Flight altitude record

Flight altitude record

These are the records set for going the highest in the atmosphere from the age of ballooning onward. Some records are certified by Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.


Fixed-wing aircraft

Year Date Altitude Person Aircraft Power Notes
 imperial   metric  
1903 December 17 10 ft 3 m Wilbur Wright, Orville Wright Wright Flyer propeller Photographed and witnessed unofficially.
1906 October 23 10 ft 3 m Alberto Santos-Dumont 14-bis propeller First officially witnessed and certified flight.
1906 November 12 13 ft 4 m Alberto Santos-Dumont 14-bis propeller
1908 December 18 360 ft 110 m Wilbur Wright Biplane propeller at Auovors
1909 July 492 ft 150 m Louis Paulhan Farman propeller Douai Air Show
1909 3,018 ft 920 m Louis Paulhan Farman propeller Lyon
1910 January 9 4,164 ft 1,269 m Louis Paulhan Farman propeller Los Angeles air meet[1]
1910 June 17 4,603 ft 1,403 m Walter Brookins Wright biplane propeller [2]
1910 October 30 8,471 ft 2,582 m Ralph Johnstone Wright biplane propeller International Aviation Tournament was at the Belmont Park race track in Elmont, New York[3]
1915 January 5 11,950 ft 3,640 m Joseph Eugene Carberry  ? propeller [4]
1920 February 27 33,113 ft 10,093 m Major Rudolf Schroeder LUSAC-11 propeller [5][6]
1921 September 18 34,508 ft 10,518 m Lieutenant John Arthur Macready LUSAC-11 propeller [7]
1930 June 4 43,168 ft 13,158 m Lieutenant Apollo Soucek, USN Wright Apache propeller [8]
1932 September 16 43,976 ft 13,404 m Cyril Unwins Vickers Vespa propeller [9]
1933 September 28 44,819 ft 13,661 m Gustave Lemoine Potez 50 propeller [10]
1934 April 11 47,354 ft 14,433 m Renato Donati Caproni Ca.113 propeller [11][12]
1936 September 28 49,967 ft 15,230 m Squadron Leader Francis Ronald Swain Bristol Type 138 propeller [13]
1938 June 30 53,937 ft 16,440 m M. J. Adam Bristol Type 138 propeller [13]
1938 October 22 56,850 ft 17,330 m Lieutenant Colonel Mario Pezzi Caproni Ca.161 manned propeller record to date [14]
1953 May 4 63,668 ft 19,406 m Walter Frame Gibb English Electric Canberra B.2 Turbojet fitted with two Rolls-Royce Olympus engines.[15]
1953 Dec 12 74,200 ft 22,600 m Charles Elwood "Chuck" Yeager Bell X-1A Payload Deployed Rocket Plane Powered by the XLR-11 liquid fuel rocket engine. [16]
1955 August 29 65,876 ft 20,079 m Walter Frame Gibb English Electric Canberra B.2 Turbojet Olympus powered.[17]
1957 August 28 70,310 ft 21,430 m Mike Randrup English Electric Canberra B.2 Turbojet/rocket with Scorpion Rocket Motor
1960 December 13 91,419 ft 27,865 m Commander Leroy Heath as pilot and Lieutenant Larry Monroe as bombardier and navigator North American Aviation A-5 Vigilante Turbojet
1962 July 17 59.6 mi 95.9 km Robert Michael White X-15 rocket
1963 July 19 65.8 mi 105.9 km Joseph Albert Walker X-15 rocket
1963 August 22 66.9 mi 107.7 km Joseph Albert Walker X-15 rocket
1973 July 25 108,720 ft 33.14 km A. Fedotov Russian Ye-155 Jet plane record Under Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) classification the Ye-155 type
1977 August 31 123,520 ft 37.65 km A. Fedotov Russian Ye-155 Jet plane record Under Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) classification the Ye-155 type
2001 August 14 96,863 ft 29.524 km Unmanned NASA Helios HP01 propeller solar-electric aircraft — record for non-rocket plane
2004 October 4 69.6 mi 112.0 km Brian Binnie SpaceShipOne rocket plane

Piston-driven propeller aeroplane

The highest altitude obtained by a piston-driven propeller UAV (without payload) is 67,028 ft. It was obtained in 1988-1989 by the Boeing Condor UAV.[18]

The highest altitude obtained in a piston-driven propeller aeroplane (without a payload) was 17,083 m (56,047 ft) on October 22, 1938 by Mario Pezzi at Montecelio, Italy in a Caproni Ca.161 driven by a Piaggio XI R.C. engine.[citation needed]

The highest altitude for horizontal flight without a payload is 14,301 m (46,919 ft) set on November 15, 2003 by Bruce Bohannan flying his Bohannon B-1 driven by a Mattituck/Lycoming IO-540 (350 hp) engine over Angleton, Texas.[citation needed]

Jet plane

The highest current world absolute general aviation altitude record -General Aviation World Records- achieved by a manned air-breathing jet propelled aircraft is 37,650 meters (123,523 feet) set by Alexandr Fedotov, in a Mikoyan Gurevitch E-266M (MiG-25M), on 31 August 1977.

