Top Gun–SR-72 Maverick's Darkstar, a Mach 10 Plane

Lockheed Martin SR-72
SR-72 colloquially referred to as "Son of Blackbird" - credit Lockheed Martin

At the start of the film, you can catch a glimpse of the SR-72 Mach 10 Darkstar, a fictional plane that could one day become a real-life aircraft. To aviation enthusiasts, the main draw of Top Gun: Maverick was the jet that the former Hollywood star was depicted "flying" (you know who you are). Whether it was Cruise or the planes, this summer's biggest blockbuster at the box office was a huge success, grossing nearly $1.3 billion worldwide and becoming Cruise's first billion-dollar film in his 40-year career.

Some viewers, however, were disappointed that Lt. Pete "Maverick" Mitchell's portrayal by Cruise and the fifth-generation Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II featured prominently in the film. 

Due to its realism, China spied on the SR-72 Maverick's Mach 10 Darkstar

The COVID-19 epidemic was not only to blame for the film's delayed development and eventual release. Unfortunately for Maverick, he was discovered while piloting a stealth aircraft that looked much like the SR-72 "Darkstar," after being turned down for the Lightning II. The incredibly accurate replica of the hypersonic jet seen on the big screen was created using information from Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works, the not-so-secret branch of the aerospace company responsible for building such top-secret aircraft.

Because the set piece was so realistic, Jerry Bruckheimer said, the Chinese government re-tasked a satellite to obtain a better view. The navy claims that a Chinese satellite rerouted its trajectory in order to photograph the plane. It seemed so real that it actually happened, says producer Bruce Bruckheimer. It appears that is how things really are.

There was a hangar at China Lake where they filmed the prop plane Darkstar, as well as some visual effects plate shots and drone shots of the hypersonic clone rolling onto the runway. Lockheed Martin has had the SR-72 in development since 2013, and in 2017, it admitted to running engine testing. A few more specifics have leaked out, and there were rumors that the project had been scrapped.

Taking inspiration from the Lockheed SR-71 "Blackbird" surveillance jet, the first video for Top Gun: Maverick debuted in 2019, giving fans their first look at the plane that has been lovingly dubbed "Son of the Blackbird." It's notable that the SR-72 could enter service as early as 2030.

SR-72 Darkstar: Transforming the High-Speed Aircraft Into a Bomber

Aviation specialists have theorized that the plane is both a supersonic bomber and a spy plane. It's likely that an unmanned autonomous aircraft capable of Mach 6 speed, rather than a human pilot like Maverick, will be required.

The speedy plane would present several challenges if it were converted into a bomber. It has been reported that taking clandestine photographs or dropping bombs at Mach 6 would need remarkable engineering. To turn, it would have to travel hundreds of miles, and aligning targets at a depth of 80,000 feet would require sophisticated guidance processors.

There are obstacles that must be overcome in order to open a bomb bay at 4,000 miles per hour. As long as rivalry exists in the race to perfect hypersonic weapons, the SR-72 Darkstar will almost certainly remain a factor. If any top-tier pilots are given permission to use it, that is.

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