Ever wondered what it’s like to travel faster than the speed of sound? Then maybe you need to ask anyone who’s piloted one of the following awesomely quick military planes, all of which can break the sound barrier with ease. These 20 technological marvels are the crowning glories of air forces around the world – and they might make your ears want to pop just from reading about them.
Image: SAC Scott Ferguson
20. Panavia Tornado GR4
The Tornado GR4 aircraft has been used by the British Royal Air Force for nearly 20 years, and that longevity can surely be attributed in part to its incredible top speed. The two-seater, attack and reconnaissance variant of the Tornado IDS can reach Mach 1.3 – or just under 1,000 mph – meaning that it can break the sound barrier with ease. Understandably, though, it’s not a cheap plane to run or buy, with a price tag of $14.2 million and a cost per hour in the air of close to $53,000.
19. HAL Tejas
The single-seater HAL Tejas jet was introduced in early 2015 as a replacement for India’s MiG-21 fighter plane, which had earned itself the unfortunate nickname of the “flying coffin” thanks to its many crashes. Developer Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) must be hoping things run more smoothly for the Indian Air Force and Navy, then, when flying their $30 million light fighter – even if pilots choose to take it up to its awesome maximum speed of 1,193 mph, equivalent to over Mach 1.5.
18. Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II
The development of the F-35A Lightning II arose out of the costliest military weapons program ever; the Joint Strike Fighter replacement scheme is estimated to eventually rack up a $1.1 trillion cost during its lifecycle. In order for some of that cash to be recouped, then, it’s perhaps little surprise that the F-35A has an initial price tag of an incredible $98 million each. And those countries investing in the jet – including the United Kingdom, Italy, Australia and Denmark – will at least get plenty of push on the dollar after the single-seat stealth fighter’s introduction in 2016, given that it can reach a maximum speed of 1,200 mph, or well over Mach 1.5.
17. Sukhoi Su-30MKI
The Sukhoi Su-30MK1 – also known by its NATO reporting name of Flanker-H – was designed in Russia specifically for Indian Air Force use. Its cost of $53 million per unit means that, at present, it’s cheaper than the F-35A Lightning II and faster than that fighter plane to boot – with a top speed of 1,300 mph, or just under Mach 1.7. That awesome velocity means that it’s not difficult to believe the 2015 report that Indian Air Force pilots in the Su-30MK1 consistently outflew their RAF counterparts in Eurofighter Typhoons during a series of mock dogfights.
16. Tupolev Tu-160
While its official NATO reporting name is “Blackjack,” the Tupolev Tu-160 has also been given the nickname of “White Swan,” all due to that sleek white exterior and its smooth moves in the air. The strategic bomber is, in fact, perhaps surprisingly maneuverable given that it remains the biggest combat aircraft on the planet. Not only that, but it’s the largest craft to have broken the sound barrier, with a max speed of 1,380 mph, or just below Mach 1.8. And it remains relatively rare; only 35 planes of this model have been built since the craft’s first successful flight in 1981.
Image: via Reddit
15. Tupolev Tu-22M
The Tupolev Tu-22M may carry one of the more unfortunate NATO reporting names in “Backfire,” but that hasn’t stopped the Russian and Ukrainian Air Forces from putting their trust in the strike bomber to this day. Perhaps that’s down to the four-seater craft’s dizzying top speed of 1,425 mph, or 1.86 times the speed of sound.
Image: Chris Lofting
14. Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21bis
By contrast to the Tupolev Tu-160, the similarly Soviet Union-designed MiG-21 jet fighter is the most widely produced supersonic craft in history, having served in one form or another in conflicts ranging from Vietnam to the present-day civil war in Syria. The MiG-21bis variant of the craft currently operates in North Korea, among other countries, with an admirably rapid top speed of 1,468 mph, or just over Mach 1.9.
Image: Aleksandr Medvedev
13. Sukhoi Su-35S
The Sukhoi Su-35S is an upgraded version of the Su-27, which itself has been in service with Russian air forces since 1990 and so was probably well due a technological refit. The more modernized single-seat Su-35S fighter, then, made its first flight in 2008, but it has taken until 2015 for Russia to successfully clinch an export deal for the craft with China. Twenty-four of the planes will eventually be shipped to the country in 2016, after which Chinese pilots will be able to power them all the way to a maximum speed of Mach 1.94 at altitude.
12. Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor
Lockheed Martin’s F-22A Raptor has previously been considered a crucial part of the U.S.’ Global Strike Task Force. Yet that still hasn’t stopped production of the single-seater stealth fighter from being phased out in favor of the cheaper and more adaptable F-35, with the final F-22 craft having been delivered to the U.S. Air Force in 2012. And while the F-22A Raptor’s price tag was undoubtedly high, at a staggering flyaway cost of $150 million per craft as of 2009, its maximum speed is pretty lofty as well: the jet can reach an approximate max speed at altitude of 1,500 mph, or 1.95 times the speed of sound.
