How Fast Planes Fly (Takeoff, Cruising & Landing)
If you’re wondering how fast planes fly, the answer is that it ranges from 160 mph (260 km/h) to 2,400 mph (3,900 km/h) depending on the type of plane (commercial airliner, single-engine, private jet, military planes) and whether the plane is taking off, at cruising altitude or landing.
A plane’s speed depends on several factors: its classification, engine, weight at take-off time, and aerodynamics amongst many other things.
We’ll take the example of an average commercial plane during the three different phases of flying.
So let’s take a closer look at how the speed a plane flies compares depending on these two factors.
Table of Contents
- 1 How Fast Planes Fly to Take-off
- 2 How Fast Planes Cruise At
- 3 How Fast Planes Land
- 4 How Fast Fighter Jets Fly
- 5.1 Boeing 747
- 5.2 Boeing 737
- 5.3 Airbus A380
- 6.1 Single Engine
- 6.2 Private
- 7.1 Fastest Single Engine Plane
- 7.2 Fastest Commercial Plane
- 7.3 The Fastest Plane Ever
- 8 Why Planes Don’t Fly At Full Speed
How Fast Planes Fly to Take-off
During take-off, commercial aircraft speed varies anywhere between 260 km/h to 290 km/h or 160 mph to 180 mph.
Take-off speed depends mostly on factors like the aircraft’s weight.
How Fast Planes Cruise At
The usual cruising speed for a commercial airplane is between 880-926 km/h or 547-575 mph.
Most airplanes fly slower than the maximum speed they are capable of while at cruising altitude to conserve fuel.
How Fast Planes Land
Most commercial airliners land with a speed of between 240 and 265 km/h or 150 to 165 mph.
Landing speed depends on the weight of the plane , the runway surface, and the plane’s flap settings.
How Fast Fighter Jets Fly
There are several types of military aircraft, which means speeds can vary a lot.
Fighter jets, though, can fly faster than 1,195 km/h or 717 mph with some like the F15 flying at an astonishing speed of 3,100 km/h or 1,920 mph.
In contrast, cargo planes fly at an average speed of 640 km/h or 400 mph, which is noticeably slower than fighter jets.
How Fast Passenger Jets Fly
Let’s take a look at the speeds of a few of the most popular airliners used in commercial aviation.
A Boeing 747 has a take-off speed of 290 km/h or 180 mph, and it cruises at a speed of 900 km/h or 570 mph.
The Boeing 747’s landing speed varies on condition, but typically it’s within 265-280 km/h or 165-175 mph.
The Boeing 737 across all its variants has an average take-off speed of 250 km/h or 150 mph, and the cruise speed of its 737-800 variant is 842 km/h or 543 mph.
The Boeing 737’s landing speed is between 240- 260 km/h or 140-160 mph.
Airbus A380s have a take-off speed that ranges from 275-310 km/h or 170-195 mph, and they have a cruising speed of 1,050 km/h or 630 mph at a height of 11 km/ 36,000 feet.
The Airbus A380’s landing speed is between 240-260 km/h or 150-161 mph.
How Fast Other Planes Fly
Single engine, private and military planes all have different speeds (no to mention significantly different costs to own ) compared to commercial airliners due to how they’re built.
Since most single-engine planes have propeller-based or piston engines, their airspeed is limited compared to other types of planes.
For example, the Cirrus Vision SF50 has a maximum cruise speed of 576 km/h or 358 mph.
Since private jets aren’t constrained by the operational logistics of a commercial airliner nor the cost-cutting policies of airlines, they can fly faster than most commercial planes.
The average private plane can cruise between 650-960 km/h or 400-600 mph. Some high-end private jets like the Gulfstream G700 can fly at speeds greater than 1,200 km/h or 740 mph.
Related: How Much Does a Private Jet Cost?
What is the Fastest Plane in the World?
Fastest single engine plane.
The Soviet Union’s Tu-114 has held the record for the fastest piston-engine plane since 1960.
It has a top speed of 870 km/h or 540 mph at a height of 7.9 km or 26,000 feet.
This plane was originally intended for military use, but they were later converted to be used as a luxury airliner.
Fastest Commercial Plane
The fastest commercial plane was the Concorde ; it could reach speeds higher than 2,100 km/h or 1,300 mph.
The only thing limiting the Concorde’s speed was temperature; excess heat generated by air friction threatened to melt the plane’s skin off, which is the outer surface which covers much of its wings and fuselage .
If you’re wondering how long it would take to fly around the world , the Concorde currently holds this record at 31 hours, 27 minutes and 49 seconds, which was set in 1995.
The Fastest Plane Ever
The fastest plane overall that was ever built is the Lockheed SR-71. Also known as the ‘black bird’, the SR-71 is a military plane that can fly over 3,900 km/h or 2,400 mph.
It also holds the world record for the highest altitude of flight by any aircraft at over 25km/ 85,000 feet.
Why Planes Don’t Fly At Full Speed
Commercial planes don’t fly at the maximum speeds they are capable of. Typically, the average commercial plane will cruise using only 75% of its total power. There are two main reasons for airliners to not have their planes use full power:
Airlines conserve fuel by flying their planes at lower speeds, which also helps keep maintenance and operating costs lower.
