The legendary Mach 10 from Top Gun: Maverick

Anyone who makes a pilgrimage to the cinema as a flying fan these days probably has only one goal: to see the new “Top Gun” tape! The famous “Skunk Works” from Lockheed Martin also participated in this film. They designed the “Dark Star” – the legendary hypersonic aircraft.

Delayed multiple times, waited a million times, and now it’s finally in cinemas: Tom Cruise’s new movie “Top Gun: Maverick” is now almost like the first part. There are three and a half decades between this and the new sector, but the hype surrounding Navy fighter pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell and his entourage seems more alive than ever. Unending magic. And even if “Maverick” has long flown the F/A-18E Super Hornet in everyday life, the legendary Tomcat also makes a big showing in the new movie’s big showdown – of all things against the current Russian super fighter Sukhoi Su-57.



Kid from “Skunk Works”

However, the first minutes of the movie are for a plane that doesn’t really exist. “Darkstar” is the name of the mysterious hypersonic aircraft that Maverick initially co-developed as a test pilot. On the other hand, the Mach 10 fast reconnaissance plane, in which the old Navy pilot – rebellious as ever – flies to pieces during an unauthorized high-speed flight into the stratosphere, is by no means out of the “sci-fi” category. It was largely coined by engineers from a very real but also notorious enterprise: “Skunk Works” of the US defense company Lockheed Martin based in Burbank, California.

Lockheed Martin

“Dark Star” is an innovation from Lockheed Martin’s “Skunk Works” — and it has made even China nervous.

China discovers “Dark Star”

As Lockheed Martin recently explained on a website dedicated to “Darkstar,” Skunk Works developed the hypersonic plane in close collaboration with motion picture makers—and in old-fashioned, secretly. The manufacturer’s explanations show that the Mach 10 aircraft was brought not only as a computer model, but also the developers reproduced the “Darkstar” in physical form as a mockup with a working cockpit. According to some media reports, the Chinese are said to have also become acquainted with the construction of this life-size model – and specially reorganized a spy satellite in order to research what it could all be.

Borrowing from real concepts

In fact, the final product shown in the movie does not appear to be made out of thin air. Visually, the “Dark Star” resembles the SR-72 project – a Mach 6 hypersonic reconnaissance aircraft, unmanned, whose design was presented by Lockheed Martin in 2015. However, the new fictional film aircraft has two tails, while the SR- 72, at least initially, as a single-fin aircraft. The SR-72’s propulsion type, which is a combination of turbofan combustion engines and air scramblowers, is also the first choice for the “Darkstar”. On the other hand, the cockpit, without a direct view ahead, appears to be based on the civilian supersonic project X-59 QueSST. The cameras look ahead and transmit their images to the cockpit in real time, giving the pilot a visual impression of the surroundings.



From fantasy to reality?

In the new Top Gun movie, “Maverick” beats “Darkstar” above the stated 10 Mach limit during a test flight – but the plane then disintegrates, and the project ends. It’s no secret, however, that Skunk Works isn’t alone for years searching for manned and unmanned hypersonic aircraft. So the pathetically worded sentence Lockheed Martin wrote on the Darkstar website is perhaps not an empty phrase: “With Skunk Works’ expertise in developing the fastest aircraft known, passion and energy, the future of air and space travel, Darkstar capabilities could be more than just A fantasy. It can become a reality…”


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