Speed is an essential part of aviation that affects the plane from takeoff to landing. Rather than maintaining a specific speed throughout their flight, aircraft must fly at different speeds depending on where they are in their journey. Furthermore, the speed at which planes are able to fly is dependent on their classifications, engine type, weight at take-off, and aerodynamics. To better understand how planes depend on speed throughout their flight, read on as we discuss the relationship between the speed at which an airplane flies, and other factors such as timing and plane type.
The speed at which a plane flies is dependent on its design and engine type, among other things. For the purposes of looking at how speed changes with the three different phases of flight, we will take the example of an average commercial plane. During take-off, a typical commercial aircraft will fly between 160 and 180 mph (260-290 km/h). The specific speed within this range will depend mostly on the plane’s weight. Once the airplane reaches cruising altitude, it will generally gain in speed to about 880 to 926 km/h (547-575 mph). In order to conserve fuel, most planes fly slower than the maximum speed they are capable of at cruising altitude, usually by about 25%. When approaching the runway for landing, commercial airplanes will usually lower to a speed of between 240 to 265 km/h (150-165 mph). The landing speed also depends on the weight of the plane, as well as the characteristics of the runway's surface, and the plane’s flap settings.
Single-engine, private, and military aircraft all have different speeds compared to commercial airliners because of the way that they are built.
Single-Engine: Most single-engine airplanes have propeller-based or piston engines which limit their airspeed compared to other types of planes. One example of a single-engine airplane is the Beechcraft G36 Bonanza which holds the record for being the longest continuously produced aircraft in history. The Beechcraft Bonanza has a cruising speed of about 203 to 236 mph (326-379 km/h), and the Cessna 172, another common single-engine aircraft, has a cruising speed of 140 mph (226 km/h).
Private: Since private jets are not constrained by the operational logistics of a commercial airliner, nor the cost-cutting policies of airlines, they are able to fly faster than most commercial planes. The average private plane can cruise between 650-960 km/h or 400-600 mph; however, some high-end private jets like the Gulfstream G700 can fly at speeds greater than 1200 km/h or 740 mph.
Military Aircraft: As there are numerous types of military aircraft, their speeds vary greatly. For example, fighter jets are among the fastest types and are able to fly at speeds above 1,195 km/h or 717 mph. Conversely, cargo planes fly at an average speed of 640 km/h or 400 mph.
Commercial planes do not fly at the maximum speed they are capable of at cruising altitude. Rather, the average commercial airliner will cruise using only 75% of its total power. There are two central reasons for this, those being that it promotes cost-savings and avoids technical problems. Moreover, airlines conserve fuel by flying their planes at lower speeds which helps keep maintenance and operating costs lower as most passengers would prefer cheaper tickets over a slightly quicker flight. If planes flew at their full speed, they would only arrive 20 to 30 minutes earlier on average which is not enough of a difference to account for the higher price. While commercial aircraft are capable of safely flying at their top speeds, it can make it harder for crew members to use onboard instruments. Flying at lower speeds also helps reduce maintenance-related damage to an aircraft because there is less air resistance to cause wear. More than that, flying at higher speeds would require more power, especially because most engines are built to work most efficiently at lower speeds.
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