More passengers also prefer cheaper tickets instead of slightly earlier arrival times, so there is no need to change things as it stands.
In any case, if planes flew at full speed regularly, they would only arrive 20 to 30 minutes earlier on average. Most consumers do not value arriving 30 minutes earlier over getting a cheaper ticket.
So it makes less sense to go at full speed from a practical perspective.
It just isn’t worth it for airlines to use full power when it costs more and customers don’t value it.
- Technical Problems
Flying at lower speeds also helps reduce maintenance-related damage to an aircraft because of less air resistance.
Flying at higher speeds also makes it harder for crew members to use onboard instruments.
Flying at higher speeds would require more power, especially because most engines are designed to operate most efficiently at lower speeds.
Overall, it just doesn’t make sense to fly at higher speeds from both a practical and technical perspective.
In conclusion, planes can fly very fast (up to 2,400 mph or 3,900 km/h if we’re talking about the fastest speed ever), but the exact speed of a plane is subject to its classification and the conditions it is operating under.
Naturally, planes fly fastest when cruising in the air.
Helen Krasner holds a PPL(A), with 15 years experience flying fixed-wing aircraft; a PPL(H), with 13 years experience flying helicopters; and a CPL(H), Helicopter Instructor Rating, with 12 years working as a helicopter instructor.
Helen is an accomplished aviation writer with 12 years of experience, having authored several books and published numerous articles while also serving as the Editor of the BWPA (British Women Pilots Association) newsletter, with her excellent work having been recognized with her nomination of the “Aviation Journalist of the Year” award.
Helen has won the “Dawn to Dusk” International Flying Competition, along with the best all-female competitors, three times with her copilot.
The operational factors that influence a jetliner's cruise speed.
When it comes to the cruise performance of an aircraft, speed is an important factor.
How fast does a jet aircraft travel? Most jetliners cruise in the range of 800 to 900 km/hr (500 - 560 mph). While this is a good estimate, when we think of it from a performance point of view it only helps a little.
When it comes to the cruise performance of an aircraft, speed is an important factor. It decides how much fuel the aircraft burns, how long the aircraft can stay in the air, and most importantly, how far the aircraft can travel.
The efficiency of a jet engine
The engines are an important part of the aircraft as they generate the thrust that is required to push the aircraft forward. The efficiency of a jet engine is measured mainly by calculating the efficiency of the kinetic energy that is converted to propulsive work. This is called the propulsive efficiency of the engine. It can be written as below:
Propulsive Efficiency = Work done on moving the aircraft/ Work done by engines to accelerate the airflow
After derivation, the formula for propulsive efficiency can be written as:
Propulsive Efficiency = 2V / V+Vj
In the equation, V is the speed of the aircraft, and Vj is the speed of the air coming out of the engines.
From the equation, it can be seen that as the speed of the aircraft (V) increases, the propulsive efficiency of the engine increases. This is because as the aircraft accelerates, less and less work is done on the airflow by the engine to get it out of the engine at a faster speed. Imagine a jet aircraft idling its engine during the taxi phase of the flight. Even with a low forward speed (taxi speed), the engines continue to expel the air at a very high velocity. So, at a low aircraft speed, a lot of energy is wasted just keeping the engine running without seeing much of an effect on the aircraft. As the aircraft speeds up, it goes closer and closer to the exit velocity of the engine, and the aircraft uses its engines more efficiently.
As the altitude increases, there is an increase in True Air Speed (TAS) of the aircraft. Because of this, there is a marked increase in the propulsive efficiency of the engine. One other factor also comes into effect. With altitude, the air density is lowered. This means that the compressor of the engine can rotate at a higher speed without reaching its mechanical limit. This allows for a higher compression of airflow inside the engines, which again improves the efficiency. The colder air also helps because it keeps the turbines at a lower temperature so that the engine is kept from reaching its thermal limits.
The final effect is due to compressibility. As the aircraft speeds up above 0.2 Mach, the airflow starts to compress ahead of the engine. This highly compressed dense air gives a thrust boost, increasing the efficiency as the work that has to be done by the compressor is reduced. This is known as the ram effect.
So, it can be concluded that to make a jet engine efficient, low temperatures, high speed, and high altitude become very important. This is why jet aircraft cruise at very high altitudes.
The thrust drag curve
There are two major sources of drag on an aircraft - the parasite drag and induced drag. Parasite drag is proportional to the square of the speed, and thus as the speed increases, the parasite drag increases. The induced drag, on the other hand, is a byproduct of lift. It decreases with an increase in aircraft speed, as with an increase in speed, a smaller angle of attack is required to generate lift.
The induced drag and parasite drag can be shown in graphical form with drag on the y-axis and the aircraft speed on the x-axis. The drag can be renamed 'thrust required,' as the thrust required is the amount of excess thrust required to overcome the drag. The graph for thrust required and speed is shown below:
As can be seen in the graph, an increase in speed increases the total drag, and a decrease in speed decreases the total drag. A speed can be derived from the curve called Vmd (minimum drag speed). This speed is the speed that is found at the lowest point on the curve. Flying above or below this speed increases the total drag on the aircraft.
