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How Far Can Airplanes Fly?

Everyone loves a plane with a lot of range. Here are some of the most remarkable ones ever.

How Far Can Airplanes Fly?

At first look, aircraft range seems to be simple: It’s merely the total distance an aircraft can fly between takeoff and landing. 

In fact, many of us probably don’t think too much about it beyond preflight planning to ensure that we have enough fuel to make it to the next fuel—or hamburger—stop with the appropriate reserves. 

Range matters to pilots of different planes in different ways. The range of a B-52 is clearly a different animal than that of a 152, and over the course of aviation history, designers and tinkerers alike have come up with ways to increase an aircraft’s range while still being mindful of the weight penalties added fuel imposes but staying fully aware of the safety and utility advantages of flying that much farther down the road. 

Maximum range speed: Usually slightly more than best glide (L/Dmax )

Range extenders: Reduced power setting/fuel burn, drop tanks, in-flight refueling, tailwinds

Airliner with longest range: Airbus A350-900ULR, range 9,700 nm

Business jet with longest range: Boeing Business Jet 777X, range 11,645 nm

World War II range champ: North American P-51D Mustang, 1,434 nm with external tanks 

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P-51 mission: World War II fighter escort

P-51 game-changing range: Made strategic bombing of Germany possible 

Lockheed P-38L Lightning: 1,100 nm; ferry range, 2,900 nm

P-38 mission: World War II fighter, bomber and reconnaissance 

Reconnaissance queen: Lockheed U2 Dragon Lady, 6,090 nm

U2 mission: Cold War reconnaissance

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Fastest long-range aircraft: Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, 2,000 nm (without refueling); ferry range: 2,824 nm

SR-71 mission: Reconnaissance and research platform

Longest-range World War II bomber: Convair B-32 Dominator, range 3,300 nm

Boeing B-29 Superfortress range: 2,820 nm

Electric aircraft range: Limited by current battery technology, approximately 1/15 of fossil fuel aircraft 

Advantage: No weight change to consider

Emerging electric business jet: Eviation Alice, range of 440 nm

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Certificated Pipistrel (Textron) Alpha Electro, trainer: 75 nm

Longest helicopter range: Lockheed AH-56A Cheyenne, range 1,063 nm

Lightweight champ: Robinson R22, 250 nm

Spirit of St. Louis range: 3,600 nm

Range of 1903 Wright Flyer: 852 feet

The 1904 Wright Flyer II: 4.3 nm

Unrefueled distance record: Scaled Composites Model 311 Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer, 19,000 nm

Most-produced typical range: Cessna 172, 640 nm

Early flyer range: J3C-65 Cub, 191 nm

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