Maverick’s Mysterious ‘Darkstar’ Plane Has a Real-World Relative – Deadline
SPOILER ALERT – This story contains Top Gun: Maverick plot points: In the first moments of Top Gun: Maverick, Tom CruiseCaptain Pete Mitchell takes an experimental hypersonic aircraft called “The Black Star” during an unauthorized test. Those who saw the trailer — or the movie, at this point — will remember a low-flying triangular plane passing a lone guard post on the desert floor. In half a second, the flyover literally explodes the roof of the hut.
A flash of the scene in an early behind-the-scenes trailer sent the aviation blogosphere into a frenzy – and not just because of the stunning visuals. The plane’s unusual shape raised eyebrows. Some have postulated that it could be the legendary SR-71 Blackbird, once dubbed “the fastest airplane of all time”. Peaking at Mach 3, the high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft could literally outrun missiles fired at it by Russian MiGs.
Others guessed it might be something even more exotic: the near-mythical hypersonic SR-72, the presumed descendant of the Blackbird, which is designed to fly at six times the speed of sound.
Lockheed Martin had in an unusual way announcement plans for the plane in 2013. Not much was heard of the so-called “Son of Blackbird” until Lockheed confirmed engine tests in 2017. Some reports have maintained the SR-72 could be “deployed for the first flight demonstrations no later than 2023”. Lockheed, in its original announcement, claimed the game changer could be operational by 2030. Oh, and he pegged the development cost at $1 billion.
Not much has been officially revealed about the SR-72. That, along with its game-changing speed, only added to the plane’s mystique.
So it was odd that Lockheed CEO James Taiclet publicly posted on LinkedIn this month that the company’s top-secret Skunk Works, which runs many of its most ambitious projects, including the SR- 72, “associated with Top Gun’s producers to bring cutting-edge and future technology to the big screen,” including technology around “hypersonic flight.” He also shared a photo of himself at the film’s premiere.
Lockheed Martin’s Director of Communications for Europe, Middle East and Africa, John Neilson, was even more explicit in a recent tweet, writing: “Rumors that Top Gun: Maverick, in cinemas May 27, features a preview of what could be the @LockheedMartin SR-72, successor to the super impressive SR-71 Blackbird. This photo taken from promotional materials seems to support this thinking.
Rumors that “Top Gun: Maverick,” in theaters May 27, present a sneaky glimpse at what could be the @Lockheed Martin SR-72, successor to the super impressive SR-71 Blackbird. This photo taken from promotional material seems to support this thought. I can not wait #avgeek #fridaywing pic.twitter.com/PyAak69qOj
— John Neilson (@flyingjok) April 29, 2022
So is it the legendary “Son of Blackbird” that is featured in Top Gun: Maverick? The answer is “sort of”.
Producer Jerry Bruckheimer Told military blog Sandboxx News that director “Joe [Kosinski] worked with Skunk Works and Lockheed [Martin] to design the plane on it.
Kosinski revealed that the details of the plane are, indeed, taken from “real experimental planes” from Skunk Works.
“For me, being just kind of an aviation enthusiast and still loving that world, the idea of giving people insight into secret projects…I worked with Skunk Works, which is the division of Lockheed, that makes these types of planes because I wanted it to look as real as possible,” he said. Told Comic Book Movie.com this week. “So every detail of this is based on reality, the way the plane works, how it looks, all the switches and the stick are actually taken from real experimental planes.”
And in the spirit of creating as much Top Gun: Maverick’s real-world effects versus digital, “We built a full-scale model, a scale model of the Darkstar plane that you see Maverick flying in the movie. Yeah, I just wanted to show the audience that the first few minutes definitely look like a Superior gun movie, but once he gets on that jet, I also want you to know that we’re telling a whole new story, and that sequence kind of helped set the tone for the movie.
A very good shot of the Darkstar is featured in Lady Gaga’s video for her song for the film, “Hold My Hand.” See below.
“The reason it looks so real is that the engineers at Skunk Works helped us design it,” the director told Sandboxx News. “So these are the same people who work on real planes.”
So, did Cruise – or anyone else – actually fly a hypersonic plane for the movie? The short answer is probably “No”.
Not only would the SR-72 – if a prototype actually exist – be prohibitively expensive to operate, even on a blockbuster-level budget, but bringing such an aircraft itself into the open would have implications on national security.
At this point, Bruckheimer made headlines earlier this month when he Told Sandboxx that the Chinese government was keeping tabs on the plane used in the film.
“The Navy told us that a Chinese satellite turned and headed on a different route to photograph this plane. They thought it was real. That’s how it looks real.
According to production documents obtained and verified as authentic by Deadline, the scenes involving the Darkstar were scheduled to be shot between November 7 and November 9, 2018 in the Mojave Desert at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake near Ridgecrest.
The Darkstar was filmed inside and outside a hangar at China Lake, including VFX plate shots and drone shots of the hypersonic clone rolling on the tarmac. The aircraft was sheltered outdoors overnight, but under a “temporary hanger”, which likely frustrated interested parties overseas.
Had it been visible, these interested parties might have noticed a crucial difference between what we know of the SR-72 and the plane that Cruise Captain Pete Mitchell flies in the film: Lockheed’s plane is without pilot and has no windows, which would be a problem for a stunning plane in a film about naval aviators. Another big difference is that the Darkstar, being Tom Cruise’s plane, goes Mach 10.
For an even deeper look at Maverick’s Darkstar, inside and out, here’s a video review of the expansion pack just released in Microsoft Flight Simulator.
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