It is also important to understand the effects of certain conditions on the drag curve. For instance, an increase in weight increases the induced drag as the aircraft is required to be flown at a higher angle of attack. The increase in induced drag moves the total drag curve up and right, showing a marked increase in drag. This, in effect, increases the speed for Vmd. Similarly, an increase in parasite drag by lowering the flaps , and the landing gear moves the curve left and up. This increases the total drag, and the speed for Vmd reduces.
The range of a jet aircraft
The range is, very simply speaking, the fuel mileage of an aircraft. When we say range, we are talking about how far an aircraft can travel with a given amount of fuel. The range formula can be written as:
Range = Distance (nautical miles) / Fuel (kg)
This formula is not very useful for deducing much about range. So, it can be written as:
Range = Distance (nautical miles per hour) / Fuel Flow (kg per hour)
The distance per hour is equal to speed or the True Air Speed (TAS), and thus it can be also written as:
Range = TAS / Fuel Flow .
This range is known as the Specific Range (SR). Hence, the equation becomes:
Specific Range (SR) = TAS / Fuel Flow
The fuel flow can be further expanded as follows:
Fuel Flow = Fuel Flow per Unit Thrust x Total Thrust Required.
Fuel flow per unit thrust is called Specific Fuel Consumption (SFC). So, it can be written as:
Fuel Flow = SFC x Total Thrust Required
The Total thrust required is also known as drag. So, for a jet aircraft, the specific range can be given as:
Specific Range (SR) = TAS / (SFC x Drag)
From the final equation for SR, it is seen that an increase in speed increases the range. Similarly, a decrease in drag and SFC also increases the range.
The SFC reduces with an increase in altitude due to the increase in efficiency of jet engines, which was explained in detail previously. And the total drag also reduces with an increase in altitude due to reduced air density.
It was previously shown that to fly for minimum drag, an aircraft is required to fly at the speed that corresponds to the lowest drag. We found out that this speed occurs at the bottom of the total drag curve and is known as the minimum drag speed, Vmd. We are also quite aware that to increase the SR of an aircraft, the drag must be at a minimum.
Interestingly, the SR is also increased by increasing forward speed. So, does SR increase if we go above Vmd? Let us look at the total drag curve below.
The curve is quite flat at the bottom. And this means that the speed of the aircraft can be slightly increased with a small drag penalty. This increase in drag does negatively affect the SR. However, the increased speed counters for this, by increasing the SR. The most efficient speed for SR occurs at the tangent point of the drag curve at about 1.32 Vmd. So, for a jet aircraft, the speed for the best SR is 1.32 Vmd. This speed is more commonly known as speed for Maximum Range Cruise or MRC.
Many factors can affect the MRC speed. An increase in weight increases the drag on the aircraft and moves the total drag curve up and right. This also increases the speed for MRC. So, to fly at MRC, a heavier aircraft requires a higher speed. A change in aircraft configuration (lowering of flaps and gear) moves the total drag curve up and left, increasing total drag and, at the same time, the speed for MRC reduces.
The wind also affects the SR. A tailwind has the effect of increasing the ground speed of the aircraft. This means that the aircraft covers more distance in a given amount of fuel flow. This increases the range of the aircraft. A headwind reduces the SR as it reduces the ground speed of the aircraft, which means that it travels less distance in a given amount of fuel flow.
The MRC speed is rarely flown operationally. Besides, the aircraft can be flown at a speed that is 4% more than MRC with just a 1% reduction in SR. This speed is called LRC (Long Range Cruise) speed. This is shown in the graph below. The graph shows that when SR is plotted against Speed, the top of the graph is nearly flat where speed can be increased a bit without a great loss in SR. In airline operations, the speed during cruise is a little more complex. It may be something between MRC and LRC or sometimes even higher than LRC. This will be discussed next.
The Cost Index and Operational Cruise Speed
It was explained in the previous paragraphs that for an aircraft to fly at the most efficient speed, the drag must be low and, at the same time, it was seen that an increase in speed increases the efficiency of the flight by reducing the time spent in the air. All of this concerned one single factor. It was all about reducing the fuel flow.
When looking at the operations of an airline, fuel alone does not account for the money that is spent. Money is also spent to pay the pilots, cabin crew, and engineers. Airlines also bleed money when delays occur and when the aircraft is not utilized as much between routine maintenance for which it gets grounded. These all are time-related costs. That is, these costs can be greatly reduced by reducing the time the aircraft spends in the air. So, we can come up with a relationship between fuel costs vs time costs. This relationship can be written as an equation:
Cost Index (CI) = Cost of Time (CT)/Cost of Fuel (CF)
An increase in CT increases the CI and an increase in CF reduces the CI. If an airline wants to save fuel costs, it wants its aircraft to be flown at a low CI and if it wants to save time-related costs, it wants its aircraft to be flown at a high CI. These days, modern aircraft flight management systems can take in CI data and fly the aircraft at the optimum speed. The airline calculates the best CI for their operations based on their operational costs and gives it to their pilots. During pre-flight, the pilots enter this CI into the flight management system and the aircraft flies at the speed for this CI.
How Fast Do Airplanes Fly? Climb, Cruise & Descent
Flying for any amount of time can soon get boring so the faster it takes the better. Have you ever wondered if pilots fly planes at their maximum speed or are they limited like we are driving a car down the highway? We all know airplanes are fast, the question is though, just how fast?
