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How fast can an aircraft theoretically be?

Theoretically, what is the fastest speed an aircraft can be designed to travel at in the earth’s atmosphere?
Simon Hart from West Midlands (Age 35-44)


2 Responses

  1. The beauty of Engineering is that whilst a theoretical limit may be set one day, some bright spark will come along the next day with a revolutionary idea that will break that limit!

    Currently the fastest MANNED plane in the world is the North American X-15 achieving speeds of Mach 6.8, although some argue that this was just out of the Earth’s atmosphere.

    The plane that is generally agreed on as being the fastest aeroplane in the world is the Lockheed Martin SR-71 Blackbird, which achieved Mach 3.2 (approx 2,193mph) back in 1976. No manned aircraft has beaten this record within the confines of the earth’s atmosphere to date. However….

    The Boeing X-43 experimental UNMANNED aircraft has achieved speeds of Mach 9.8 (7,546 mph) back in 2004. Here is an excellent example of breaking the limits set upon us and creating new ones that future Engineers can strive to break.

    So in summary, I would say that as new technology emerges, new materials are discovered and new techniques are researched, there is no limit – purely your imagination!

  2. Simon,

    I agree with everything Matthew Acton said in his reply.
    This is just to say that you can see the truth of his comments here at the Imperial War Museum Duxford where the developments in materails, technologies and techniques related to aircraft can be seen at first hand. On dispaly are wood and and cloth airframes from the earliest experiments such as Percy Pilchers Hawk glider to the SR-71 Blackbird made from materials such as titanium and with ramjet engines.

    The thing that always amazes me is the short time span these aircraft cover and so there is no reason to think that similar or even greater advances can not be made in the future as the totality of human knowledge and understanding increases. For, just as ‘the more we know, the more we know we don’t know’ the ‘more ideas we have, the more ideas we can have’

    Peter Halford, Science and Technology Teacher, Imperail War museum Duxford.

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