With the SR-71 long retired, and the X-15 having stopped flying during the 1960s, the quickest aircraft flying today are fighter jets. But which fighter aircraft is the fastest? AeroTime finds out!
First, let’s take a brief look at what is meant when we refer to the speed of an aircraft.
The speeds reported in this list have usually been achieved during test flights involving special test aircraft in clean configuration (carrying no weapons or external fuel tanks). These tests show what the aircraft are capable of. However, in their day-to-day operations the jets tend to fly significantly slower.
The top speeds are also usually measured at an optimal altitude, typically above 30,000 ft (9,000 m), and many of the aircraft mentioned below are much slower when flying at lower altitudes.
Additionally, this list only contains fighter aircraft that are currently in service. The General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark, the Panavia Tornado ADV, and the Convair F-106 Delta Dart among other jets have already been retired and have not been included here.
The same applies to the Lockheed YF-12, the fighter related to the legendary SR-71 Blackbird. While it is the fastest fighter jet to ever exist, it was an experimental aircraft that never reached service.
Honorary mentions: Mach 2 fighters
A lot of the jets currently in service have the top speed of Mach 2 (between 2,100-2,200 km/h / 1,300-1,360 mph 1,100-1,150 knots). These include:
- Saab JAS 39 Gripen
- Eurofighter Typhoon
- Chengdu J-20
- Sukhoi Su-57
Honorary mentions: Mach 2.05-2.2 fighters
While some of the most popular aircraft can reach speeds slightly higher than Mach 2, this is not enough to make the cut. These aircraft include:
- General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon
- Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21bis
- Dassault Mirage 2000
- Dassault Mirage F1
And with that out of the way, let’s move onto the ranking.
10. McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II
Top speed: Mach 2.23 (2,370 km/h / 1,470 mph / 1,280 kn at 40,000 ft / 12,000 m)
The Phantom is one of the most famous Cold War jets. While it has been retired by most of its operators, the air forces of Turkey, Greece, South Korea and Iran still fly the aircraft.
Notable for its un-aerodynamic shape, the F-4 can reach high speeds thanks to the raw power of General Electric J79 engines, invoking a saying popular among Phantom pilots and fans alike: “a brick can fly if you stick a big enough engine on it”.
9. Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor
Top speed: Mach 2.25 (2,414 kmh / 1,500 mph 1,303 kn at 40,000 ft / 12,000 m)
The F-22 is the first fifth-generation fighter, and the only stealth aircraft to be included on this list. Fewer than 200 Raptors have ever been made, and the type has never been exported. The US Air Force remains its only operator.
Despite being very fast at high altitudes, many of the older jets on this list can barely break the sound barrier while flying low. But the F-22 is different: it can fly faster than Mach 1.2 at sea level and reach high speeds even with full armament, which does not cause additional drag due to being stored in internal weapons bays.
The Raptor also boasts the ability to supercruise, reaching more than Mach 1.8 without using afterburners. Supercruise is a signature tactic of fifth-generation fighter jets and leads to greater fuel economy and longer ranges, as afterburners are very fuel-hungry.
8. IAI Kfir
Top speed: Mach 2.3 (2,440 km/h / 1,520 mph / 1,320 kn at 36,000 ft / 11,000 m)
The Kfir is an Israeli upgrade to the Dassault Mirage 5. This aircraft is currently operated by Colombia, Sri Lanka and private military corporation Textron.
Its numerous upgrades include the General Electric J79-J1E turbojet engine which is considerably more powerful than the Mirage 5’s original SNECMA Atar 9C.
There are some conflicting reports that indicate that the Kfir’s top speed is a more modest Mach 2. Furthermore, since the existing Kfir airframes are quite old, there is a chance that the aircraft can no longer achieve these speeds. However, much of the available information indicates that the Kfir’s top speed is Mach 2.3. It also suggests that the model has likely reached this speed in the past, which is why AeroTime has included the aircraft in its ranking.
Top speed: Mach 2.3 (2,450 km/h / 1,520 mph / 1,320 kn at 36,000 ft / 11,000 m)
Designed in the Soviet Union as a lighter counterpart to the Sukhoi Su-27 and a response to the F-16, the MiG-29 has been widely exported and is currently in the inventory of Russia, Ukraine, North Korea, Poland, India and many other countries.
Despite often being described as a rival to the F-16, the MiG-29 mainly performed the role of point-defense interceptor and, as such, had a relatively small range and high speed.
The aircraft has some limitations, though, and it can’t go supersonic while carrying a fuel tank. Nevertheless, a clean MiG-29 is said to be capable of reaching Mach 1.2 at sea level.
6. Grumman F-14 Tomcat
Top speed: Mach 2.3 (2,485 km/h / 1,544 mph / 1,342 kn at 40,000 ft / 12,000 m)
The F-14 is the world’s first fourth-generation fighter jet, designed primarily as a naval fighter for the US Navy. Retired by the USN in favor of the F/A-18, the F-14 is currently operated by only the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force.
Some reports suggest a clean F-14 could reach an even higher speed of Mach 2.5, although this claim has not been confirmed.
Top speed: Mach 2.35 (2,499 km/h / 1,1553 mph / 1,349 kn at 36,000 ft / 11,000 m)
Another swing-wing fighter, the MiG-23 was designed in the early 1960s and is still operated by North Korea, Syria, Ethiopia and several other countries.
Built as an interceptor, the MiG-23 is far less maneuverable than newer fourth-generation jets and has relatively poor low-altitude performance. Nevertheless, it was an extremely sophisticated jet for the late 60s and remains one of the most iconic Soviet aircraft of the Cold War.