At takeoff, most passenger jets are traveling around 150-180knots/170-210mph. They will then climb at a maximum speed of 250kts/290mph while under 10,000 feet and then can speed up to 280-300kts/320-345mph for the rest of the climb. Cruise speeds of most passenger jets are around 600kts/700mph.
To find out all about the different speeds an airplane flies at please read on…
Large Commercial Aircraft Speeds:
What is an airplane’s speed at takeoff .
Most commercial airliners use three different speeds for takeoff. These are: V1 , VRotate and V2 . For the Boeing 737-8 or the Airbus A320 family, these speeds are in the region of between 125knots (143mph) to 175knots (200mph).
The V1 or Decision Speed is the speed pilots calculate to know what is the maximum speed they can reject the takeoff. This speed depends on the weight of the aircraft, humidity, outside air temperature, weather, condition of the runway, length of the runway etc.
V1 speed is usually around 140knots +/- 5 knots (Around 160mph)
The Vr or VRotate Speed is the calculated speed at which the pilot flying (One pilot manipulates the controls while the other monitors the instrumentation) pulls back on the yoke or stick to lift the aircraft off the ground. Vr Speed is always equal to or higher than V1, but it can not be lower.
Vr Speed is usually also around 140knots +/- 5 knots (Around 160mph)
The V2 Speed is the speed of the aircraft at 50 feet above the ground. This is the speed the aircraft uses to climb to at least 400 feet above the runway and it’s always 5 knots greater than the Vr speed. In case of an engine failure on takeoff the V2 speed will keep the aircraft safe and on a shallow climb while still avoiding obstacles.
V2 speed is usually also around 145knots +5/-0 knots (Around 166mph)
What is an Airplane’s Speed During the Climb?
The speed of an airplane during its climb varies greatly with the wind and the weight of the aircraft, but all aircraft must abide by maximum airspeed limitations set forth by the world’s aviation governing bodies.
From liftoff up to 10,000 feet above Mean Sea Level (MSL), all pilots must NOT fly their airplane faster than 250knots or 288mph, unless they request to do so with air traffic control. This speed limit is to help air traffic controllers control the flow of aircraft into and out of airports below.
This slower speed also allows for more power to climb faster allowing the airplane to quickly climb through the busy airspace surrounding each airport. Above 10,000 feet the pilots are allowed to speed up so their speed usually increases to 280-300knots, but in doing so their rate of climb will reduce.
Once passing around 24,000 feet MSL pilots will then speed up again to around 350-430knots (400-500mph). This slows the rate of climb again but improves the time taken to complete the flight. This configuration allows for a steady climb up to cruising altitude while flying at a fast enough speed to ensure the passengers get to their destination in a reasonable time.
The faster an airplane flies, the slower it climbs. Engines can only supply a set amount of power so pilots have to select which flight regime they take.
Think of it like towing a trailer with a truck. On the flat road section, you can flatten the accelerator and your truck max’s out at 100mph. You then come to a hill and still with your foot to the floor your truck can now only climb at 80mph while towing. This is the same with the airplane.
Learn More … Try These Articles: * How Much Do Airplanes Weigh? (With 20 Examples) * This Is Why Pilots Reduce Thrust After Takeoff?
What is an Airplanes Cruise Speed?
The speed of a typical airliner in cruise is usually up to 600kts/700mph/960kph. In the cruise, the pilots use the airplane’s Mach Number for controlling its speed as this number is not affected by atmospheric pressure at cruise altitudes.
What is the Mach Number?
It’s basically the speed of the aircraft expressed as a percentage of the speed of sound (666 knots/766mph/1233kph). Controlling an aircraft by the Indicated Airspeed(IAS) at high altitudes is not efficient because the IAS is decreasing with increasing altitude and is also dangerous for speed control since the aircraft might find itself in an overspeed or underspeed condition.
As you can see in this picture, in the left top corner of the right-hand screen, .77 is the selected Mach Number which results in a 244knots IAS.
The Ground Speed on the other hand, as seen on left-hand screen, top left corner is well over 410knots or 500mph/900kph.
Think of speeds like this:
- Ground Speed is the speed the airplane’s shadow is moving over the ground
- Indicated airspeed is the speed of the airflow hitting the nose of the aircraft
The arrow in the top left corner is showing the wind outside. In relation to the aircraft, the wind is blowing from the pilots’ 10 o’clock position at about 27knots. This makes the airplane fly slower because it is a headwind.
If the wind was blowing from behind the aircraft this is known as a tailwind and will give the airplane a push resulting in a faster speed over the ground for the same indicated airspeed.
Usual cruise speeds are in the region between 400kts/450mph to 560kts/650mph and it is greatly affected by the wind.
The stronger the tailwind, the faster the airplane moves over the ground, the stronger the headwind the slower the airplane moves over the ground for the same indicated airspeed.
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What is an Airplane’s Speed During Descent?
The speed on the descent is somewhat like the climb speed. Initially, the aircraft descends from its cruising altitude by the pilots changing its Mach number. The slower the speed, the less lift the wings produce and gravity does the rest.
