The Fastest Fighter Jet in History: The NASA X-43

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The X-43, an experimental aircraft, holds the distinction of being not only the fastest fighter jet but the fastest aircraft ever built period, having achieved a top speed of Mach 9.6.

As part of a $230 million Hyper-X program, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) developed the X-43 to explore hypersonic flight. In doing so, the U.S. agency shattered speed records and pushed the limits of aerospace engineering.

Technical Difficulties

Because of the X-43’s design, NASA had to release it from a B-52 for it to fly. Once airborne, however, the flights were short-lived.

NASA destroyed the first jet in 2001 when it malfunctioned during a test. In 2004, each of the remaining two jets flew for just 10 seconds (achieving Mach 6.8 and then Mach 9.6, respectively) during test flights, then crashed into the ocean after 10 minutes of gliding.

Technically Disqualified?

Some argue the X-43 doesn’t count as a fighter jet, given it was an experimental, unmanned aircraft focused on speed rather than dogfighting.

However, given the project’s federal backing and the military implications of what it achieved, others consider this supersonic aircraft to be the fastest fighter jet of all time.

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