The World’s Fastest Commercial Airliner
There is a worrying forecast within the aviation industry. The International Air Transport Association – also known as IATA – has predicted that in the next two decades the demand for air travel will increase by 100%. Simultaneously the number of pilots continues to drop. Since 1987 there has been a 30% decrease in pilot numbers. The navy and air force both expect shortages over the next years and when military pilots often become commercial pilots, the shortage will spill over into the commercial airline industry. The solution? Faster airlines that are able to get more passengers to destinations in quicker times.
We already knew that life was speeding up, but from 2019 it has got a whole lot faster. This is especially the case in the aviation industry where jetsetters want quicker travel times – and so do the airlines.
Early Developments: BAC Concorde
Ever since the days of the BAC Concorde which featured between 1976 and 2003, commercial airlines have been cautious about pushing the ceiling on the potential of supersonic aviation travel. The aforementioned French-British passenger turbojet boasted a slender frame and a drooping nose, all of which helping it doubling the speed of sound (Mach 2.04). For those unaware, that means it traveled over 2100 kms per hour or over 1350 miles per hour – at a cruising altitude.
British Airways and Air France decided to cancel their trailblazing project for a number of reasons. The plane’s design seemed to lack the potential for further innovation. It also had high running costs in terms of fuel and had limited seating (92 – 128 seats). All things that are understandably not appealing to airlines.
The BAC Concorde may have been retired but super-quick air travel has not. Today more innovations and developments have allowed the industry to start whispering about 19-hour trips from London to Perth and other speedy air journeys.
NASA and Developments in Tech
The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird long-range reconnaissance aircraft, used by the United States Air Force between 1964 and 1998, is the jet with the fastest speed record at 3.3 Mach (2,200 mph). Until now that is. Researchers and manufacturers have learned from the Concorde and Tu-144 failures and are busy at work developing sustainable technology for supersonic aircraft.
Blowing the BAC Concorde’s record out of the sky, the Lockheed SR-71 recorded speeds above 2,200 mph and a Mach score of 3.3. However, this aircraft is only used by the USA Air Force and not used as a passenger plane.
One of the issues with these types of planes is their noise. They can become uncomfortably loud when reaching such speeds. This is what has prompted NASA’s Low Boom Flight Demonstrator Program. In partnership with Lockheed Martin, the X-59 QueSST has been developed. This technology is used to prevent dangerous levels of noise and sonic boom. It will allow commercial planes to travel at Mach 2.2 in near silence. Although this technology is not due to be tested until 2022 and probably won’t be ready for use for some time after that.
Top of the Agenda: Cutting Carbon Emissions
As things stand, the faster a plane travels the more fuel it uses. In 2018 the longest flight without stops was a 19-hour journey from Singapore to Newark. However, this has been equaled of late with a non-stop flight from the UK to Australia. For the Asia-American flight the non-stop flight was only made possible thanks to an extra 24,000 liters of fuel.
This comes in conflict with the aviation industry’s latest commitments in light of climate change. Ultimately airliners are trying to promise lower emissions to attract more environmental-conscious buyers. The IATA – who were mentioned earlier – has set a reduction scheme in place aiming to reduce emissions from 2020. The bottom line is that there is an issue with trying to fly faster but doing it in a way that does not cause more damage to the planet. This has sparked innovation and a way to seek alternative ways that sustainable fuels can be used to fly these fast aircraft.
Some of the Fastest Commercial Planes
While we wait for these sustainable fuels or other solutions, you can still take advantage of some pretty quick commercial airliners. Here are some of the fastest:
1. Boeing 777 (644 mph)
First on the scene in the middle of 1995, the Boeing 777 is a household name and a wide-bodied design and twin engines. It is American born and a favorite around the world, including with airlines such as United Airlines, British Airways, Emirates and many more. It has a maximum passenger capacity of just under 400 at 396 seats and easily completes long flights. It has a cruising speed of Mach 0.84.