Once the airplane passes through 29,000 feet the pilots start using the Indicated Airspeed again.
Ground Speeds during the descent usually vary between 345kts/400mph to 435kts/500mph depending on if the airplane has a headwind or a tailwind.
Passing through 10,000 feet MSL, the same Air Traffic Control restrictions apply as the climb, so the pilots have to slow down to a maximum of 250knots (300mph). Ground speeds again vary between 300mph to 400mph depending on the wind.
What is an Airplane’s Speed at Landing?
The landing speed of a commercial airliner is greatly affected by the actual weight of the aircraft. The higher the weight, the higher the speed needed. More lift is required for the heavier load. To get more lift the airplane needs to be flying faster.
The typical speed region at landing for a large airliner is usually 120kts/140mph to 155kts/180mph.
What is an Airplane’s Speed During Taxiing?
Since we are talking about speeds in flight it would be appropriate to at least mention the speed of aircraft on the ground. Aircraft inside the apron usually taxi with 10 mph maximum. Outside of the apron, this speed is increased to a maximum 30 mph.
The apron is the area immediately surrounding the terminal gates and where ground personnel are scurrying back and forth servicing the waiting aircraft. Once the airplane gets out onto the less busy taxiways the pilots can then speed up.
Light Aircraft Speeds:
Although the skies are dominated by the ‘Heavy Iron’, there is a tonne of light aircraft flying around and they too have certain speeds the pilots have to maintain to ensure a safe flight.
Light aircraft like the Cessna 172 or the Diamond DA40 only use one speed – The Indicated airspeed. They do not have the need for V1, Vr, or V2 like large commercial aircraft do, simply because they only have one engine, plus they are not going that fast.
What is a Light Airplane’s Speed at Takeoff?
The takeoff speed for light aircraft can be as low as 45mph. One of the biggest things affecting the takeoff speed of a light aircraft is the size of the wings (wing span) and the engine power. Both can significantly decrease the takeoff speed.
Large wings produce lots of lift meaning the aircraft needs less airflow over them to get airborne. Powerful engines mean they can accelerate the plane to lift off speed in a much shorter distance.
Typically most small aircraft lift off around 60mph. This gives a good buffer between the power it can produce and its stall speed.
The stall speed is the airspeed at which there is not enough air flowing over the wings to lift the aircraft into the air. An aircraft stalling close to the ground usually ends in a wreckage of the aircraft.
What is a Light Airplane’s Speed During Cruise?
Cruise speeds for most light aircraft vary between 70mph to 120mph. The Cessna 172 has a cruising speed of 110knots (125mph). If you have ever flown in one you would know that it is not at all about the speed in a light aircraft but the convenience and freedom it provides.
The larger the airplane, the more power its engine can produce which also allows for a faster cruise speed. Some light aircraft are designed specifically for a fast cruise to get its occupants from point A to point in the shortest amount of time, whereas some aircraft are designed to be easy to fly and land.
What is a Light Airplane’s Speed at Landing?
The landing speed for a light aircraft is usually the same as takeoff speed. Between as low as 45mph to 80mph. Usually, a small increment is added on the approach to land speeds to have a margin from the stall speed and also have some extra speed in case of a go-around.
Some small airplanes are designed to be able to touch down with almost zero forward speed if they have a good headwind. There is a competition in Alaska to see who can land in the shortest distance and you will be amazed just how short some of these aircraft can do it!
Learn More … Try These Articles: * How Long to Refuel an Airplane? – 15 Most Common Planes * How Do Pilots Know Where to Taxi Around an Airport?
I am an aviation nut! I'm an ATP-rated helicopter pilot & former flight instructor with over 3500 hours spanning 3 countries and many different flying jobs. I love aviation and everything about it. I use these articles to pass on cool facts and information to you whether you are a pilot or just love aviation too! If you want to know more about me, just click on my picture!
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List of most popular commercial airlners by cruising speed
Cruising speeds of the most common types of commercial airliners (in knots).
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2012 to 2016
This data displays the average cruising speed of the most commonly used airliners in the world. Where data for multiple models within a family exists, the average cruising speed is given. Data on the cruising speed of the Embraer ERJ 145 Family was not available and therefore it does not appear on this chart. * Average combined cruising speed of Boeing-777 models 200ER, 200LR, 300, and 300ER. ** Cruising speed of a Boeing 737-400. *** Average combined cruising speed of Embraer models E170, E175, E175-E2, E190, E190-E2, E195, and E195-E2. **** Average combined cruising speed of Airbus A340 models 200, 300, 500, and 600. ***** Average combined cruising speed of Boeing 737 models 600, 700C, 700ER, 800, and 900ER. ****** Average combined cruising speed of Bombardier CRJ models 100, 200, 440, 700, 705, 900, and 1000. ******* Average combined cruising speed of ATR 72 models 200, 210, and 600.
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Airplane Cruise – Balanced Forces
There are four forces that act on an aircraft in flight: lift, weight, thrust, and drag. A force is a vector quantity which means that it has both a magnitude (size) and a direction associated with it. If the size and direction of the forces acting on an object are exactly balanced, then there is no net force acting on the object and the object is said to be in equilibrium. From Newton’s first law of motion, we know that an object at rest will stay at rest, and an object in motion (constant velocity) will stay in motion unless acted on by an external force. If there is no net external force, the object will maintain a constant velocity.
