile up together at the front of the nose. Just before the jet breaks the speed of sound, it moves at the same speed as the sound waves in front of it.

As the jet moves faster than the sound waves, it can push through these waves with sufficient speed and acceleration. A massive change in pressure occurs when the jet breaks through the built-up pressure of all the sound waves at the front of its nose. It sounds like an explosion as the plane flies by due to this change in pressure within the sound waves.

When a jet flies faster than the speed of sound, it appears to fly by in eerie silence since it is flying faster than the sound it makes. When it flies by, people on the ground will finally hear its noise. One of the most fascinating things to witness in aviation is when a jet breaks the speed of sound.

How Fast Do Airplanes Fly In The Jet Stream?

The engines of airplanes are powered by air and fuel. By interacting with the incoming air, along with the fuel, the engines turn and the wings glide. This current is at the altitude where planes are flying and causes them to go faster or slower depending on the direction they are traveling in.

Jet streams are caused by the rotation of the Earth, of course. The winds would only blow between the equator and the poles if the Earth did not rotate. The Earth’s rotation causes air currents to shift eastward in the northern hemisphere and westward in the southern hemisphere. The Earth has a spherical structure that bulges from the equator and flattens from the poles, which causes each region of the globe to rotate differently. Consequently, jet streams move in a meandering manner due to these different velocities.

In order to explain how jet streams affect airplanes, we will use an example. Let’s say you bought a round-trip ticket for a flight from West to East. The average speed of passenger planes is 800 km/h. In the beginning, you fly from west to east. Currently, there is a 200 km/h jet stream blowing. Flying east, this current will increase your ground speed to 1000 km/h. If you are flying backwards from East to West, your plane will drop to 600 km/h once you enter the same current. A plane’s flight time and fuel consumption will be affected by this.

How Fast Did Planes Fly In World War I & II ?

Compared to today’s planes, the planes used in WWI were much slower. The top speeds were usually between 100 mph to 150 mph. In 1918, Knoller 70 and Sopwith Dragon reached speeds of about 149 mph (240 km/h).

During WW2, Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet was the fastest plane to see action, powered by rockets. With a dive at 702 mph (1130 km/h), it superseded its own world speed record set in 1941.

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