The 777 is one of the most common and celebrated planes of the Boeing collection. It is even more common than their 747 model. The 777 was the first commercial plane to be designed by a computer using 3D CAD systems made by IBM. This was revolutionary because it changed the way aircraft were created since.
2. Boeing 787 and Airbus A380 (652 mph)
Boeing and Airbus draw the same-sized straw when it comes to designing the next fastest airliners, namely the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A380.
The 787 is a long-haul, mid-sized and twin-engine plane that fits a maximum of 335 passengers and boasts Mach 0.85 at its cruising speeds. One of the more appealing aspects of the 787 is that it is significantly more fuel-efficient than the 767, the model it was made to replace.
Another is the plane’s cabin windows which are the largest in service to date. These dimensions are 18.4 x 10.7 inches and are placed at a higher level to help passengers get a better view of the horizon. Boing has spent an estimated $32 billion on the development of its 787 since 2011, which has allowed it to retain a place among the best and fastest airliners in the world.
Boasting the exact same Mach is the wide-body, double-decked and quadruple-engine Airbus A380. These super large aircraft are the largest in the world and can hold 853 passengers in a single journey. Getting all these people to their destination at once is only made possible because of four engines and Rolls-Royce Trent 900 turbofans. These aircraft are used by many airlines but the ones with the most A380s within their fleet are Emirates, Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines. On the other hand, the 787 is more popular with Qatar Airlines, United Airlines and Japan Airlines.
The development fund of the Airbus A380 was increased to just under $20 billion due to challenges with the electrical wiring. Not only did these challenges increase costs, but they held back the aircraft for two years. 2014 saw the most orders for Airbus and the final Airbus is planned to be sold in 2021.
3. Boeing 747-400 (656 mph)
The Boeing 747-400 is a worthy runner-up to what will follow. This airliner has been manufactured with a number of structural and technological developments that have enabled it to remain safe and fast. Some of these improvements include wing tip extensions, a glass cockpit that seats two and six-foot winglets. Not to leave out increased fuel efficiency and revised wing fairings. The architecture of entertainment systems has also been completely enhanced so all 660 passengers can enjoy enjoyable flights in a single class.
The improved fuel efficiency of this airline has been a key talking point. This has only been made possible through its new engines, namely Rolls-Royce RB211-524G/H, General Electric CF6-80C2B1F and Pratt & Whitney PW4056. The 747-400 glides through the clouds are speeds much faster than many competitors reaching speeds of Mach 0.855. The 660-capacity aircraft was offered to the world in 1898 and is predominantly used by Qantas, British Airways and Lufthansa. It is used as a long-haul plane and can fly without stopping for over 7500 nautical miles.
4. Boeing 747-8i (659 mph)
Boeing triumphs when it comes to finding the true winner of the fastest commercial airliner. The wide-body Boeing 747-8i, sometimes referred to as the 747-8 Intercontinental, has refined wings, enhanced fuel consumption and new engines. It can hold 342 passengers, which does include eight spacious seats in first class and 92 more in business class. This commercial plane started flying in 2012 and since no plane has managed to outshine its Mach score of 0.86.
This model has been in fierce competition with the Airbus A380 featured above. Boeing also claims more than being a bit faster, their plane is 10% lighter in each seat and guzzles 11% less fuel per each passenger. This results in a 21% reduction and a seat-to-mile reduction in the region of 6%.
In 2017, the USA Air Force stated that the presidential current planes, Air Force One and Two – which are Boeing models as well – will be replaced with the Boeing 747-8. These planes were originally going to be sent to a Russian airline Transaero, who is now bankrupt. To bring them up to presidential standard and heighten security, these 747-8s will be reconfigured to some degree and kitted out with new equipment.
5. Convair 880 (615 mph)
The inaugural Convair 880 model flew in 1959 after nearly five years of development. Then, it was the fastest commercial airplane globally. Various civilian engines similar to what is found in fighter jets were fitted in this plane. The engines are specially made to promote performance as opposed to fuel economy.
