Why the Piloted Flight Speed Record Hasn’t Been Broken in 50 Years

This week marked the 50th anniversary of the fastest ever piloted aircraft flight, when Major William J. “Pete” Knight brought the rocket-powered X-15 A-2 to a speed of 4,520 miles per hour—over six times the speed of sound—in October 1967. This is distinct from the air speed record, because this record necessitates a pilot. The X-43A jet has since reached speeds of 7,310 miles per hour, setting the air speed record in 2005, but the aircraft is unmanned. The famed SR-71 represents the fastest piloted jet flight since Knight’s famous hypersonic flight half a century ago, though it never even reached 2,000 miles per hour

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