Rocket plane

The highest altitude obtained by a manned aeroplane (launched from another aircraft) is 111,996 m (367,441 ft) by Brian Binnie in the Scaled Composites SpaceShipOne (powered by a Scaled Composite SD-010 engine with 18,000 lb of thrust) on 4 October 2004 at Mojave, CA. The previous (unofficial) record was 107,960 m (354,199 ft) set by Joseph A. Walker in an X-15 on August 22, 1963.

The highest altitude obtained by a rocket propelled aeroplane (self-launched—i.e. not launched from another aircraft) was 24,217 m (79,452 ft) on May 2, 1958 by Roger Carpentier over Istres, France in a Sud-Ouest Trident II aircraft.


On June 21, 1972, Jean Boulet of France piloted an Aérospatiale Lama helicopter to an absolute altitude record of 12,442 meters (40,814 ft).[19] At the extreme altitude the engine flamed out and the helicopter had to be (safely) landed via another record breaker — the longest-ever autorotation in history.[20] The helicopter had been stripped of all unnecessary equipment prior to the flight to minimize its weight and the pilot was breathing supplemental oxygen.

All balloons

(see discussion page for correct altitude values)

  • 1783—August—24 m (79 ft); Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier of France, made the first ascent in a hot-air balloon.
  • 1783—1 December 1783—2.7 km (8,900 ft); Jacques Alexandre Charles and his assistant Marie-Noel Robert, both of France, made the first flight in a hydrogen balloon to about 610 m. Charles then ascended alone to the record altitude.
  • 1784—4 km (13,000 ft) Pilâtre de Rozier and the chemist Joseph Proust in a Montgolfier.
  • 1803—18 July 1803—7.28 km (23,900 ft) Etienne Gaspar Robertson and Lhoest in a balloon.
  • 1839—7.9 km (26,000 ft) Charles Green and Spencer Rush in a free balloon.
  • 1862—5 September 1862—11.887 km (39,000 ft)—Coxwell and Glaisher in a balloon. Both lost consciousness during the ascent due to the low air pressure and cold temperature of −11 °C (12 °F).
  • 1927—4 November 1927—13.222 km (43,380 ft)—Captain Hawthorne C. Gray of the (United States Army Air Corps) in a helium balloon. Gray dies when he exhausts his oxygen.
  • 1931—27 May 1931—15.787 km (51,790 ft)—Auguste Piccard & Paul Kipfer in a hydrogen balloon.
  • 1932—16.2 km (53,000 ft)—Auguste Piccard and Max Cosyns in a hydrogen balloon.
  • 1933 30 September—18.501 km (60,700 ft) USSR balloon USSR-1.
  • 1933—20 November—18.592 km (61,000 ft) Lt. Comdr. Thomas G. W. Settle (USN) and Maj Chester L. Fordney (USMC) in Century of Progress balloon
  • 1934—30 January—21.946 km (72,000 ft) USSR balloon Osoaviakhim-1. Pilots killed in crash.
  • 1935—10 November—22.066 km (72,400 ft) Captain O. A. Anderson and Captain A. W. Stevens (United States Army Air Corps) ascended in the Explorer II gondola from the Stratobowl, near Rapid City, South Dakota, for a flight that last 8 hours 13 minutes and covered 362 kilometres (225 mi).
  • 1956—8 November—23.165 km (76,000 ft) Malcolm D. Ross and M. L. Lewis (United States Navy) in ONR Strato-Lab I, using a pressurized gondola and plastic balloon developed by Winzen Research, taking off near Rapid City, South Dakota, and landing 282 km (175 mi) away near Kennedy, Nebraska.
  • 1957—2 June—29.4997 km (96,784 ft) Captain Joseph W. Kittinger (United States Air Force) ascended in the Manhigh 1 gondola to a record-breaking altitude.
  • 1957—19 November—31.212 km (102,400 ft) above sea level, Major David Simons (United States Air Force) ascended from the Portsmouth Mine near Crosby, Minnesota in the Manhigh 2 gondola for a 32-hour record-breaking flight. Simons landed at 5:32 PM on 20 November, in an alfalfa field in northeast South Dakota.
  • 1960—16 August—Joseph Kittinger parachutes from Excelsior III over New Mexico at 102,800 ft (31,300 m). He sets unbeaten (as of 2010) world records for: high-altitude jump; free-fall by falling 16 miles (26 km) before opening his parachute; and fastest speed by a human without motorized assistance, 614 miles per hour (988 km/h).[21]
  • 1961—4 May—34.668 km (113,740 ft); Commander Malcolm D. Ross and Lieutenant Commander Victor A. Prather, Jr. (US Navy) in Strato-Lab V, using an unpressurized gondola and balloon developed by Winzen Research. After descending, the gondola containing the two balloonists landed in the Gulf of Mexico. A hovering helicopter lowered a rescue hook, and although Ross slipped partially out of it, he was able to recover before falling completely into the water. A few minutes later Prather slipped off the rescue hook into the ocean and drowned in spite of heroic efforts by Navy divers to rescue him.