Various popular airlines that operated the Convair 880 include Delta, TWA, Swiss Airlines, and Cathay Pacific. The manufacturers of Convair 880 released only 65 of these models, which is why many experts in the aviation industry consider it a failure.
6. Aérospatiale Concorde (1,354 mph)
The Aérospatiale Concorde is a classic plane that features a unique flying wing frame. It is one of the only two supersonic commercial planes that were ever manufactured. However, it was retired in 2003 because it was not economically viable.
Only 20 Aérospatiale Concorde models were manufactured with Air France and British Airways operating seven each. Air tickets on the plane were approximately 30 times higher than regular flights making it accessible by the wealthiest travelers only.
A Concorde airplane crashed on July 25th, 2000, killing all the passengers onboard following various disastrous events. The accident was the only crash in the plane’s 27 years in operation. At the time, many people had lost faith in the aviation industry following the September 11 New York attacks. The Concorde was no longer sustainable, marking its end.
7. Boeing 787 Dreamliner (776 mph)
Boeing 787 Dreamliner is an ultra-modern airplane featuring a carbon composite fiber airframe. Its development was meant to replace the 747 and 767 long-distance commercial planes. The inaugural customer aboard the Dreamliner was the All Nippon Japanese Airways, who ordered 50 units at a go.
The aircraft began operations with the airliner in 2011. By October 2020, up to 988 units of the model had been developed, making it successful. The model can achieve top speeds and high cruise by Trent 1000 or GEnx high turbofan bypass engines.
It features raked wingtips specially designed to enhance fuel efficiency and noise-canceling chevrons along the tips of its wings. The 787 Dreamliner falls under planes with efficient and small wide-body airplanes structured for the economic location to location flight programs.
8. Convair 990 (620 mph)
The Convair 990 started after American Airlines released a contract to promote the manufacturer of the fastest commercial plane globally. According to Boeing, they could not develop a speedier aircraft than their 707 models, a declaration that saw Convair take up the challenge.
With extreme confidence, Convair guaranteed they would produce a top-speed model even before production work started. However, the below-par project ended with only 37 models manufactured. The Boeing 727 and 720 would soon overtake Convair 990.
9. Tupolev Tu-144 (1,600 mph)
Disastrous events haunted the Tupolev Tu-144 since its inception. Its second model crashed in 1973 at the Paris air show killing everybody onboard and eight more people. During that time, there was a cutthroat competition between the Soviet Tu-144 and the French Concorde.
Both airliners were participating at the air show, with the Concorde having demonstrated first in a performance that many people termed dull. That performance prompted the Tu-144 pilot to promise a more exciting test flight.
However, the plane would execute an overly extreme maneuver for the airframe, which tore the left wing entirely, sending the plane crashing to the ground. The accident left a lasting black mark on the airline, but the Soviets went ahead and introduced it in commercial service. The Aeroflot would be manufactured in 1975. The crashing of the second Tu-144 led to its cancelation. The Tu-144 was a cargo airplane until 1983.
10. Bonus Mention
Boeing is not satisfied with already holding the title and want to create an even faster commercial plane that will significantly beat past records. This planned hypersonic jet is rumored to reach 3800 miles per hour – or Mach 5. To put this into perspective a flight from New York to London would take around two hours of your time, compared with the current flight time that is nearly touching seven hours.
Boeing’s Kevin Bowcutt, who occupies the position of hypersonic chief scientist, has stated in an interview that to be able to make same-day trips overseas easily, they will need to develop airlines that can achieve Mach 5.
Considering the many setbacks and delays that will undoubtedly materialize when trying to make this become a reality – most often to do with meeting industry and growing environmental regulations – Boeing is setting a deadline of the middle of the 21st century. Much sooner they may have developed a faster jet, but this will be for military use, estimated to be available in 2023.
Yet, the race for such impressive aircraft does not come without fierce competition. There are reports that The Chinese Academy of Sciences is in the process of making an aircraft that will also reach Mach 5 speeds, however, the plane will also be slightly unorthodox and have layers of wings. The plane is estimating flight times of two hours between New York and Beijing; a flight that currently takes around 13 hours to complete.
