This listing of flight altitude records are the records set for the highest aeronautical flights conducted in the atmosphere, set since the age of ballooning.
Some, but not all of the records were certified by the non-profit international aviation organization, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI). One reason for a lack of 'official' certification was that the flight occurred prior to the creation of the FAI.
For clarity, the "Fixed-wing aircraft" table is sorted by FAI-designated categories as determined by whether the record-creating aircraft left the ground by its own power (category "Altitude"), or whether it was first carried aloft by a carrier-aircraft prior to its record setting event (category "Altitude gain", or formally "Altitude Gain, Aeroplane Launched from a Carrier Aircraft"). Other sub-categories describe the airframe, and more importantly, the powerplant type (since rocket-powered aircraft can have greater altitude abilities than those with air-breathing engines).
An essential requirement for the creation of an "official" altitude record is the employment of FAI-certified observers present during the record-setting flight. Thus several records noted are unofficial due to the lack of such observers.
- 1783-08-15: 24 m (79 ft); Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier of France, made the first ascent in a hot-air balloon.
- 1783-10-19: 81 m (266 ft); Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier, in Paris.
- 1783-10-19: 105 m (344 ft); Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier with André Giroud de Villette, in Paris.
- 1783-11-21: 1,000 m (3,300 ft); Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier with Marquis d'Arlandes, in Paris.
- 1783-12-01: 2.7 km (8,900 ft); Jacques Alexandre Charles and his assistant Marie-Noël Robert, both of France, made the first flight in a hydrogen balloon to about 610 m. Charles then ascended alone to the record altitude.
- 1784-06-23: 4 km (13,000 ft) Pilâtre de Rozier and the chemist Joseph Proust in a Montgolfier.
- 1803-07-18: 7.28 km (23,900 ft) Étienne-Gaspard Robert and Auguste Lhoëst in a balloon.
- 1839: 7.9 km (26,000 ft) Charles Green and Spencer Rush in a free balloon.
- 1862-09-05: about 11,000 m (36,000 ft)-Henry Coxwell and James Glaisher in a balloon filled with coal gas. Glaisher lost consciousness during the ascent due to the low air pressure and cold temperature of −11 °C (12 °F).
- 1901-07-31: 10.8 km (35,000 ft)-Arthur Berson and Reinhard Süring in the hydrogen balloon Preußen, in an open basket and with oxygen in steel cylinders. This flight contributed to the discovery of the stratosphere.
- 1927-11-04: 13.222 km (43,380 ft)-Captain Hawthorne C. Gray, of the U.S. Army Air Corps, in a helium balloon. Gray was killed when his oxygen supply ran out.
- 1931-05-27: 15.787 km (51,790 ft) – Auguste Piccard and Paul Kipfer in a hydrogen balloon.
- 1932: 16.2 km (53,000 ft) -Auguste Piccard and Max Cosyns in a hydrogen balloon.
- 1933-09-30: 18.501 km (60,700 ft) USSR balloon USSR-1.
- 1933-11-20: 18.592 km (61,000 ft) Lt. Comdr. Thomas G. W. Settle (USN) and Maj Chester L. Fordney (USMC) in Century of Progress balloon
- 1934-01-30: 21.946 km (72,000 ft) USSR balloon Osoaviakhim-1. The three crew were killed when the balloon broke up during the descent.
- 1935-11-10: 22.066 km (72,400 ft) Captain O. A. Anderson and Captain A. W. Stevens (U.S. Army Air Corps) ascended in the Explorer II gondola from the Stratobowl, near Rapid City, South Dakota, for a flight that lasted 8 hours 13 minutes and covered 362 kilometres (225 mi).
- 1956-11-08: 23.165 km (76,000 ft) Malcolm D. Ross and M. L. Lewis (U.S. Navy) in Office of Naval Research Strato-Lab I, using a pressurized gondola and plastic balloon launching near Rapid City, South Dakota, and landing 282 km (175 mi) away near Kennedy, Nebraska.
