The fastest-ever aircraft was a hypersonic rocket plane that flew at Mach 6.7

  • The fastest speed recorded by an aircraft is 7,274kph or Mach 6.7. 
  • The hypersonic North American X-15 was built by NASA to carry out aeronautical research
  • The record was set in the 1960s and remains to this day 

Published on Jun 13, 2024 at 12:41 PM (UTC+4)
by Claire Reid

Last updated on Jun 13, 2024 at 6:24 PM (UTC+4)
Edited by Tom Wood

The fastest-ever aircraft was a hypersonic plane that managed to hit a staggering 7,274kph (4,520 miles per hour) or Mach 6.7. 

The North American X-15 was built by NASA and designed to carry out high-speed aeronautic research. 

In its decade of use, the X-15 was flown just under 200 times (199, to be exact) by 12 different pilots. 

READ MORE! SR-71 Blackbird set four new speed records the day before its retirement

And one of those 199 flights earned itself a spot in the history books.

After being launched from a Boeing B-52, the plane reached the edge of space – powered by its single Reaction Motors XLR99 rocket engine. 

It hit a top speed of Mach 6.7 – or 7,272kph – landing it the title of the highest speed ever recorded by a crewed, powered aircraft.

Impressive stuff, right?

Interestingly, while we see advancements in plane performance and technology every day, you may be surprised to learn that this particular record – which still holds today – was set back in October 1967. 

The hypersonic aircraft had an important purpose

But NASA is quick to remind folks that the X-15 did more than just set a speed record – noting on its website: “Information gained from the highly successful X-15 program contributed to the development of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo piloted spaceflight programs as well as the Space Shuttle program.”

Given that the X-15 is basically a rocket with wings – some consider the true fastest plane to be the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, which has a top speed of 3,500kph (2,100mph) and is so fast it can outrun most missiles

The SR-71 Blackbird was designed to be able to hit speeds faster than Mach 3 and altitudes of up to 24,000 meters (80,000 feet).

What’s the fastest commercial flight?

In terms of commercial flights – the now-defunct supersonic Concorde holds the record.

Concorde could cruise at a maximum speed of Mach 2.04 – or 2,455 kph/1,354 mph – so fast it broke the sound barrier causing a ‘sonic boom’.  

To give that a bit of context, Concorde was capable of flying from London to New York in around three hours. 

While supersonic commercial flights no longer exist – a new record was set by a subsonic British Airways flight in 2020, after a journey from New York to London in under five hours.

And it didn’t even need a rocket engine. 


Claire Reid

Claire Reid is a journalist who hails from the UK but is now living in New Zealand. She began her career after graduating with a degree in Journalism from Liverpool John Moore’s University and has more than a decade of experience, writing for both local newspapers and national news sites. Across her career she's covered a wide variety of topics, including celebrity, cryptocurrency, politics, true crime and just about everything in between.