Types of Commercial Airplanes
Jumbo Passenger Jets
The Boeing 747 goes down in history as the inaugural commercial wide-body plane that ever earned Jumbo Jet’s nickname. The 747 plane is a subsonic machine whose popularity surpassed the manufacturer’s expectations amid supersonic plane developments.
The manufacturer sold more than 1500 of the 747 jumbo passenger jets, which can also be used as cargo planes. Boeing’s chief rival in the jumbo jet sales is Airbus which has made a market share mark despite being around for approximately four decades. One of the main drawbacks that airbus faces is the drop in popularity of the A380 models due to their vast size. Making profits from such a massive jet can be tricky unless it operates from one grand hub to another.
Light Passenger Planes
Light passenger planes come with a seating capacity of between 60 to 100. Their small size makes them an excellent option for economy airlines. The seating design is divided equally into two parts and a single aisle.
Bigger planes come with two aisles and three sections. Light passenger planes are popularly used in regional routes. Apart from efficient fuel consumption, these planes are cheaper than the previous models.
Light passenger planes also offer a better return on investment. For example, owners can make huge profits by flying the plane to prominent destinations from more significant central havens. For example, an aircraft to Las Vegas from Los Angeles can generate revenue quickly without encountering restrictions enforced by flights abroad.
Medium Size Passenger Jets
Medium-sized passenger planes like Airbus 350- 1000 come with a narrow body even though they carry more than 350 passengers. These planes are nothing compared to the 600 passenger Boeing 747 capacity in a sole class setup. Airbus A380 is an 853 capacity plane that overshadows the previous model.
Boeing 737 has enlarged its 900 range by up to 900 nautical miles to hit 3,000 for international flights in the recent past. Many airliners love medium-size commercial planes because they are more sustainable, especially in regular routes. These planes are also cheaper, making them a viable investment option.
Configuring a Boeing 787 or even an Airbus A380 in varying ways is flexible. Airlines may want to go against prevailing market trends by operating a more flexible model to remain afloat.
Turboprops are structured for reliability, and minimal factors can influence them when they hit cruising altitude. Automotive engineers struggle with the weather and an earthy landscape. Compared to jet engines, the turboprop option is more energy-efficient, making them a great investment option for airliners. Passenger turboprops can take off and operate from short runways. Large turboprop aircraft can carry a maximum of 80 passengers.
Cargo planes feature a more extensive scope than other options because they are a modification of the subtypes. While the Boeing 747 can be modified into a cargo plane with ease, the manufacturer also produces cargo-specific jets like the Being Dreamlifter.
This plane can carry cargo measuring up to 65,000. Its closest rival is the Airbus Beluga XL which can carry up to 78,000 cubic feet of cargo. Cessna also produces cargo planes on a limited propeller-based aircraft structure.
The plane can carry 12 passengers or freight in a 340 cubic feet box. Propeller-based aircraft can use small airstrips with ease making them busier than their larger counterparts.
Exciting Things About Airplanes that you Should Know
Planes have evolved over the years. With continued advancements in technology and the aviation industry, keeping pace with everything that modern-day planes can do is difficult. Here are some exciting things about planes that you may not know.
Airplanes can Resist Lightning Strikes
According to experts, every aircraft is hit by lightning at least once annually. However, planes are specially designed to withstand lighting, and no plane has crashed following lightning strikes since 1963. Advance airplane engineering allows the electric charge from lighting to flash through and out of the aircraft without damaging it.
Aircraft and Water Vessels use the Same Navigation Lights
A green starboard light lies at the plane’s right wing, while a red port light is located at its left-wing. These lights indicate the direction of the aircraft. It is worth mentioning that the term port only came into use after 1844, after its adoption by the Royal Navy to replace the term larboard. Airplanes also feature a flashing white light that indicates that the plane is moving. The white light is similar to hydrofoils or hovercraft on water, showing a flickering light, highlighting the high speed that a plane can move at.