In an ideal situation, the forces acting on an aircraft in flight can produce no net external force. In this situation the lift is equal to the weight, and the thrust is equal to the drag. The closest example of this condition is a cruising airliner. While the weight decreases due to fuel burned, the change is very small relative to the total aircraft weight. The aircraft maintains a constant airspeed called the cruise velocity .
If we take into account the relative velocity of the wind, we can determine the ground speed of a cruising aircraft. The ground speed is equal to the airspeed plus the wind speed using vector addition. The motion of the aircraft is a pure translation. With a constant ground speed, it is relatively easy to determine the aircraft range, the distance the airplane can fly with a given load of fuel.
If the pilot changes the throttle setting, or increases the wing angle of attack, the forces become unbalanced. The aircraft will move in the direction of the greater force, and we can compute acceleration of the aircraft from Newton’s second law of motion .
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Everything about V Speeds Explained
Your complete list for v speed terminology.
FAA regulations could change at any time. Please refer to current FARs to ensure you are legal. Illustration by Tim Barker
— From the French word vitesse, meaning “speed.”
— Maximum speed in the takeoff at which the pilot must take the first action (e.g., apply brakes, reduce thrust, deploy speedbrakes) to stop the airplane within the accelerate-stop distance. V1 also means the minimum speed in the takeoff, following a failure of the critical engine at VEF, at which the pilot can continue the takeoff and achieve the required height above the surface within the takeoff distance.
— Takeoff safety speed for jets, turboprops or transport-category aircraft. Best climb gradient speed (i.e., best altitude increase per mile with the most critical engine inop). Twin-engine aircraft with an engine inop are guaranteed a 2.4 percent climb gradient (24 feet up per 1,000 feet forward). Minimum speed to be maintained to at least 400 feet agl.
— Minimum takeoff safety speed. Usually 1.2 times the stall speed in takeoff configuration.
IFR Course: Ace Your FAA Written Test
— Design maneuvering speed. The highest safe airspeed for abrupt control deflection or for operation in turbulence or severe gusts. It does not allow for multiple large control inputs. If only one speed is published it is usually determined at max landing weight. This speed decreases as weight decreases. Formula for determining VA at less than max landing weight: VA2 equals VA multiplied by current weight divided by max landing weight.
— Maximum speed for airbrake extension.
— Maximum speed for airbrake operation.
— Missed-approach climb speed for flap configuration with critical engine inop (2.1 percent climb gradient).
— Approach target speed. VREF plus configuration (flaps/slats setting) and wind factor. Typically add (to VREF) half the headwind component plus all the gust factor (to a max of 20 knots).
— Design speed for maximum gust intensity for transport-category aircraft or other aircraft certified under Part 25. Turbulent-air penetration speed that protects the structure in 66 fps gusts.
— Design cruising speed. Speed at which the aircraft was designed to cruise. The completed aircraft may actually cruise slower or faster than VC. It is the highest speed at which the structure must withstand the FAA’s hypothetical “standard 50 fps gust.”
— Design diving speed. The aircraft is designed to be capable of diving to this speed (in very smooth air) and be free of flutter, control reversal or buffeting. Control surfaces have a natural vibration frequency where they begin to “flutter” like a flag in a stiff breeze. If flutter begins, it can become catastrophic in a matter of seconds. It can worsen until the aircraft is destroyed, even if airspeed is reduced as soon as flutter begins.
— Accelerate/stop decision speed for multiengine piston and light multiengine turboprops.
— Demonstrated flight diving speed. VDF is in knots. MDF is a percentage of Mach number. Some aircraft are incapable of reaching VD because of a lack of power or excess drag. When this is the case, the test pilot dives to the maximum speed possible — the demonstrated flight diving speed.
— Speed at which the critical engine is assumed to fail during takeoff (used in certification tests).
— En route climb speed with critical engine inop. Jets accelerate to VENR above 1,500 feet agl.
— Design flap speed. The flaps are designed to be operated at this maximum speed. If the engineers did a good job, the actual flap speed, or VFE, will be the same.
— Maximum speed for undesirable flight characteristics. It must be regarded with the same respect as VNE: redline. Instability could develop beyond the pilot’s ability to recover. VFC is expressed in knots; MFC is expressed in percentage of Mach.
— Maximum flap-extended speed. Top of white arc. The highest speed permissible with wing flaps in a prescribed extended position. Many aircraft allow the use of approach flaps at speeds higher than VFE. Positive load for Normal category airplanes is usually reduced from 3.8 Gs to 2 Gs with the flaps down, and negative load is reduced from minus 1.52 Gs to zero. The purpose of flaps during landing is to enable steeper approaches without increasing the airspeed.
— Flap retract speed. The minimum speed required for flap retraction after takeoff.
— Final segment speed (jet takeoff) with critical engine inop. Accelerate to VFS at 400 feet agl.
— Final takeoff speed. End of the takeoff path. En route configuration. One engine inoperative.
— Best glide speed. This speed decreases as weight decreases.
— Maximum speed in level flight with maximum continuous power. Mainly used for aircraft advertising. Ultralights are limited by Part 103 to a VH of 55 knots.
