Darkstar, the Mach-10 Hypersonic Jet in ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ is BadAss?

The hypersonic SR-72 Darkstar
The hypersonic SR-72 Darkstar

The legendary Skunk Works contributed to the development of Tom Cruise's fastest aircraft. The hypersonic SR-72 Darkstar is one of the stars in the new film Top Gun: Maverick.

Captain Pete "Maverick" Mitchell takes his need for speed to a new realm in Top Gun: Maverick: the realm of hypersonics.

After thirty-six years, Mitchell is now a test pilot who flies the SR-72 "Darkstar" aircraft. Even though the SR-72 is a fictional work, it has a real-world background. Lockheed Martin's Advanced Development Program's Skunk Works helped design the aircraft and models.

Although the SR-72 did not exist, Lockheed Martin engineers contributed to its development.

According to Lockheed Martin, Top Gun: Maverick's production team contacted the company's Skunk Works division for assistance with the SR-72 concept. The Skunk Works, named after the Li'l Abner cartoon, is the division of Lockheed Martin that worked on the classified aircraft program. Skunk Works, founded by the legendary aeronautical engineer Clarence "Kelly" Johnson, has become the most significant and influential aviation design firm of the modern era. It is responsible for the U-2 spy plane, the SR-71 Blackbird, the stealth fighter F-117A Nighthawk, the F-22 Raptor, and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Both the SR-72 and the original SR-71 were produced by the company's renowned Skunk Works division

As the fastest aircraft of all time, the SR-71 Skunk Works is still the reigning champion.

The Top Gun team made a sensible decision. After all, the SR-72 "Darkstar" was supposed to be the next aircraft after the Skunk Works-made SR-71. Both are manned, high-speed reconnaissance aircraft. The SR-71 has a maximum speed of Mach 3.3, or 2,193 miles per hour, whereas the SR-72 reaches Mach 10, or 7,673 miles per hour. Hypersonic speeds are greater than 3,000 mph (or greater than Mach 5), which is faster than the speed of sound.

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The SR-72 Darkstar is, of course, a forgery as well. Lockheed Martin's RQ-3 Darkstar, a rugged high-altitude drone used for reconnaissance, shares its name with the plane seen in the film. In reality, the Darkstar spy platform travels at less than 5% of the speed of the plane in the film.

Is the movie version, however, more faithful to the truth than it first appears? Comparisons can be drawn between the SR-72 film and the concept art for the real-world unmanned SR-72 and a hypersonic strategic reconnaissance aircraft, both of which were announced by Skunk Works in 2016. The crank arrow wing is relatively small in comparison to the length of the fuselage and wing. The Skunk Works logo stands out on the tail fin. Lockheed Martin's former CEO Marilyn Hewson reportedly described it as a Mach 6 capable jet to The Washington Post.

Lockheed Martin's SR-72 is depicted here in a 2016 rendering of the aircraft. It looks a lot like the movie plane and might even be real.

The SR-72's tail logo in the movie, depicted as the Skunk Works logo, is identical to the one featured on Lockheed Martin's website in 2016. One key distinction is that in the movie, the SR-72's cockpit windows open to the left and right, whereas in reality, the plane stays closed and needs no special equipment.

On their Top Gun: Maverick website, Lockheed Martin explains that they spent time perfecting the look of the Mach-10 aircraft for the film. There are three quick videos on the page featuring "Jim," a company conceptual designer and planner. Jim sat outside in front of the computer-generated SR-72 and sketched the film with a pencil.

SR 72 Darkstar
computer-generated SR-72 and sketched the film with a pencil

The next person we meet at LockMart is "Becky," who says she works on full-scale mast models of all kinds. In order to calculate an aircraft's radar cross-section, a scale model is mounted on a tall mast and subjected to various tests. When an aircraft's radar cross section is low, radar detection is more challenging. A year ago, Lockheed Martin's Helendale Radar Crossing Facility made headlines when a photo of a mysterious new plane's design was taken there. It appears that Becky is visiting this facility.
Top Gun: Maverick's final two employee profiles were of a man named "Jason" and another named "Lucio." In the video, modelers Jason and Lucio can be seen working on the SR-72 film model, which they created by cutting and shaping various materials to mimic the look of the fictional aircraft. Perhaps it's a knockoff, but is it the genuine SR-72?

A previously unseen plane in the shape of a teardrop is displayed alongside Becky, Jason, and Lucio. It's affixed to a pylon in the Helendale complex. Whether or not the plane is a prototype of a real design or just a cool concept, it has been envisioned as being mounted on a mast.The film's SR-72 might have more in common with a real plane than people think. So far, the SR-72 has only been developed internally at Lockheed Martin, without any funding or support from the Pentagon; as a result, it may never be manufactured. However, it appears that what we see in the movies is very much in line with what at least one defense contractor considers to be a workable strategy. Tom Cruise would have to go without, as there is simply no room

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