The Inaugural Commercial Plane Started Flying in 1914
The first programmed passenger aircraft took to the skies in 1914 on New Year’s Day. It took a 34km route in Florida across Tampa Bay, with the first passenger onboard being Abram C. Pheil, the St Petersburg mayor.
No Seat is the Safest on an Airplane
According to the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), no seat is the safest on the plane. However, some plane accident studies indicate that the central seats at the back of the aircraft had a low fatality rate following a crash.
According to researchers, “the seats in the back third of the aircraft had a 32 percent fatality rate, compared with 39 percent in the middle third and 38 percent in the front third.” Still, many variables make it hard to choose the safest seat to increase your chances of surviving a plane crash. It’s worth mentioning that plane crashes are not common.
Airplane Tires will not Pop Upon Landing
The tires of an aircraft are specially designed to withstand up to 38 tons. They can strike the ground at up to 160 miles per hour over 500 times without requiring retreading. Further, the aircraft tires come with a 200 psi inflation (approximately six times more the pressure used in car tires.) when an aircraft needs a tire change, the ground crew will jack the plane just as is the case in a car.
A Plane does not need Both Engines to Fly
The thought of a plane engine malfunctioning mid-flight can be scary. However, commercial aircraft can fly safely with a single-engine. Running with less engine power reduces the plane’s fuel efficiency and can also affect its range. Still, airplanes have been structured and tested for such conditions, according to experts in the industry.
Long-distance planes, especially those that fly through desolate areas such as the Arctic and over oceans, should have FAA certification for ETOPS (Extended-range Twin Operations). The certification indicates the number of hours the plane can keep on flying with a single engine.
Boeing Dreamliner has an ETOPS-330 accreditation, meaning it will continue flying with one engine for up to 330 minutes. Many airplanes can continue flying long-distance without any engine due to the glide ratio. Following thorough aeronautical engineering, the Boeing 747 can fly for two miles for every 1,000 feet it’s above the ground, which is enough to bring everybody on board to a safe landing.
Which is the Busiest Flight Route Globally?
Before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Jeju-South Korean Seoul flight route was the busiest across the world. There were up to 250 scheduled connections daily in 2018 along this 449kn long route, transporting more than 14 million passengers annually. So popular was the route that passengers could board a plane every 15 minutes.
Why do Passenger Airplanes Feature Round Windows?
After various accidents during the inaugural commercial flying days, the engineers realized that square windows with pointed corners compromised the aircraft’s safety. Round windows, however, can withstand recurring pressure inside the plane.
Why are Ashtrays in the Bathrooms?
The Federation Aviation Administration banned smoking inside an aircraft many years ago. However, frequent travelers know they can find ashtrays at the plane’s lavatories. According to Business Insider, ashtrays are in the bathroom because the plane manufacturers understand that regardless of the numerous no-smoking signs and policies displayed across the plane prominently, a smoker may light up a cigarette inside the aircraft.
In the event of such a violation of policies, they smoke in the confined bathroom area and throw away the cigarette butt inside the ashtray. Remember, throwing the cigarette butt inside the trash can increases its chances of causing a fire. Smoking inside the plane’s bathroom attracts hefty fines.
Why do Planes Leave Trails in the Sky?
The white lines that aircraft leave behind in the sky are condensation trails. They are technically referred to as contrails. Airplane engines release water vapor which is part of the combustion procedure.
When the hot water is pushed out through the exhaust, it strikes the cool upper atmosphere air and generates the swollen white lines in the sky. This idea is the same thing that happens when humans breathe during the cold weather outside.
The realities of supersonic or hypersonic travel in the skies may not become mainstream for some years or decades. Until then the best way to travel fast is private jets which remove the waiting around as well as offer fast flight times. The fastest private jet in the world to date is the Cessna Citation X+. This private jet can compete with some of the fastest commercial planes in operation, partly due to similar technology and engines.