- 1957-06-02: 29.4997 km (96,784 ft) Captain Joseph W. Kittinger (U.S. Air Force) ascended in the Project Manhigh 1 gondola to a record-breaking altitude.
- 1957-08-19: 31.212 km (102,400 ft) above sea level, Major David Simons (U.S. 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 p.m. on August 20 in northeastern South Dakota.
- 1960-08-16: 31.333 km (102,800 ft) Testing a high-altitude parachute system, Joseph Kittinger of the U.S. Air Force parachuted from the Excelsior III balloon over New Mexico at 102,800 ft (31,300 m). He set world records for: high-altitude jump; freefall diving by falling 16 mi (26 km) before opening his parachute; and fastest speed achieved by a human without motorized assistance, 614 mph (988 km/h).
- 1961-05-04: 34.668 km (113,740 ft); Commander Malcolm D. Ross and Lieutenant Commander Victor A. Prather, Jr., of the U.S. Navy ascended in the Strato-Lab V, in an unpressurized gondola. After descending, the gondola containing the two balloonists landed in the Gulf of Mexico. Prather slipped off the rescue helicopter's hook into the gulf and drowned.[a]
- 1966-02-02: The amateur parachutist Nicholas Piantanida of the United States, reached 123,500 feet (37,600 m) with his "Project Strato-Jump" II balloon. Because he was unable to disconnect his oxygen line from the gondola's main feed, the ground crew had to remotely detach the balloon from the gondola. His planned free fall and parachute jump was abandoned, and he returned to the ground in the gondola. Nick was unable to accomplish his desired free fall record, however his spectacular flight set other records that held up for 46 years. Because of the design of his glove, he was unable to reattach his safety seat belt harness. He endured incredibe g-forces, but survived the descent. Piantanida's ascent is not recognized by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale as a balloon altitude world record, because he did not return with his balloon, although that was not the feat he was trying to accomplish. On this second attempt of "Project Strato-Jump", Nick Piantanida took with him 250 postmarked air-mail envelopes and letters. At the time, these letters were the first covers to have ever been delivered by the U.S. Post Office via space. The habit of bringing cover letters in to space continued with the Apollo Program. In fact, in 1972 there was a Scandal involving the Apollo 15 Astronauts. It is unclear if any of the "Project Strato-Jump" covers survived, and were eventually mailed to the intended recipients.
- 2012-10-14: Felix Baumgartner in the Red Bull Stratos reached 38,969 metres (127,851 ft) in a balloon flight that started near Roswell, New Mexico, and he returned to earth via a record-setting parachute jump.
- 2014-10-24: Alan Eustace, a senior vice president at the Google corporation, reached 41,424 metres (135,906 ft) in a helium balloon and then returned to earth via parachute jump during the StratEx mission executed by Paragon Space Development Corporation.
|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[update]|
|1783||October 15, 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 launched from downtown Mumbai, 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.
Uncrewed gas balloon
The U.S. (and for a while, the world) altitude record for uncrewed 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, launched in October 1972 in Chico, California, USA.
During 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 Ofunato City, Iwate in Japan at 6:35 on May 23, 2002. The balloon ascended at a speed of 260 m per minute and reached the altitude of 53.0 km (173,900 ft), breaking the previous world record set during 1972.
This was surpassed at 15,460 m (50,720 ft) set on August 30, 2006 by Steve Fossett (pilot) and Einar Enevoldson (co-pilot) in their high performance research glider Perlan 1, a modified Glaser-Dirks DG-500. This record was also achieved over El Calafate (Patagonia, Argentina) and set as part of the Perlan Project.
This was raised at 52,172 ft (15,902 m) on September 3, 2017 by Jim Payne (pilot) and Morgan Sandercock (co-pilot) in the Perlan 2, a special built high altitude research glider. This record was again achieved over El Calafate and as part of the Perlan Project.
