8 Different Types of Planes: From Supersonic to Ultralights

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8 Different Types of Planes: From Supersonic to Ultralights

Key Points

  • Supersonic jets are capable of flying faster than the speed of sound, with the Concorde reaching top speeds of over Mach 2.
  • Supersonic jets are primarily used for research and military purposes, with plans for supersonic commercial aviation to make a comeback.
  • Commercial airliners, such as the Boeing 737 and Airbus A380, have revolutionized global transportation and offer luxury amenities for long-haul flights.
  • Ultralight planes prioritize flight enjoyment over distance or speed, with popular models like the Aerolite 103 and Pipistrel Virus SW offering affordable and accessible flight experiences.

The aviation world boasts a wide array of planes, each with distinct features and functions. For many, mentioning airplanes conjures mental images of airports, passengers, customs, and vacations. Yet, there are numerous types of aircraft made for specific purposes that might be unknown to the general public.

But don’t take off just yet! Strap in for a journey with us through the varied and captivating world of aircraft. We’ll explore eight different types of planes ranging from supersonic to commercial to ultralight. Dive into their attributes, history, and varied uses right here!

There are several aircraft types, but the vast majority can be grouped into three broad categories. Let’s break them down below!

Supersonic Jets

Supersonic jets are truly marvels of aviation engineering. As the name suggests, supersonic aircraft are capable of supersonic flight, which means they can fly faster than the speed of sound. This is roughly 767 miles per hour at sea level. 

Despite sounding like science fiction, some of these jets can reach speeds twice or even more than the speed of sound. Among them is the legendary Concorde, one of the rare supersonic jets used as an airliner. It could reach top speeds of over Mach 2 — close to 1,354 miles per hour.

Supersonic jets have been primarily used for research and military purposes. The first aircraft to achieve supersonic flight was the experimental American Bell X-1 in 1945. This plane was powered by a 6,000-pound thrust rocket fueled by liquid oxygen and ethyl alcohol. Aviation research during World War II laid the groundwork for the Bell X-1 and the following models to be created.

Achieving such blistering speeds requires highly specialized design and engineering. Supersonic aircraft require incredibly powerful jet engines and bodies appropriately shaped to be as aerodynamically streamlined as possible. Despite their incredible capabilities, supersonic jets are primarily used in specialized roles. Military forces across the globe deploy them for their rapid response in conflicts.

Supersonic planes stopped transporting passengers in 2000 after a Concorde crashed during takeoff, claiming the lives of over a hundred passengers and crew members. Nevertheless, supersonic commercial aviation is going to make a comeback. American Airlines announced the purchase of 20 Overture devices from Boom Supersonic, expected to be fully working by 2029.


Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II

This model is a fifth-generation, single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth multi-role fighter jet. It offers speed, agility, and precision for various military operations, including ground attacks and maintaining air superiority.

Its development can be traced back to 1993 when the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency founded the Joint Strike Fighter project. This program aimed to manufacture three aircraft variants that would share 80% of the common parts. This lengthy testing and development process ended in 2006, with the United States Air Force officially announcing the F-35’s name as Lightning II. 

The aircraft was deployed on military missions due to its ability to be undetectable by enemy radar. Capable of achieving a top speed of Mach 1.6, it is utilized by numerous air forces worldwide. These include those of the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Israel, among others.

supersonic planes
The F-35 Lightning II is able to provide electronic warfare and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities.


Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit

This model is also known as the Stealth Bomber. This supersonic jet is a strategic bomber outfitted with advanced stealth technology made for getting through strong anti-aircraft defenses. 

The project stirred drama in the U.S. Congress due to its immense construction and operation costs. Indeed, the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit is the most expensive aircraft ever produced, with a production cost averaging 929 million dollars per unit.

This jet can deploy both conventional and thermonuclear weapons. It was originally designed in the eighties for Cold War operational scenarios. Later on, it was repurposed to serve in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Northrop B-2 Spirit supersonic plane
The Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit is also known as the Stealth Bomber.

©Mike Mareen/Shutterstock.com

Boom Supersonic Overture

On the civilian side, the Boom Supersonic Overture has sparked significant interest in the industry. Many view it as the future of commercial supersonic travel.

