If you’ve been on a commercial plane, you know the all too familiar feeling of being sucked back into your seat as the jet engines obtain speed on the runway. It seems like it continues on forever leaving you wondering, “How much runway is left? Are we going to crash?!” Then, you feel the small lift of the nose first, shortly after the tail with it. Within seconds you’re thousands of feet in the air.
Every time you experience a lift-off, your curiosity begins to peak. How fast does a plane travel per hour? Most passenger airplanes have a very similar range of speed, while jet engines can fly at higher maximum speeds. Check out the below chart that shows the most common airline passenger planes and their speeds in miles per hour.
|Plane Type||Cruise – Max Speed in Mach||Cruise – Max Speed in MPH|
|Airbus A320||0.78 – 0.82||598 – 629|
|Airbus A330||0.82 – 0.86||629 – 659|
|Airbus A380||0.85 – 0.89||652 – 682|
|Boeing 737-800||0.789 – 0.82||605 – 629|
|Boeing 747-8i||0.855 – 0.9||656 – 690|
|Boeing 777-300ER||0.84 – 0.89||644 – 682|
|Bombardier CRJ-700||0.78 – 0.825||598 – 633|
|Embraer EMB-190||0.78 – 0.82||598 – 629|
Yet, these numbers are not always exact as there are many other factors at play that might attribute to the speed of an airplane. Additionally, planes take off and land at different speeds than when they are in the air. Let’s go over all of these points, so you have a better understanding of plane speed.
How Fast Does a Plane Travel per Hour – Don’t You Just Want to Know!?
The most common cruising speed of a passenger aircraft is about 547-575mph. Yet as you might already know, this isn’t the speed of the plane at takeoff or landing, and the plane speed is set to fluctuate depending on a multitude of extenuating factors.
When you think of something traveling in “miles per hour,” you think of a car with wheels. It’s confusing to understand how an aircraft can adjust or maintain a specific speed by utilizing air instead of tires.
Understanding The Forces Of Flight
To understand how an airplane flys at certain speeds, we first need to look at the forces surrounding the airplane along with its design to interact with those forces.
The four forces of flight:
Think of lift and weight as opposite forces directly working against each other. Almost all parts of the airplane generate some type of lift force when in motion, however, the wings are where the majority of the lift generates. How does lift generate? In simple terms, lift generates by utilizing the difference in velocity between the airplane itself and the surrounding air.
Since I’m not aerodynamics expert myself, and I have limited knowledge surrounding the powerful equations behind relative velocity, here’s a link to a great explanation from NASA.
Thrust and drag, which are much easier concepts for most to grasp, also work directly against each other. Thrust is created by the propulsion forward that is made by the jet engines and the propellers of the plane. Drag is the reaction of the surrounding air when it comes into contact with the airplane while it is being propelled forward.
This is why the complete design of the airplane is important in regards to the nose, body, wings, and tail. The surface of the plan should be designed to have optimal performance and create the least amount of drag possible for the plane to reach the required speeds.
How Wind Speed Can Affect Airplane Speed
You see, it’s not as simple as getting a plane lifted into the air and on its way. As you probably guessed it by the title of this section, some math has to be done around the wind speed and direction that the plane will interfere with.
Simply put, whatever direction and speed the wind is going in, will alter the course of the plane and the pilot will have to compensate in order for the plane to not stray from the intended path.
Let’s say the wind speed is going 10mph south and a plane is headed east at 100mph. After an hour, the plane may have traveled 100 miles east, but if the pilot did not compensate for the 10mph south wind speed, the plane will also be 10 miles south of the intended destination, taking the plane off course.
When wind speed is moving in the opposite direction of the plane, it will directly affect the plane’s speed. Let’s say a plane is moving 100mph east, but the wind speed is going 10mph west. Now the plane and the wind are directly working against each other. If the pilot doesn’t compensate, after an hour instead of reaching a distance of 100 miles, the pilot will only have reached 90 miles.
In this case, if the pilot needed to reach a distance of 100 miles in an hour, he should have noted the wind speed, and altered his speed to 110mph to compensate. On the other hand if a plane is traveling with the speed and direction of the wind, the plane might arrive at its destination much sooner than expected.
How Fast Are Planes Going During Takeoff?
It’s hard to believe that during takeoff you’re going 570 plus miles per hour down the runway. Yet, you wouldn’t be wrong to not believe it because you are actually going much slower than that. During take-off, planes can be going a multitude of speeds. These speeds depend entirely on the weight of the plane and the lift devices that are being used to achieve take-off.
Here’s an example table with the common types of passenger aircraft and what speed you could expect depending on a set weight during take-off.
|Type of Aircraft||Estimated Weight During Take-off||Typical Takeoff Speed|
|Boeing 737||100k pounds||150mph|
|Boeing 757||240k pounds||160mph|
|Boeing 747||800k pounds||170mph|
|Airbus A320||155k pounds||180mph|
|Airbus A340||571k pounds||180mph|
150mph seems surprisingly low for take-off, right? There are several equations that go into determining the necessary takeoff speed. Figuring out the take-off speed means considering these factors:
- Runway Distance
- Stall Speed
- Rotation Speed
How Fast Are Planes Going During Landing?
When a plane lands it is typically going around the same speed as when it took off. Somewhere between 150-200 miles per hour. What many might be wondering though, is how does a plane actually slow down during dessent to get down to those speeds?
Here are the methods used to slow down an aircraft as it’s descending.
- Have you noticed those rectangular flaps located on the top of the wings that pop-up before landing? Sometimes they might send you into a panic, “Is the plane breaking?!” It’s really not though, there’s a reason for those flaps popping up and they are called Spoilers.
Spoilers help reduce the lift of the aircraft which plays into reducing the speed. Once the plane lands additional spoilers pop up and extend out even further to create greater drag slowing the plane down significantly on the runway.
- Earlier in this post, we talked about the airplanes propellers and engines, creating thrust in order to achieve speed. Well, just like releasing your foot from the accelerator in a vehicle to slow the car down, the pilot will reduce the thrust that the engines are outputting. This allows the drag to overtake the thrust, and slow the airplane down.
When this happens, since all four forces of flight work together simultaneously, you also lose lift and altitude. This explains the continuous dips you feel during the descent that makes you feel like you are falling. If you’re like me these dips give you an uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach because let’s face it; airplanes are scary.
- What may seem to be counter intuitive but actually works, is the pilot will lift the nose of the airplane to reduce speed. Lifting the nose of the aircraft to exactly 3.5 degrees significantly increases the drag underneath the aircraft.
The Fastest Plane On Earth
Would you be surprised that the fastest aircraft on earth was designed for the military? Probably not. What might be surprising though is how fast it can actually go. The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird currently holds the record for the fastest manned aircraft. It can travel at speeds of up to 2,193.2 mph.
What was the purpose of this plane exactly, and why does it have to go so fast? The reasoning for designing such a fast aircraft was to create a method for outflying and intercepting surface-to-air missiles.