— Maximum landing gear extended speed. Maximum speed at which an airplane can be safely flown with the landing gear extended.
— Maximum landing light extended speed.
— Maximum landing light operating speed.
— Maximum landing gear operating speed. Maximum speed at which the landing gear can be safely extended or retracted. Usually limited by air loads on the wheel-well doors. On some aircraft, the doors close after extension, allowing acceleration to VLE. In an emergency involving loss of control — when the ground is getting close and the airspeed is quickly approaching redline — forget about this speed. Throw the gear out! As a now famous Flying magazine writer once said, you might lose a gear door, but it’s far better than losing a wing.
— Liftoff speed. Speed at which the aircraft becomes airborne. Back pressure is applied at VR (rotate) — a somewhat lower speed — so that liftoff actually happens at VLOF.
VMCA or VMC
— More commonly known as VMC (although VMCA is more correct). Minimum control speed with the critical engine (usually the left) inoperative out of ground effect in the air — “red line” — and most critical engine inop and windmilling; 5 degrees of bank toward the operative engine; takeoff power on operative engine; gear up; flaps up; and most rearward CG. In this configuration, if airspeed is allowed to diminish below VMC, even full rudder cannot prevent a yaw toward the dead engine. At slower speeds, the slower-moving wing — the one with the failed engine — will stall first. VMC is not a constant; it can be reduced by feathering the prop, moving the CG forward and reducing power.
— Minimum speed necessary to maintain directional control after an engine failure during the takeoff roll while still on the ground. Determined using aerodynamic controls with no reliance on nosewheel steering. Applies to jets, turboprops or transport-category aircraft.
— Maximum operating limit speed for turboprops or jets. VMO is indicated airspeed measured in knots and is mainly a structural limitation that is the effective speed limit at lower altitudes. MMO is a percentage of Mach limited by the change to the aircraft’s handling characteristics as localized airflow approaches the speed of sound, creating shock waves that can alter controllability. As altitude increases, indicated airspeed decreases while Mach remains constant. MMO is the effective speed limit (“barber pole” on the airspeed indicator) at higher altitudes. MMO is usually much higher for swept-wing jets than for straight-wing designs.
— Minimum unstick speed. Slowest speed at which an aircraft can become airborne. Originated as a result of testing for the world’s first jet transport, the de Havilland Comet. During an ill-fated takeoff attempt, the nose was raised so high and prematurely that the resultant drag prevented further acceleration and liftoff. Tests were then established to ensure that future heavy transports could safely take off with the tail touching the ground and maintain this attitude until out of ground effect.
— Never-exceed speed — “red line.” Applies only to piston-powered airplanes. This speed is never more than 90 percent of VDF. G loads imposed by any turbulence can easily overstress an aircraft at this speed.
— “No” go there. Maximum structural cruising speed. Beginning of the yellow arc, or caution range. Theoretically, a brand-new aircraft can withstand the FAA’s 50 fps gust at this speed. Unfortunately, the pilot has no way of measuring gust intensity.
— Rotation speed. Recommended speed to start applying back pressure on the yoke, rotating the nose so, ideally, the aircraft lifts off the ground at VLOF.
— Calculated reference speed for final approach. Final approach speed. Usually 1.3 times VSO or higher. Small airplanes: bottom of white arc plus 30 percent. Jets: calculated from landing-performance charts that consider weight, temperature and field elevation. To this speed jets typically calculate an approach speed (VAP) by adding (to VREF) half the headwind component plus the gust factor (to a max of 20 knots).
— Stall speed or minimum steady flight speed at which the airplane is controllable. VS is a generic term and usually does not correspond to a specific airspeed.
— Stall speed or minimum steady flight speed in a specific configuration. Normally regarded as the “clean” — gear and flaps up — stall speed. Lower limit of the green arc (remember, “stuff in”). However, this is not always the case. It could represent stall speed with flaps in takeoff position or any number of different configurations. So VS1 is a clean stall, but the definition of “clean” could vary.
— Stall speed in landing configuration. Lower limit of white arc. Stalling speed or the minimum steady flight speed at which the airplane is controllable in landing configuration: engines at idle, props in low pitch, usually full wing flaps, cowl flaps closed, CG at maximum forward limit (i.e., most unfavorable CG) and max gross landing weight. Maximum allowable VSO for single-engine aircraft and many light twins is 61 knots (remember, “stuff out”).
— Minimum safe single-engine speed (multi). Provides a reasonable margin against an unintentional stall when making intentional engine cuts during training.
— Takeoff safety speed for Category A rotorcraft.
— Maximum windshield-wiper operating speed.
— Best angle-of-climb speed. Delivers the greatest gain of altitude in the shortest possible horizontal distance. The speed given in the flight manual is good only at sea level, at max gross weight and with flaps in takeoff position. VX increases with altitude (about ½ knot per 1,000 feet) and usually decreases with a reduction of weight. It will take more time to gain altitude at VX because of the slower speed, but the goal is to gain the most altitude in the shortest horizontal distance.
— Best single-engine angle-of-climb speed (multiengine, 12,500 pounds or less).