On September 2, 2018, within the Airbus Perlan Mission II, again from El Calafate, the Perlan II piloted by Jim Payne and Tim Gardner reached 76,124 ft (23,203 m), surpassing the 73,737 ft (22,475 m) attained by Jerry Hoyt on April 17, 1989 in a Lockheed U-2: the highest subsonic flight.
|1890||October 8||8 in||20 cm||Clément Ader||Éole||propeller||Uncontrolled hop|
|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 18||492 ft||150 m||Louis Paulhan||Farman||propeller||Concours d’Aviation, La Brayelle, Douai|
|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|
|1910||June 17||4,603 ft||1,403 m||Walter Brookins||Wright biplane||propeller|||
|1910||August 11||6,621 ft||2,018 m||John Armstrong Drexel||Blériot monoplane||propeller||Lanark Aviation Meeting|
|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|
|1910||December 26||11,474 ft||3,497 m||Archibald Hoxsey||Wright Model B||propeller||Second International Aviation Meet held in 1910 at Dominguez Field, Los Angeles. Hoxsey died in a plane crash five days later while trying to set a new record.|
|1912||September 11||18,405 ft||5,610 m||Roland Garros||Blériot monoplane||propeller||Saint-Brieuc (France) |
|1915||January 5||11,950 ft||3,640 m||Joseph Eugene Carberry||Curtiss Model E||propeller|||
|1916||November 9||26,083 ft||7,950 m||Guido Guidi||Caudron G.4||propeller||Torino Mirafiori airfield|
|1919||June 14||31,230 ft||9,520 m||Jean Casale||Nieuport NiD.29||propeller|||
|1920||February 27||33,113 ft||10,093 m||Major Rudolf Schroeder||LUSAC-11||propeller|||
|1921||September 18||34,508 ft||10,518 m||Lt. John Arthur Macready||LUSAC-11||propeller|||
|1923||September 5||35,240 ft||10,740 m||Joseph Sadi-Lecointe||Nieuport NiD.40R||propeller|||
|1923||October 30||36,565 ft||11,145 m||Joseph Sadi-Lecointe||Nieuport NiD.40R||propeller|||
|1924||October 21||39,587 ft||12,066 m||Jean Callizo||Gourdou-Leseurre 40 C.1||propeller|| Callizo later claimed several higher records, but these were stripped from him, as he had falsified barograph readings.|
|1930||June 4||43,168 ft||13,158 m||Lt. Apollo Soucek, USN||Wright Apache||propeller|||
|1932||September 16||43,976 ft||13,404 m||Cyril Uwins||Vickers Vespa||propeller|||
|1933||September 28||44,819 ft||13,661 m||Gustave Lemoine||Potez 506||propeller|||
|1934||April 11||47,354 ft||14,433 m||Renato Donati||Caproni Ca.113 AQ||propeller|||
|1936||August 14||48,698 ft||14,843 m||Georges Détré||Potez 506||propeller||highest with no pressure suit|
|1936||September 28||49,967 ft||15,230 m||Squadron Leader Francis Ronald Swain||Bristol Type 138||propeller|||
|1938||June 30||53,937 ft||16,440 m||M. J. Adam||Bristol Type 138||propeller|||
|1938||October 22||56,850 ft||17,330 m||Lt. Colonel Mario Pezzi||Caproni Ca.161||crewed propeller-driven biplane record so far|||
|1948||March 23||59,430 ft||18,114 m||John Cunningham||de Havilland Vampire||turbojet||Modified Vampire F.1 with extended wingtips and a de Havilland Ghost jet engine.|
|1951||August 15||79,494 ft||24,230 m||Bill Bridgeman||Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket||air-launched rocket plane||Unofficial record. Powered by the XLR11 liquid fuel rocket engine (designated as XLR8-RM-5).|
|1953||May 4||63,668 ft||19,406 m||Walter Gibb||English Electric Canberra B.2||turbojet||propelled by two Rolls-Royce Olympus engines.|
|1953||August 21||83,235 ft||25,370 m||Lt. Col. Marion Carl||Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket||air-launched rocket plane||Unofficial record. Powered by the XLR11 liquid fuel rocket engine (designated as XLR8-RM-5).|