Although it is still under development, the Boom Supersonic Overture will accommodate between 65 and 80 passengers and reach cruise speeds of up to Mach 1.7. The Overture is also gonna be the first large commercial aircraft with net-zero carbon emissions from day one, optimized to operate with 100% sustainable aviation fuel.

The potential of this model is quite compelling. Company experts have stated that over 600 profitable flight routes could be traversed in half the time it takes a regular commercial airliner. For instance, a flight from New York to London could be covered in a time frame of 3 hours and 30 minutes.

Boom supersonic overture plane
The Boom Supersonic Overture is still under development.

©T. Schneider/Shutterstock.com

Commercial Airliners

Commercial airliners are what most of us think of when it comes to air travel. These planes are primarily designed to transport passengers in the most comfortable and efficient way possible. Airlines typically operate this type of aircraft.

You can trace back the birth of these planes to the Wright Brothers. They accomplished the first flight of an aircraft, now known as the Wright Flyer, in 1903. In 1913, Russian scientists developed the Ilya Muromets, the first large plane with many engines. Although it flew with 16 passengers on board during its demonstration flight, it was later adapted into a bomber aircraft due to the outbreak of World War I.

Over the years, these planes have changed global transportation and, in a way, made our world smaller. Advancements kept coming, and with them came the creation of various types of planes. 

Small, Medium, and Big Airliners

At the smaller end of the spectrum, regional jets like the Embraer E175 can carry about 80 passengers over short distances, making them especially useful for linking smaller towns and cities to major airline hubs.

In the mid-range, there are airliners such as the Boeing 737 or the Airbus A320, which can carry between 150 and 200 passengers. These planes are versatile enough for short to medium-range flights. They are a common sight in airports around the world and are popular due to their balance of capacity, range, and cost-efficiency.

At the other end of the scale, we have wide-bodied titans like the Boeing 747 or the Airbus A380. These can seat over 800 people in a high-density configuration! These planes were designed for long-haul flights and feature luxury amenities such as sleeper suites, bars, and in-flight entertainment systems to ensure passenger comfort on long trips.

Despite all these airliners being engineered to prioritize passenger safety and comfort, they are by no means slow. Most commercial airliners cruise at speeds of approximately 500–600 miles per hour. Talk about luxury!


Boeing 737

Unveiled in the late 1960s, the Boeing 737 swiftly became a cornerstone of the commercial aviation industry. It is a plane lauded for its adaptability and dependability. Also, it is the turbofan passenger aircraft with the highest number of units sold since planes have existed!

In 2011, the introduction of the Boeing 737 MAX supplanted its ten predecessors, featuring much more power and exceptional engine efficiency. It can carry up to 220 passengers and has a flight range of up to 7 hours. Its speed reaches 522 miles per hour, and it is the most used model for domestic flights in the United States.

This model embodies the essence of modern aviation, captivating all who embark on its wings.

The Boeing 737 aircraft can carry up to 220 passengers.

©public domain – License

Airbus A380

Currently, the Airbus A380 is the world’s largest passenger aircraft. It can carry up to 853 passengers in a dense economy-class layout. This plane is so massive you can seriously get lost on the way to the bathroom!

Initial studies for the development of the Airbus A380 began in 1988, but the program didn’t kick off until 2000. Following several delays due to technical problems, the A380 completed its first commercial flight in 2007.

Its double deck extends along the entire fuselage, providing almost 50% more space than the Boeing 747. The Airbus A380 can reach a maximum speed of 560 miles per hour and can cover up to 6,462 miles. This allows it to handle long routes such as Mexico City-Paris or Madrid-Perth — one of the longest.

most expensive planes
After Emirates reduced its last order in February 2019, Airbus announced that A380 production would end in 2021.


Boeing 787 Dreamliner

This Boeing model boasts some of the latest breakthroughs in aviation technology. It is a long-haul, wide-body airliner with a composite structure and efficient engines, offering unparalleled fuel efficiency. Hence, the Boeing 787 is a popular choice for airlines operating long flights.

This aircraft type also focuses on passenger comfort and includes large windows and huge cabins. Depending on the model, it can carry between 217 and 323 passengers and cover up to 9,788 miles.