Image: United States Air Force
11. Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Fighting Falcon
As of April 2012, 4,500 multirole F-16 Fighting Falcon craft had been delivered to 26 countries worldwide, cementing the jet’s place as one of the most popular military planes on the planet. The F-16C and F-16D variants in particular have found considerable favor with the United States Air Force, perhaps down in part to those planes’ superlative maximum speed. That just happens to be 1,500 mph, or a fantastic Mach 1.95 at altitude.
Image: U.S. Department of Defense
10. Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23MLD
The MiG-23MLD turned out to be the final variant of the original MiG-23, having been eclipsed by the long-serving and ever-popular MiG-29. Nonetheless, the Soviet Union-designed fighter, which goes under the slightly odd NATO reporting name of “Flogger-K,” is still used by the Syrian Air Force. As for velocity, the craft reaches an impressive top speed at altitude of 1,519 mph, equivalent to Mach 1.98.
Image: U.S. Navy
9. Grumman F-14A Tomcat
The once-mighty F-14 Tomcat has been all but retired now, yet a handful of the A-variants remain in use in the Iranian Air Force. The Tomcat’s legacy will not be quickly forgotten, though, especially since the wing fighter, in its various forms, spent 32 years in loyal service to the U.S. Navy. The F-14A’s top speed is memorable as well: 1,544 mph, or just over Mach 2.
Image: Gordon Zammit
8. Eurofighter Typhoon
The Eurofighter Typhoon has remained consistently popular with air forces around the world for over a decade. That’s despite its awe-inspiring unit cost of nearly $188 million, when development and production have been factored into the equation. And perhaps that demand is down to the fact that the multirole craft was designed to be a supreme and easily maneuverable dogfighter – not to mention its impressive maximum speed at altitude of 1,550 mph, or a touch over twice the speed of sound.
7. Sukhoi Su-27SM3
As its name might suggest, the Su-27SM3 is identical to the Su-27SM, but where that variant is an upgraded version of the original Su-27, the SM3 is built from scratch. The Russian Air Force is currently benefiting from the fighter jet’s considerable zippiness, among other things, since the Flanker variant boasts a not inconsiderable maximum speed of 1,550 mph at altitude, or a little over Mach 2.
Image: via Su-27 Flanker
6. Shenyang J-11B
The People’s Liberation Army Air Force of China has its own world-class fighter jet in the form of the Shenyang J-11B. Indeed, on the speed front the single-seater craft can more than hold its own with military planes like Russia’s Su-27 – perhaps because that was the jet on which the Chinese craft was modeled. And like the Su-27, the B variant of the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation’s J-11 design can travel at a top speed at altitude of 1,550 mph, or just over twice the speed of sound.
Image: SRA Greg L. Davis, USAF
5. Dassault Mirage 2000C
Given that it has a unit cost of a relatively paltry $23 million, the Dassault Mirage 2000C provides quite some zip for the buck. This is because the French multirole jet fighter can reach an eye-watering max speed of some 1,572 mph at high altitude; that’s a tad over Mach 2. And this, among other reasons, could very well be why it’s one of the military craft models of choice in eight countries worldwide, including Egypt, Greece, India and Peru as well as, naturally, France.
Image: Alex Beltyukov
4. Mikoyan MiG-29SMT
When the first generation version of the already powerful Russian fighter MiG-29 got an impressive upgrade, it became the MiG-29SMT. And as well as a cockpit with spruced-up design and tech, an extended maximum flight range and an improved radar, there’s also something else that the Russian Air Force, among others, can boast about with this craft: a top speed of 1,615 mph, or an awesome Mach 2.1.
3. Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle
As of 2015 the Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle has over 100 aerial victories to its name. Small wonder, then, that it remains part of the backbone of the fleets of the U.S., Saudi, Israeli and South Korean Air Forces. The strike fighter has played a crucial role in several key military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya and remains much in demand today. That could very well be down, at least a little, to the craft’s magnificent top speed of 1,875 mph, or Mach 2.4.
Image: Leonid Faerberg
2. Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25
The MiG-25 interceptor and reconnaissance craft was given the intriguing NATO reporting name of “Foxbat” – a moniker, moreover, that doesn’t immediately bring to mind the jet’s incredible speed. And incredible that speed really is: this is one of the fastest military planes ever produced, able to run at a top limit of a blistering 1,920 mph, or more than two and a half times the speed of sound. Sadly, as cheaper and more efficient variants have superseded the MiG-25, only a few craft of this type remain in service, in Syria and Algeria.
Image: Dmitriy Pichugin
1. Mikoyan MiG-31BM
Throughout the Cold War, the United States’ trump card was undoubtedly the SR-71 spy plane, with its unbeatable speed allowing it to outpace almost anything from missiles to other, less zippy, craft. The Soviet Union’s response, then, was the MiG-31, the plane equivalent of a drag racer – designed to fly quickly in a straight line and, in the case of the 31BM variant, at anything up to an exceptional 2,102 mph, or Mach 2.7. Given that velocity, it’s perhaps no wonder that the Russian Air Force will have more of the interceptor craft in its fleet by the end of 2015.