|1954||May 28||90,440 ft||27,570 m||Arthur W. Murray||Bell X-1A||air-launched rocket plane||Unofficial record. Powered by the XLR11 liquid fuel rocket engine.|
|1955||August 29||65,876 ft||20,079 m||Walter Gibb||English Electric Canberra B.2||turbojet||Olympus powered.|
|1956||September 7||126,283 ft||38,491 m||Iven Kincheloe||Bell X-2||air-launched rocket plane|||
|1957||August 28||70,310 ft||21,430 m||Mike Randrup||English Electric Canberra WK163||turbojet & rocket||With Napier "Double Scorpion" rocket motor|
|1958||April 18||76,939 ft||23,451 m||Lt. Commander George C. Watkins, USN||Grumman F11F-1F Super Tiger||turbojet|||
|1958||May 2||79,452 ft||24,217 m||Roger Carpentier||SNCASO Trident II||turbojet & rocket|
|1958||May 7||91,243 ft||27,811 m||Major Howard C. Johnson||Lockheed F-104 Starfighter||turbojet||This F-104 became the first aircraft to simultaneously hold the world speed and altitude records when on May 16, 1958, U.S. Air Force Capt. Walter W. Irwin set a world speed record of 1,404.19 mph|
|1959||September 4||94,658 ft||28,852 m||Vladimir Ilyushin||Sukhoi Su-9||turbojet|
|1959||December 6||98,557 ft||30,040 m||Commander Lawrence E. Flint, Jr.||McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II||turbojet|
|1959||December 14||103,389 ft||31,513 m||Capt "Joe" B. Jordan||Lockheed F-104 Starfighter||turbojet||General Electric J79|
|1961||April 28||113,891 ft||34,714 m||Giorgii Mosolov||Ye-66A Mig-21||turbojet & rocket||R-11|
|1962||July 17||314,700 ft||95,900 m||Robert Michael White||X-15||air-launched rocket plane||Not a C-1 FAI record|
|1963||July 19||347,400 ft||105,900 m||Joseph Albert Walker||X-15||air-launched rocket plane||Not a C-1 FAI record.|
|1963||August 22||353,200 ft||107,700 m||Joseph Albert Walker||X-15||air-launched rocket plane||Not a C-1 FAI record|
|1963||November 15||118,860 ft||36,230 m||Major Robert W. Smith||Lockheed NF-104A||turbojet & rocket||Unofficial altitude record for an aircraft with self-powered takeoff.|
|1963||December 6||120,800 ft||36,800 m||Major Robert W. Smith||Lockheed NF-104A||turbojet & rocket||Unofficial altitude record for an aircraft with self-powered takeoff.|
|1973||July 25||118,898 ft||36,240 m||Aleksandr Fedotov||Mikoyan-Gurevich Ye-266 MiG-25||Jet plane record||Under Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) classification the Ye-155 type|
|1976||July 28||85,069 ft||25,929 m||Captain Robert Helt||Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird||turbojet||Pratt & Whitney J58; Absolute Record of FAI classes C, H and M Another SR-71 set absolute speed record on the same day.|
|1977||August 31||123,520 ft||37,650 m||Aleksandr Fedotov||Mikoyan-Gurevich Ye-266M MiG-25||Jet plane record||Under Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) classification the Ye-155 type|
|1995||August 4||60,897 ft||18,561 m||2 pilots: Einar Enevoldson and other, and two scientists||Grob Strato 2C||crewed propeller monoplane record to date|
|2001||August 14||96,863 ft||29,524 m||Uncrewed||NASA Helios HP01||propeller||Set altitude records for propeller driven aircraft, solar-electric aircraft, and highest altitude in horizontal flight by a winged aircraft.|
|2004||October 4||367,490 ft||112,010 m||Brian Binnie||SpaceShipOne||air launched rocket plane||In addition to the altitude record, this flight also set records for greatest mass lifted to altitude and minimum time between two consecutive flights in a reusable vehicle.|
Piston-driven propeller aeroplane
The highest altitude obtained in a piston-driven propeller biplane (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.