— Best rate-of-climb speed. Delivers the greatest gain in altitude in the shortest time. Flaps and gear up. Decreases as weight is reduced, and decreases with altitude. Lift-to-drag ratio is usually at its maximum at this speed, so it can also be used as a good ballpark figure for best glide speed or maximum-endurance speed for holding.
READ MORE: VX vs. VY
— Best single-engine rate-of-climb speed — “blue line” — (multiengine, 12,500 pounds or less).
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by Tom Benson Please send suggestions/corrections to: [email protected]
How fast does an airplane really go?
It's a simple question but one without a simple answer: How fast does an airplane fly?
Believe it or not, pilots rely on multiple speeds throughout a flight. Generally, there are four different speeds that measure different things and are affected by different atmospheric conditions.
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Before we get ahead of ourselves, let's get two obvious facts out of the way. First, an aircraft travels at different speeds depending on the phase of flight. Second, different aircraft types are capable of traveling at different speeds.
How fast is an airplane in the air?
Airspeed is measured in knots. One knot equals 1 nautical mile per hour. One nautical mile is 1.15078 statute miles (what we commonly know as a mile). So, 1 knot is equal to 1.15078 miles per hour.
The simplest type of airspeed is indicated airspeed, which is directly derived from an aircraft's pitot-static system.
When an aircraft is in flight or speeding down the runway, the air gets forced into the opening of the pitot tube and is measured, while static pressure measures just that — static air conditions. Indicated airspeed is simply calculated by measuring the difference between the dynamic, pitot pressure and static pressure.
But that's not the most accurate metric once an aircraft is airborne. Different temperatures, atmospheric pressure and other factors mean that this airspeed must be converted into something more realistic and usable at higher altitudes.
That's what true airspeed is.
True airspeed adjusts indicated airspeed for a number of factors. Most importantly, it adjusts it for the temperature and pressure at higher altitudes — as an aircraft climbs, the temperature generally decreases and the air pressure always decreases. Once we make those adjustments, think of true airspeed as how fast the air is moving over the aircraft's wings at a particular altitude.
Pilots actually rely on another type of speed during the cruise — and it's technically not a speed at all. Mach number is the ratio of true airspeed to the speed of sound, and it's highly influenced by atmospheric conditions, especially temperature. It's a highly accurate way of fine-tuning speed in a particular area, and it's the unit that air traffic controllers use to separate traffic at higher altitudes.
Some typical airspeeds
- Boeing 737 NG/MAX: Mach 0.78, about 450 knots true airspeed.
- Airbus A320 family: Mach 0.78, about 450 knots true airspeed.
- Boeing 787 Dreamliner: Mach 0.85, about 488 knots true airspeed.
- Airbus A350: Mach 0.85, about 488 knots true airspeed.
- Airbus A330: Mach 0.82, about 470 knots true airspeed.
- Boeing 757: Mach 0.80, about 461 knots true airspeed.
- Concorde: Mach 2.02, about 1,176 knots true airspeed.
What is an airplane's average groundspeed?
Finally, groundspeed is perhaps the most simple of the speeds. It's an aircraft's speed across the ground that gets adjusted for winds and altitude. For example, if an A321 has a true airspeed of 460 knots (529 mph), but is flying from New York to Los Angeles during the winter when head winds can be very strong, the actual groundspeed will be less. If it's facing a head wind component of 100 knots (115 mph) — which is entirely possible that time of year — its actual groundspeed would be a glacial 360 knots (414 mph), and you'd be looking at a very long trip to the West Coast. Still, the Mach number would remain unchanged, because the true airspeed is unchanged.
Related: How pilots predict bad weather and keep your flights smooth
Since an aircraft's groundspeed is highly influenced by the winds it encounters aloft, there's no groundspeed associated with individual aircraft types. A general rule of thumb is that an aircraft's groundspeed can be anywhere from 350 knots (in a stiff head wind) to 550 knots (in a strong tail wind). Of course, there are outliers. Each winter, there are often stories about aircraft encountering very strong tail winds when headed east over the Atlantic Ocean. Sometimes, these are in excess of 700 knots groundspeed, or 805 mph. These aircraft are actually not going any faster than normal — in fact, some might even slow down to conserve fuel given the strong winds. However, by taking advantage of the wind, they're able to travel at incredibly fast speeds.
Of course, the aircraft headed westbound aren't as lucky. The dispatchers for those aircraft will often plan a more circuitous route — one that's a longer distance — in order to avoid the strong head winds. Traveling a longer distance is worth it because the aircraft will save more fuel than it would on a more direct routing that takes the aircraft directly into head winds.
There's no easy way to answer how fast an airplane flies. But for the flying public, the easiest answer is probably groundspeed. It's how fast your flight is traveling directly over the ground, and has the largest direct impact to 8888.
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Glasair Specifications and Performance
The Glasair is the ultimate high performance aircraft. With its Lycoming engine, the Glasair is a fast, sleek, aerobatic cross-country machine that will take you across the country in mere hours, not days. Nonetheless, its approach and touchdown speeds are easy to work with. The first time most people go out for a flight in a Glasair, the combination of performance and handling qualities absolutely amazes them!
To learn more about the differences between Glasair models, see this article by Cliff Faber.
Kit crate dimensions.
See more photos of Glasairs in our image library and on Airliners.net .
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