About a week after the long-awaited Top Gun: Maverick finally hit the theaters, the Skunk Works division of Lockheed Martin released some details about the creation of the Darkstar hypersonic aircraft featured in the film. The involvement of the Skunk Works in the project had already been confirmed by the CEO of Lockheed Martin, James Taiclet, in a post on LinkedIn after the world premiere of the film. Now, the company added on its website a page dedicated to Top Gun and the mysterious Darkstar.
“Lockheed Martin Skunk Works® thrives on tackling seemingly impossible work, developing technologies for tomorrow’s challenges before the need is even identified. From creating radar evading stealth capabilities to X-planes that redefine the sonic boom to many revolutionary technologies in between, Skunk Works has a long tradition of quickly developing enduring innovation for when it’s needed most. When the Top Gun: Maverick team was looking to push the envelope and stand true to Maverick’s Need for Speed, Skunk Works was their first call. With the Skunk Works expertise in developing the fastest known aircraft combined with a passion and energy for defining the future of aerospace, Darkstar’s capabilities could be more than mere fiction. They could be reality…”
That closing sentence is quite enigmatic, as it hints that the design might not be completely fictional. Since its first appearance in the film’s second trailer, many have already noticed a close resemblance of the Darkstar with the concept images of the SR-72 hypersonic reconnaissance aircraft released by Lockheed Martin in 2013 (and even teased by the US Air Force last year), although the latter was unmanned (but hey, what can satisfy Maverick’s need for speed better than a hypersonic aircraft?).
As you might already have seen in the film, the Darkstar has sleek aerodynamic shapes, with small wings and canted vertical twin tails. The aircraft is built around a turbine-based combined cycle propulsion system, with two turbojet/low-bypass turbofan afterburning engines and two scramjets. There’s also an interesting feature that comes from a real aircraft being developed right now by the Skunk Works, the X-59 QueSST. The cockpit, in fact, has no forward visibility and Maverick relies on a synthetic vision system to see what’s in front of the aircraft.
The web page on LM’s website continues saying that the all the work related to Darkstar was done in secret, with the Skunk Works working with the Top Gun: Maverick production team to understand their needs and then quietly working on the design and build until the concept was revealed to the world in the film. The page also features some short interviews with some of the people behind the design of Darkstar.
The design went from a concept to reality thanks to a team of conceptual designers, engineers and aircraft model developers, who brought together their expertise to quickly have a realistic aircraft forebody model with a working cockpit, while also keeping it structurally sound throughout filming. The model they built was so accurate that China was reportedly fooled in believing that it was a real experimental aircraft and even reoriented a spy satellite to take photos of it.