World's Fastest Self-Powered Aircraft
Fastest man-made, self-propelled aircraft with maximum cruising speed in Mach.
The SR-71 is a long-range, high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft developed by Lockheed Martin back in the 60's. Some 50 years later it still remains, by far, the fastest self-powered, non-rocket propelled aircraft built by man. The Blackbird's airframe is designed out the titanium to withstand the enormous heat generated at hypersonic speeds. The two crewman piloting the craft have to where fully-pressurized life-support suits, resembling those of worn by astronauts.
The Valkyrie was a prototype long-range, high-speed bomber designed by North American Aviation in the late 50's. The XB-70's design called for a bomber capable of deploying nuclear payload deep into enemy lines while avoiding interceptors. Piloted by a crew of two, the Valkyrie was powered by six engines, capable of breaking Mach 3. The Valkyrie program was canceled in the 60's due to development of the more-practical ICBM. Unit cost: $750 million.
The Foxbat is a Soviet-build interceptor/reconnaissance-bomber developed in the early 60's in reaction to US-build A-12 reconnaissance aircraft, which later became the SR-71. A misunderstanding of the Foxbat's flight capabilities, which were thought to includes high-interoperability dog-fighting, led to the US development of the F-15 Eagle. The MIG-25 is technically capable of reaching in excess of Mach 3, but at the cost of sustained engine damage.
Developed in 1975 to replace the MIG-25, the MIG 31 is a twin-engine, two-seater intercepter capable of surpassing Mach 2.5. To achieve these speeds, the Foxhound sacrificed maneuverability, was difficult to control at low-altitudes, and suffered from engine inefficiency. Technically, the Foxhound could reach Mach 3, but pilots were to hold off at 2.5 to prevent total engine failure. Cost per unit: $60 million.
The F-15 was developed by McDonnell Douglas in the early 70's as an air-superiority fighter to challenge the Soviet Foxhound. The goal was complete dominance of the sky. The design of this single-seater aircraft emphasized maneuverability. Its thrust-to-weight ratio and low weight-to-wing-area ratio enabled it to take tight turns without losing speed and give it excellent vertical climb. The F-15 design has proven so successful and adaptable that the F-15 is still expected to be in service until 2025. Cost per unit: 30 million.
The F11 was developed by General Dynamics in the mid-60's to serve multiple roles. It was to be a bomber, reconnaissance craft, and capable of electronic warfare. The F111 introduced several firsts for a military aircraft, including variable-sweep wings and turbofan afterburners. Today, the F111 has been entirely phased out by US and British forces in favor of the F-15 Strike Eagle and F18 Super Hornet, respectively. The only remaining active-service F111's are in Australia. Unit cost: $50 Million, inflation adjusted.
The TU-144 was a super-sonic airliner designed along aside the more popular Concorde in the late 60's by Tupolev. Although the Concorde and TU-144 looks outwardly similar, the two were developed separately. The TU-144 was put into use by Aeroflot two years before the Concorde, but after just 55 passanger flights, it was permanently retired on account of safety concerns. 16 units were developed in total.
The Grumman F-14 is an air-superiority fighter and long-range interceptor developed in the early 70's for the US Navy. The Tomcat features a variable-sweep wing, twin-engines, and two seats. It was designed as an all-purpose workhorse of the US Navy, and served this role until it was replaced by the F-18 Hornet. Unit cost: $50 million, inflation adjusted.
The MIG-23 was developed by in the late 60's when the Soviet Airforce required a short-takeoff fighter. Predecessors in the Soviet line-up were tactically deficient because they required long runways to deploy. The Flogger addressed this problem with variable-geometry wings, which extend out at low-altitude flight. Among the firsts introduced by this MIG into the Soviet arsenal were side-intakes and beyond-visual-range missiles. The Flogger's low cost led to a production of over 5,000 units, many sold abroad. Today it remains in limited service. Unit cost: $8.7 million, inflation adjusted.
The Convair F-106 was developed by the US Air Force as a dedicated, all-weather interceptor in the late 50's. Among pilots the F-106 was beloved for its exceptional performance. During the Vietnam War it was briefly considered for development, but these plans never materialized. The F-106 was phased out by the late 80's and replaced with the more versatile F-14. Unit cost: $21 million, inflation adjusted.
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