Hot air balloons

Year Date Altitude Person Aircraft Notes
imperial metric
2004 December 13, 2004 4.1 mi (22,000 ft) 6.614 km (6,614 m) David Hempleman-Adams Boland Rover A-2 Fédération Aéronautique Internationale record for hot air balloon as of 2007
1783 15 October 1783 0.016 mi (84 ft) 0.026 km (26 m) Pilâtre de Rozier Montgolfier tethered balloon

On November 26, 2005, Vijaypat Singhania set the world altitude record for highest hot air balloon flight, reaching 21,290 m (69,850 ft). He took off from downtown Bombay, India and landed 240 km (150 mi) south in Panchale. The previous record of 19,811 m (64,997 ft) had been set by Per Lindstrand on June 6, 1988 in Plano, Texas.[citation needed]

Unmanned gas balloon

In 1893 French scientist Jules Richard constructed sounding balloons. These unmanned balloons, carrying light, but very precise instruments, approached an altitude of 50,000 feet (15,240 meters).[22]

The U.S. (and for a while, the world) altitude record for unmanned balloons was 51.8 km (170,000 ft) (according to a 1991 edition of Guinness Book of World Records). The vehicle was a Winzen-Balloon with a volume of 1.35 million cubic metres, which was launched in October 1972 in Chico, California, USA.[citation needed]

In 2002 an ultra-thin-film balloon named BU60-1 made of polyethylene film 3.4 µm thick with a volume of 60,000 m³ was launched from Sanriku Balloon Center at 6:35 on May 23, 2002. The balloon ascended at a speed of 260 m per minute and successfully reached the altitude of 53.0 km (173,900 ft), breaking the previous world world record set in 1972.[23]


The highest altitude obtained in an unpowered aircraft is 50,671 ft (15,445 m) on 30 August 2006 by Steve Fossett (pilot) and Einar Enevoldson (co-pilot) in their high performance research glider, breaking the previous record by 1,662 ft (507 m).[24] This record was set as part of the Perlan Project. The previous record was 49,009 ft (14,938 m) on February 17, 1986 by Robert Harris in lee waves over California City, USA.[24]

See also


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Washington Post; June 18, 1910; Indianapolis, Indiana, June 17, 1910. Walter Brookins, in a Wright biplane, broke the world's aeroplane record for altitude today, when he soared to a height of 4,603 feet (1,403 m), according to the measurement of the altimeter. His motor stopped as he was descending, and he made a glide of 2 miles (3.2 km), landing easily in a wheat field.
  3. ^ [2]
  4. ^ Aerial Age. 1915. http://books.google.com/books?id=_GJVAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA276&dq=%22Joseph+E.+Carberry%22&hl=en&ei=H9fjTfDADqrz0gHS0bGIBw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=7&ved=0CEwQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=%22Joseph%20E.%20Carberry%22&f=false. "Joseph E. Carberry, who holds the American record for altitude, accompanied by passenger, Capt. B. D. Foulois, Lieut. T. DeWitt Milling, Lieut. Ira A. Rader, Lieut, Carlton G. Chapman ..." 
  5. ^ Owers 1993, p. 51.
  6. ^ Flight 16 December 1920, p. 1274.
  7. ^ Angelucci and Bowers 1987, p. 195.
  8. ^ "World's Records In Aviation". Flight, 20 March 1931, p. 247.
  9. ^ Andrews and Morgan 1988, pp. 205–206.
  10. ^ "The New Altitude Record". Flight, 19 October 1933. p. 1043.
  11. ^ "The World's Aviation Records". Flight, 16 August 1934, p. 844.
  12. ^ Cooper, Ralph. "Renato Donati 1894-". The Early Birds of Aviation. Retrieved 2 June 2010.
  13. ^ a b Lewis 1971, p. 485.
  14. ^ Taylor 1965, p. 346.
  15. ^ Lewis 1971, p. 371.
  16. ^ NASA Bell X-1 Fact Sheet [3]
  17. ^ Lewis 1971, p. 389.
  18. ^ http://www.boeing.com/history/boeing/condor.html
  19. ^ http://records.fai.org/rotorcraft/aircraft.asp?id=188
  20. ^ http://books.google.com.au/books?id=CSmVLrllpKUC&pg=PA151&lpg=PA151&dq=Rotor+%26+Wing+International+Jean+Boulet+autorotation&source=bl&ots=uasuGIHjiL&sig=hjs--XtozWD-hr2bpfHUE0fC7nc&hl=en&ei=b_raS6-LIcqOkQXfoNV8&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CAgQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=Rotor%20%26%20Wing%20International%20Jean%20Boulet%20autorotation&f=false
  21. ^ [4]
  22. ^ http://www.centennialofflight.gov/essay/Lighter_than_air/early_scientific_balloons/LTA7.htm
  23. ^ "Research on Balloon to Float over 50km Altitude". Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, JAXA. http://www.isas.jaxa.jp/e/special/2003/yamagami/03.shtml. Retrieved 2011-09-29. 
  24. ^ a b "Fédération Aéronautique Internationale — Gliding World Records". http://records.fai.org/gliding/history.asp?id1=275&id2=1&id3=98. Retrieved 2009-07-24. 


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