Aviation has come a long way since the intrepid Wright brothers made the first powered and sustained heavier-than-air flight in 1903. More than a century has passed since that fateful morning in Kitty Hawk, N.C., and since then, engineers have created planes that can fly higher and faster than Wilbur and Orville Wright likely ever imagined.
Here are 3 of the fastest military airplanes.
3) Lockheed YF-12
The Lockheed YF-12 was a prototype aircraft developed by the Lockheed Corporation in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The massive two-person plane was built to intercept enemy aircraft at Mach 3 speeds.
Testing of the YF-12 was completed over Area 51, the U.S. Air Force's top-secret test and training range, located in a remote part of southern Nevada. Many of the YF-12 flights were used to hide the identity of the Lockheed A-12 reconnaissance aircraft, which was being tested at the same time for the CIA.
The YF-12 made its first flight in 1963, and had a reported top speed of Mach 3.2 (2,070 mph, or 3,330 km/h) at an altitude of 80,000 feet (24,400 m). The U.S. Air Force eventually cancelled the program, but the YF-12 made a number of research flights for the Air Force and NASA until 1978.
2) SR-71 Blackbird
The SR-71 Blackbird was an advanced Cold War-era reconnaissance aircraft developed by Lockheed in the 1960s. The program was known as a "black project," which meant it was highly classified. The twin-engine, two-seater aircraft was capable of outracing potential threats during reconnaissance missions, including being able to accelerate and out-fly surface-to-air missiles if it was detected.
The SR-71 Blackbird could accelerate to Mach 3.3 (more than 2,200 mph, or 3,540 km/h) at an altitude of 80,000 feet (24,400 m). The SR-71 made its first flight in December 1964, and was flown by the U.S. Air Force from 1964 to 1998. The Blackbird's performance and achievements cemented the plane as one of the greatest triumphs in aviation technology during the Cold War.
The rocket-powered X-15 was part of a fleet of X-plane experimental aircraft operated jointly by NASA and the U.S. Air Force. In the early 1960s, the X-15 set a number of speed and altitude records, reaching the edge of space (an altitude of more than 62 miles or 100 kilometers) on two separate occasions in 1963.
Currently, the X-15 still holds the official world record for the fastest speed ever reached by a manned aircraft: Mach 6.72, which is 6.72 times the speed of sound, or 4,520 mph (7,274 km/h).
The X-15 was retired in 1970, but the program featured many notable NASA and Air Force test pilots, including Neil Armstrong, the man who would go on to become the first person to step foot on the moon.
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