‘Angry, Mean, Insanely Fast’: Introducing the Darkstar Concept Jet from ‘Top Gun: Maverick’
Top Gun: Maverick is an absolute banger of a flick – far better than a sequel over 35 years in the making has any right to be – and part of that magic has to be attributed to the SR-72 Darkstar concept jet. An impossibly cool piece of future aviation kit that Tom Cruise’s title character uses to achieve hypersonic flight, the jet is a star in its own right.
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Developed in collaboration with Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Programs (aka Skunk Works), the Darkstar may be a work of fiction, but it pulls from very real technologies currently in development that will one day be deployed in the real world. Chief among those is the aforementioned hypersonic flight – the ability to travel at least 60 miles per minute.
The plane’s designers took inspiration from the SR-71 Blackbird, which Lockheed built in the 1960s and to this day remains the fastest operational military aircraft in history. However, while that real-world aircraft had a top speed of Mach 3.2 (or 2,455 mph), the Darkstar blows past it, reaching Mach 10 (or just about 7672 mph). While not yet a real-world possibility, that’s the kind of speed Lockheed’s aviation experts are reaching for.
According to Top Gun: Maverick’s production designer Jeremy Hindle, his team worked in collaboration with Skunk Works to come up with a design that evolved and modernised the Blackbird, lowering it and making it look “sleeker and faster.” He elaborates further, saying, “The cockpit was mind blowing. Like, the intel of where everything would be for a pilot, you really wanted to believe that it was real. Through their (Lockheed Martin) design team, we learned how to make the plane look angry, mean, insanely fast.”
It certainly embodies all of those things, thanks in large part to the full-scale prototype Lockheed Martin built for the film. Doing so helped give the Darkstar a believability that the audience can invest in. This tangible realism helped the concept aircraft fit in seamlessly alongside the incredible real-life stunt work ace pilots performed for the film flying the likes of the F/A 18F Super Hornet and F-14 Tomcat. As Tom Cruise himself puts it, “We wanted that moment in the Darkstar flight, when you just feel not only the command of flight but the beauty of flight.”
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