The highest altitude obtained in a piston-driven propeller monoplane (without a payload) was 18,552 m (60,866 ft) on August 4, 1995 by the Grob Strato 2C driven by two Teledyne Continental TSIO-550 engines.
The highest current world absolute general aviation altitude record  propelled aircraft is 37,650 metres (123,520 ft) set by Aleksandr Vasilyevich Fedotov, in a Mikoyan Gurevitch E-266M (MiG-25M), on August 31, 1977.
The highest altitude obtained by a crewed aeroplane (launched from another aircraft) is 112,010 m (367,487 ft) by Brian Binnie in the Scaled Composites SpaceShipOne (powered by a Scaled Composite SD-010 engine with 18,000 pounds (8,200 kg) of thrust) on October 4, 2004 at Mojave, CA. The SpaceShipOne was launched at over 43,500 ft (13.3 km). The previous (unofficial) record was 107,960 m (354,199 ft) set by Joseph A. Walker in a North American X-15 in mission X-15 Flight 91 on August 22, 1963. Walker had reached 106 km – crossing the Kármán line the first time – with X-15 Flight 90 the previous month.
The record for highest altitude obtained by a rocket-powered aircraft (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 mixed power (turbojet & rocket engine) aircraft. The unofficial altitude record for aircraft with self-powered takeoff was 36,820 m (120,800 ft) on December 6, 1963 by Major Robert W. Smith in a Lockheed NF-104A mixed power (turbojet and rocket engine) aircraft.
Electrically powered aircraft
The highest altitude obtained by an electrically powered aircraft is 96,863 feet (29,524 m) on August 14, 2001 by the NASA Helios, and is the highest altitude in horizontal flight by a winged aircraft. This is also the altitude record for propeller driven aircraft, FAI class U (Experimental / New Technologies), and FAI class U-1.d (Remotely controlled UAV : Weight 500 kg to less than 2500 kg).
On June 21, 1972, Jean Boulet of France piloted an Aérospatiale SA 315B Lama helicopter to an absolute altitude record of 40,814 feet (12,440 m). At that extreme altitude, the engine flamed out and Boulet had to land the helicopter by breaking another record: the longest successful autorotation in history. The helicopter was stripped of all unnecessary equipment prior to the flight to minimize weight, and the pilot breathed supplemental oxygen.
The highest altitude obtained by a paper plane is currently for the Paper Aircraft Released Into Space (PARIS) project, which was released at an altitude of 27,307 metres (89,590 ft), from a helium balloon that was launched approximately 80 kilometres (50 mi) west of Madrid, Spain on October 28, 2010, and recorded by The Register's "special projects bureau". The project achieved a Guinness world record recognition.
The current world-record for highest cannon projectile flight is held by Project HARP’s 16-inch space gun prototype, which fired a 180 kg Martlet 2 projectile to record height of 180 km (590,550 ft; 110 mi) in Yuma, Arizona, on November 18, 1966. The projectile’s trajectory briefly sent it into space, making it the first cannon-fired projectile to exit the atmosphere.
The Paris Gun (German: Paris-Geschütz) was a German long-range siege gun used to bombard Paris during World War I. It was in service from March–August 1918. Its 106-kilogram shells had a range of about 130 km (80 mi) with a maximum altitude of about 42.3 km (26.3 mi).
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Flight altitude record holders.|
- Fédération Aéronautique Internationale Official website –the international, non-profit, non-government organization that tracks aircraft world records
- Balloon World Records Fédération Aéronautique Internationale
- Excelsior III Details of Kittingers' Jump from a stratospheric balloon in 1960
- Iowa State University – High Altitude Balloon Experiments in Technology
- Eng, Cassandra (1997). "Altitude of the Highest Manned Balloon Flight". The Physics Factbook.