The need for speed has been an inherent desire of humanity ever since the first ever powered flight. Aviation companies in both the military and civilian sectors have always sought to push the envelope. Whether you’re a noted aviation history buff or a novice to the skies, there is always something new to learn. Let’s take a closer look at six aircraft manufacturers that have developed supersonic aircraft.
What Is a Supersonic Aircraft?
So, what exactly does it mean for an aircraft to be supersonic? For an aircraft to be supersonic, it has to be capable of breaking the sound barrier. The speed of sound itself is 761.2 miles per hour, so any aircraft that can exceed that is supersonic.
Chuck Yeager has the honor of being the first pilot to break the sound barrier. His flight in 1947 changed the landscape of aviation forever. This was a huge departure from the turboprop aircraft of previous years.
Just two short years prior saw the end of the Second World War, where propeller-driven aircraft dominated the sky. Since then, jets have grown faster and faster. This article will cover some of the noteworthy examples.
Being one of the premiere American aviation manufacturers, it comes as little surprise that Boeing makes supersonic aircraft. Of particular note from Boeing is the F/A-18E Super Hornet, a multi-role fighter jet that serves as the backbone of the United States Navy’s air corps.
The US Navy’s latest fighter jet is capable of Mach 1.6 and is capable of carrying up to 66,000 pounds at take-off. Boeing also ships these fighters to American allies in Kuwait and Australia, providing both countries with a modern airframe.
Boeing has a rather long history in American aviation, and nothing speaks more highly of it than its involvement in both the private and military sectors.
Dassault is one of the oldest aviation manufacturers in Europe. The manufacturer is based in France. As such, it comes as little surprise that it serves as the main provider of supersonic capable airframes to the French military.
One such aircraft is the Mirage 2000, a two-seater multi-role fighter jet. It’s capable of surpassing Mach 2. The Mirage 2000 was a massive success for Dassault, who first introduced the aircraft in 1976.
Dassault has exported aircraft to Brazil, the UAE, Egypt, Greece, and many other countries. In a move somewhat uncommon for many countries in the European Union, France still uses home-grown aircraft as the basis of their air corps.
Dassault itself has a long history of providing aircraft to the French armed services. This long history stretches back to the days of the First World War, making it one of the oldest manufacturers on this list.
4. General Dynamics
General Dynamics is a massive American corporation servicing both the military and civilian sectors. If you have even a passing familiarity with military avionics, then General Dynamics has a relatively famous showing.
General Dynamics manufactures and services the F-16 Fighting Falcon. The F-16 is one of the core supersonic fighters in the United States Air Force. Capable of hitting speeds of up to Mach 1.9, this versatile airframe has seen constant use since its introduction in the 1970s.
It has proven to be a popular export not solely relegated to American usage. The Fighting Falcon is still in active production and is one of the most notable examples of a fly-by-wire aircraft. This method of control allows for greater maneuverability, which can be crucial when piloting a supersonic jet.
Lockheed-Martin is a name still synonymous with providing cutting-edge aviation technology. They hold the distinction of creating one of the fastest production aircraft ever made. Aviation buffs are likely aware of the SR-71 Blackbird as it’s a marvel of engineering.
The SR-71 was built for the purpose of espionage and replaced the U2 in American inventories. It is very much a product of its era and is meant to soar at altitudes of 78,000 feet. It was also intended to cruise at supersonic speeds the whole time.
The SR-71 remains a favorite for aviation buffs but is far from the only supersonic offering made by Lockheed-Martin. The storied aircraft manufacturer has been making great strides in revisiting supersonic aircraft intended for civilian use.
2. McDonnell Douglas
McDonnell Douglas is no longer in operation. The aircraft manufacturer became a part of Boeing in the mid-1990s. The merger has since solidified Boeing as the giant it is today. When it was still in operation as an independent entity, McDonnell Douglas was responsible for a number of supersonic aircraft fielded by the American military.
One famous example is the F-15, the undisputed interceptor in American inventories for decades. The F-15 still sees active use in American inventories, but servicing has been taken over by Boeing entirely.
The F-15 is a remarkable aircraft, capable of climbing 10,000 feet vertically in a matter of seconds. It is also capable of cruising speeds of Mach 2. It isn’t quite the undisputed champion of interception since the introduction of the F-22 Raptor. However, it still sees active use today.
Saab is possibly one of the more surprising inclusions on this list. The manufacturer has more renown internationally for the development and sale of their automobile line. Make no mistake, however, they are one of the driving forces behind aviation development in Europe. Their flagship military jet, the Gripen series, is capable of Mach 2 and is on the cutting edge of technology.
Saab has a long history in aviation. The Gripen is the latest in their series of aircraft and is capable of some incredible stuff. Saab’s latest fighter carries AESA radar, which provides far more coverage than previous radar types.
Also included is an AI suite, which helps pilots make quick decisions in the heat of the moment without having to fumble with controls. It is also a modular platform, capable of adapting to any mission.
Cleared for Take Off
Supersonic flight is an area with active development to this very day. It is by no means a solved field, as engineers and scientists alike work on reducing the noise and impact of a sonic boom. Nevertheless, these six companies are among many manufacturing military aircraft capable of supersonic flight.
There have also been some exciting developments in supersonic flight for the civilian market. This is an area that has had development cease for a number of years since the final flight of the Concorde. Hopefully, the future sees even more exciting developments arise for aviation in all sectors.
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