Ask the Captain: Reader questions about the SR-71

Question: How high can a plane fly?

– submitted by reader Manish, Jaipur, India

Answer: It depends on the airplane. Some corporate airplanes can fly up to 51,000 feet. The Concorde flew up to 60,000 feet, and the all-time high flier was the SR-71 which could go over 80,000 feet. Some experimental airplanes flew higher, but they were rocket-powered and did not take off by themselves, so I am excluding them.

Q: How fast can planes go?

– David Swisher, Allegan, Michigan

A: It depends on the airplane. The SR-71 could fly three times the speed of sound (over 2,100 mph).

Q: Do you think any aircraft exceeds the SR-71 as a high performance “extreme” jet (not rocket) aircraft?

– Bill Boyle

A: Not to my knowledge. The SR-71 was in a class by itself. No other airplane could go as high, as fast, for as long. The legendary reconnaissance jet required a large support staff and infrastructure, but nothing could do the same job. In the days before high-resolution satellite imagery, the SR-71 provided images of places no other airplane could have achieved.

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