Speed has long been a critical aspect of military aircraft, as it is useful for outrunning an opponent, reducing the time spent in enemy airspace, or simply flying so fast that anti-aircraft systems are unable to achieve a full lock. This need for speed peaked in the Cold War, with aircraft like the SR-71 that heavily relied on speed as a form of defense.
However, in more recent years, aircraft designs have leaned less on speed than they once did. Modern advances in stealth and electronic warfare systems are more useful than outright speed, while progress in interception methods means even an aircraft like the glorious SR-71 would no longer be safe.
In this article, we have compiled a list of the fastest aircraft currently in service today. To clarify, this list does not rank these aircraft as any more or less capable but focuses purely on their maximum speed. In addition, experimental aircraft are not included and neither are Orbital Test Vehicles (OTVs) such as the Boeing X-37.
5. MiG-23 – 1,553 mph
The only swing-wing aircraft on this list, the MiG-23 is a single-engine fighter that first flew in 1967. Although it is now outdated, the MiG-23 is still fast, with its single Khatchaturov R-35-300 turbojet producing almost 29,000 lbs of thrust with an afterburner, giving it a top speed of over 1,550 mph.
It carries a 23 mm GSh-23 autocannon and hardpoints for carrying up to 3,000 kg of air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles..
The aircraft has been used by a large number of countries, like Ukraine, Iraq, North Korea, and Libya. Although production ceased in 1985, the MiG-23 is still in use with a handful of countries today.
4. Sukhoi Su-27 – 1,600 mph
The Sukhoi Su-27 is Russia’s venerable air superiority fighter. It first flew in 1977 and entered service in the mid-1980s, where it was poised to take on US F-15s and F-14s. It is a huge aircraft but is still known for its excellent maneuverability, and often shows off its ability to perform the Cobra maneuver.
The Su-27 has proven itself to be an incredible aircraft over the decades since its introduction. It two engines can push it to speeds of up to 1,600 mph , while it can carry a wide range of bombs, missiles and rockets on ten hardpoints. It is also armed with a 30 mm GSh-30 autocannon for close-range dogfights. Its success has led to a family of aircraft based on its design, like the Su-33, Su-34 and Su-35.
The Su-27 has seen a reasonable amount of use with other countries, in particular Ukraine, which were left with approximately 70 after the fall of the Soviet Union. China produces its own version under license, the Shenyang J-11.
3. McDonnell Douglas F-15 – 1,875 mph
The F-15 Eagle has become a symbol of US airpower with its muscular proportions and powerful engines. The early stages of development for what would become the F-15 started in the 1960s. This was shaken up by the arrival of the MiG-25, which is featured on this list.
Like the Su-27, the F-15 is an air superiority fighter, so it is armed to the teeth and has incredible performance. Its Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-220 turbofan engines produce almost 24,000 lbs of thrust each with afterburners, giving it a high speed of 1,875 mph.
Its fundamentally brilliant design has allowed it to remain in service for 45 years with no signs of slowing down (pun intended). Its design has been tested in combat and come on top every single time. In fact, no F-15 has ever been shot down, while it was claimed over 100 victories in the air.
Boeing is currently working on the F-15EX, an updated and improved version of the air superiority fighter.
2. MiG-31 – 1,860 mph
The MiG-31 is a Russian interceptor and attack aircraft. It is a similar design to the MiG-25, but it toned back that aircraft’s extremely high performance in exchange for more well-rounded capabilities.
It is armed with a 23 mm GSh-6 autocannon and can carry both air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles. One such weapon in its arsenal is the R-33 long-range missile, which was designed to hit high-altitude and fast aircraft like the SR-71. It was the world’s first fighter to come equipped with an airborne phased array radar, and its exceptionally capable Zaslon radar could detect targets well over 100 miles away.
Its two immensely powerful Soloviev D-30F6 turbofan engines output 34,000 lbf of thrust each with afterburners. With this amount of power, the MiG-31 is capable of reaching speeds of nearly 1,900 mph. Almost more impressive is the fact that the MiG-31 is limited to this speed to prevent damage to the aircraft.
Currently, only Russia and Kazakhstan use the MiG-31.
1. MiG-25 – 2170 mph
The number one spot on this list is taken by the predecessor to the MiG-31, the MiG-25. This aircraft was built for one thing: speed.
While other similarly fast aircraft like the SR-71 achieve high speeds with incredibly complex engineering, the MiG-25 mostly relies on brute force. Its two Tumansky R-15B-300 turbojet engines are enormous, and enable the aircraft to fly at 1,900 mph. However, for brief periods, the MiG-25 can reach an insane 2,170 mph. This can only be done for a few minutes before the Tumansky turbojets begin to fail.
The 24 meters long MiG-25 first flew in 1964 and was designed to intercept fast, high-altitude aircraft like the SR-71, which is a rather tough job. To help, the world’s largest mass-produced air-to-air missile was developed just for the MiG-25; the R-40.
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The MiG-25 could carry four of these half-ton missiles up to 70,000 ft and would take around 9 minutes to get there. However, it was capable of going much, much higher. The aircraft set 29 world records, including climbing to 98,000 ft in four minutes.
In 1977, a MiG-25 reached 123,523 feet, setting a world record that still stands today.
Currently, the MiG-25 is still in service with a small number of nations, making it the fastest manned production aircraft in the world today.