During the 1990s, Boeing started investigating the development of various plane models featuring innovative technologies. Initially, the company planned to create an aircraft named Sonic Cruiser that would be faster and more fuel-efficient. Although this program was canceled in 2002, Boeing decided to use the technology developed in that project for the Boeing 787. Its first flight took place in 2009.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner
The Boeing 787 Dreamliner can fly up to 9,788 miles.


Ultralight Planes

Now we leave the realm of air travel titans and come across ultralights. These compact, lightweight aircraft provide a unique flying experience, prioritizing flight enjoyment over distance or speed. Generally, ultralight aircraft are designed to carry one or two people.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) stipulates that an ultralight aircraft should have a maximum weight of 254 pounds and not be capable of speeds over 63 miles per hour at full throttle. However, these requirements differ from one country to another.

This aircraft category emerged in the early 1980s with the rise of the hang gliding movement. Many people were seeking cheap powered flights. This prompted different aviation authorities to establish definitions for slow, light planes subject to minimal regulations.

Nonetheless, the invention of ultralight aircraft traces back to 1922, when British and French gliding enthusiasts trialed gliders powered by small engines. In 1975, John K. Moody fitted a 12½ horsepower engine onto his Icarus II hang glider. This marked the birth of a new aircraft type for thousands of aviation enthusiasts.

These little flying wonders are like the go-karts of the industry, making up a lot of the total global aircraft owned by private individuals. Given their modest specifications, many people use them recreationally. 

Ultralights are also usually easy to pilot and cheap to buy and maintain, making them quite popular among aviation beginners. Thanks to these planes, enthusiasts can experience the joy of flight without requiring long training or costly equipment.


Aerolite 103

This model embodies the essentials of the ultralight philosophy: affordable, accessible, and enjoyable flight experiences. It is a single-seat, propeller-driven plane designed for ease of use and simplicity. Owing to its lightweight construction and efficient design, it can deliver superb performance at low operating costs.

It was designed in 1997 specifically to comply with the Federal Aviation Administration’s FAR 103 ultralight rules, hence the model number. Its production ended in 2005 when the manufacturing company went out of business. However, the original designer bought the rights, and in 2013 production resumed.

The Aerolite 103 can reach a maximum speed of 70 miles per hour and has a range of up to 120 miles.

Aerolite 103 plane aircraft
The Aerolite 103 is a single-seat, propeller-driven plane.

©FlugKerl2 / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license – License

Pipistrel Virus SW

The Pipistrel Virus SW is the only type of virus you’ll actually want to catch. It is an ultralight aircraft recognized for its speed, fuel efficiency, and high-quality build.

The SW model comes in multiple versions. Some, like the SW 100, can reach a cruising speed of 170 miles per hour and possess a flight endurance of up to 7 hours.

Since its production began in 1999, the Pipistrel Virus SW has incorporated advanced features over time. Some of these include an autopilot system, a touchscreen, and a haptic stall warning system, among other equipment.

Interestingly, the Pipistrel Virus SW has received NASA’s Personal Air Vehicle (PAV) and General Aviation Technology Challenge (GAT) awards due to the quality and efficiency of its build.

Pipistrel Virus SW
The Pipistrel Virus SW is known for its speed and fuel efficiency.

©Ryan Fletcher/Shutterstock.com

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the fastest commercial airliner?

The Concorde was the fastest commercial airliner, reaching top speeds of 1,354 mph (Mach 2.04). However, since its retirement in 2003, the fastest operational commercial aircraft is currently the Boeing 747-8i. This model has a cruising speed of 660 mph (Mach 0.86).

Can anyone fly an ultralight?

In many countries, including the United States, you don’t need any license or certification to fly an ultralight aircraft. However, it is highly recommended to undertake professional training or classes before using one for safety reasons.

What safety considerations are important for flying ultralights?

Despite not requiring a license, it’s crucial to understand several safety aspects before flying an ultralight. These include understanding the aircraft’s limitations, being aware of weather conditions, and avoiding overloading the ultralight.

Why aren't all jets supersonic?

While supersonic jets have incredible advantages, they are significantly expensive to operate and build. Additionally, they consume fuel at a much higher rate compared to subsonic aircraft.

What are the environmental impacts of supersonic jets?

Supersonic jets have considerably higher carbon emissions than subsonic aircraft due to their high fuel consumption. Additionally, their sonic boom can negatively affect wildlife.

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