Top Gun: Maverick’s Darkstar Conceptualization
Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works and Top Gun: Maverick‘s Hypersonic Aircraft Design
Written by Emily Bunn
August 5, 2022
Got “The Need for Speed”? When Pete Mitchell was tasked with carrying out his duties for the U.S. Navy, he recognized there was only one way to complete his perilous undertaking. Mitchell knew what he needed to do – only with the help of his stealthy Maverick-mobile, the Darkstar, would achieving his military mission be possible. Capable of, at least on the silver screen, reaching speeds of up to Mach 10 (equal to a breakneck 7,672.69 mph), the lightning-fast aircraft was undeniably Mitchell’s necessary partner in crime.
Lockheed Martin Skunk Works partnered with the creators of Top Gun: Maverick to bring their aircraft design to Hollywood. While the on-screen version was not equipped with engines, the full-scale, structurally-sound Darkstar model illustrates what future functioning aircraft developments could become.
With hypersonic technology, an aerodynamic silhouette, and a turbine-based combined cycle propulsion system, the Darkstar showcases the possible future of the armed forces’ air mobility. Equipped with shorter wings and vertically slanted twin tails, the aircraft optimizes its operation for maximum speed and swiftness. Despite the concentration paid to the aircraft’s function, comfort isn’t an afterthought. The production team that worked alongside Lockheed Martin helped design an ultra-realistic cockpit, fully equipped with pilot’s controls.
Lockheed Martin recently released “Behind the Scenes of Top Gun: Maverick” footage, in which the film’s Production Designer, Jeremy Hindle, weighed in on the craft’s conception. Hindle explains that compared to the original design of the SR-71, “We lowered it a little bit. It also made it look a little sleeker and faster… Through their design team, we learned how to make the plane look angry, mean, insanely fast.” Director Joseph Kosinski also commented, adding that “it felt like something that could truly fly.” Even Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell himself – Tom Cruise – remarked, “We wanted that moment in the Darkstar flight when you just feel not only the command of flight, but the beauty of flight.”
The closest real-life rendition of the Darkstar manifested in Lockheed’s earlier ’66 release of the legendary SR-71 Blackbird. Originally used for aerial reconnaissance, the SR-71 is a tangible predecessor to the Darkstar prototype. However, Top Gun’s creators fed steroids to the capabilities of the original aircraft, dialing up its speed from a zippy Mach 3 to warp speed, at an undefeatable Mach 10.
Lockheed’s later release of the 71’s successor, the hypersonic SR-72 UAV concept – referred to as the “Son of Blackbird” – also inspired the action drama’s craft. Unlike the Darkstar, which will likely only ever exist on the silver screen, Lockheed predicts the SR-72 prototype could actually steward the skies as soon as 2025. By 2030, it is expected that the Son of Blackbird will enter service, whizzing around the world at Mach 6 and experiencing the same sort of exalted exhilaration as Mitchell himself. However, slightly spoiler, Ed Harris’ character, Rear Admiral Chester ‘Hammer’ Cain, will get his wish as the SR-72 is unmanned. We’ll just have to continue vicariously living through Cruise on the silver screen.