4. Sukhoi Su-27 family
Top speed: Mach 2.35 (2,500 km/h / 1,600 mph / 1,300 kn at 36,000 ft / 11,000 m)
The Su-27 was one of the most prolific late-Cold War jets, giving rise to an entire family of aircraft that includes the Su-30, the Su-34, the Su-35, the J-11, and J-16 among others.
It is one of the most widely operated aircraft in the world. A number of models, derived from the Su-27, have often been described as having top speeds between Mach 2 and Mach 2.35, although the most recent variants are unlikely to be as fast. Check out the section at the end of this list to find out why.
Unlike some other fourth-generation jets, the Su-27 can’t reach Mach 1.2 at sea level, and with external ordinance its top speed is also significantly lower. However, it was not intended to work as a dedicated interceptor, and high speeds at a high altitude are more of a byproduct of this aircraft’s powerful engines, designed to give it high payload capacity and acceleration.
3. McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle
Top speed: Mach 2.5 (2,655 km/h / 1,650 mph / 1,434 kn at 40,000 ft / 12,000 m)
Probably one of the most well-known US-made aircraft, the F-15 is operated by the USAF, Israel, Japan, Qatar, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Singapore.
The jet was developed as a response to the MiG-25 interceptor (which makes an appearance later in this list). While the Eagle is slightly slower than the aircraft it was designed to rival, the American jet makes up for this by also having tremendous low-speed maneuverability.
It is also the only fighter jet to ever shoot down a space satellite, and the only one to experience no air-to-air losses while scoring over 100 aerial victories.
Despite the base model being more than 50 years old, the F-15 is still in production as a vastly upgraded F-15EX.
Top speed: Mach 2.83 (3,000 km/h / 1,900 mph / 1,600 kn at 70,538 ft / 21,500 m)
The MiG-31 was based on the legendary MiG-25 and was also intended to replace it. The performance of the two aircraft is actually similar, except for the fact that the MiG-31 has superior sensors, electronics and armament.
The MiG-31 was initially designed to be more adaptable than the MiG-25, offering several variants, including a multirole fighter, a bomber and a reconnaissance aircraft. These variants were later scrapped but plans to produce them still resulted in the MiG-31 having a decent low-level performance. The aircraft can reach Mach 1.25 at sea level, something earlier interceptors were incapable of doing.
The MiG-31 is primarily operated by Russia’s Aerospace Forces, although Kazakhstan also has a small number of these jets. Of the more than 500 MiG-31s manufactured, fewer than 100 currently remain operational.
However, despite many modernizations, the aircraft does have problems that severely limit its speed.
During parliamentary hearings in 2013, Victor Bondarev, head of the Russian Aerospace Forces, explained that the MiG-31’s new cockpit glass, which provides better visibility, has also limited the aircraft’s speed to Mach 1.5.
But the jet might not need to rely on faster speeds due to its vastly expanded modern armament, which includes hypersonic missiles.
Mach 2.83 (3,000 km/h / 1,900 mph / 1,600 kn at 70,538 ft / 21,500 m)
Designed in the late 1960s the MiG-25 was arguably the most feared fighter jet of the Cold War, and is responsible for the US scrambling to develop the F-15.
However, whether the MiG-25 can really be considered operational is debatable.
Retired in almost all countries that had it, the MiG-25 officially remains in the arsenal of just one country: Syria, where it has been grounded for years, according to multiple reports. Algeria demonstrated some flightworthy MiG-25s in mid-2022. However, it has since gone on to officially retire the aircraft.
However, at least theoretically, the MiG-25 remains the fastest operational fighter jet. It broke numerous records and reached the speed surpassed by no other airbreathing jet except for the SR-71 and its derivatives.
The MiG-25 was designed first and foremost as a high-altitude interceptor. Just like many other aircraft of this type, it had poor maneuverability and could not break the sound barrier at sea level while carrying missiles.
This ranking includes speeds reached by test aircraft. But what about deployed jets?
With the MiG-25 having been practically retired, and the MiG-31 facing a speed limit of Mach 1.5 imposed by the latest modernizations, the F-15 is technically the fastest fighter jet in service in terms of currently deployed aircraft.
Its latest variant, the F-15EX, is officially faster than any variant of the next fastest jet, the Su-27. Some reports have claimed that the F-15EX reached the speed of Mach 2.4 during testing, although this information has not been officially confirmed. Boeing also claims that the top speed of the F-15EX is Mach 2.4.
However, does this matter? Not really.
Why modern jets don’t need to be very fast?
You may have noticed that most jets on this list are rather old. Meanwhile, the latest generation, except for the F-22, is rarely reported as capable of reaching even Mach 2.
Fast speeds have long stopped being a subject of bragging rights for aircraft manufacturers, and the newest aircraft are indeed, on average, significantly slower than their predecessors. This is because speed stopped being as important in air combat and was sacrificed in favor of maneuverability, stealth, and fuel efficiency among other factors.
Studies have shown that fighters rarely reach speeds of more than Mach 1.2 during real air combat, and higher speeds are only important for long-range interceptions, a role that the top aircraft on this list, the F-15 and the MiG-31, are perfectly capable of fulfilling.
New medium- and long-range missiles further the speed advantage. As a result, Cold War-era interceptors remain the fastest jets ever designed, and the newest aircraft are, in comparison, very slow. They really “don’t make them as they used to” – and for a reason.