Historic trends in flight airspeed records

Flight airspeed records between 1903 and 1976 contained one greater than 10-year discontinuity: a 19-year discontinuity corresponding to the Fairey Delta 2 flight in 1956.

The average annual growth in flight airspeed markedly increased with the Fairey Delta 2, from 16mph/year to 129mph/year.

Details

This case study is part of AI Impacts’ discontinuous progress investigation.

Background

Flight airspeed records are measured relative to particular classes of aircraft, with official rules defined by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI). is “the highest airspeed attained by any aircraft of a particular class”.1

Trends

Flight airspeed records

Data

We took data from Wikipedia’s list of flight airspeed records2 (which we have not verified) and added it to this spreadsheet. We understand it to be fastest records across all classes of manned aircraft that are able to take off under their own power, but it is not well explained on the page. We included only official airspeed records. See Figure 1 below.

Figure 1: Flight airspeed records over time
Discontinuity measurement

We treat the data as linear, and once deem it to have begun a new trend, for the purpose of determining the past rate of progress. 3 We calculate the size of discontinuities in this spreadsheet.4 In 1956, there was a 19-year discontinuity in flight airspeed records with the Fairey Delta 2 flight.

We tabulated a number of other related metrics here.5

Figure 2: Fairey Delta 26, whose 1956 record represented a 19 year discontinuity.
Change in the growth rate

The average annual growth in flight airspeed markedly increased at around the time of the Fairey Delta 2. Airspeed records grew by an average of 16mph/year up until the one before Fairey Delta 2, whereas from that point until 1965 they grew by an average of 129mph/year.7

Notes

  1. “An air speed record is the highest airspeed attained by an aircraft of a particular class. The rules for all official aviation records are defined by Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI),[1] which also ratifies any claims. Speed records are divided into multiple classes with sub-divisions. There are three classes of aircraft: landplanes, seaplanes, and amphibians; then within these classes, there are records for aircraft in a number of weight categories. There are still further subdivisions for piston-engined, turbojet, turboprop, and rocket-engined aircraft. Within each of these groups, records are defined for speed over a straight course and for closed circuits of various sizes carrying various payloads.” “Flight Airspeed Record”. 2019. En.Wikipedia.Org. Accessed May 25 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flight_airspeed_record.
  2. “Flight Airspeed Record”. 2019. En.Wikipedia.Org. Accessed May 25 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flight_airspeed_record.
  3. See our methodology page for more details.
  4. See our methodology page for details.
  5. See our methodology page for more details.
  6. From Wikimedia Commons: Roland Turner from Birmingham, Great Britain [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]
  7. See spreadsheet for calculations.