Is The Darkstar a real plane? Its real-life inspirations explained

The Darkstar

Tom Cruise only agreed to appear in the second Top Gun when the producers decided to film most action scenes rather than rely on CGI. With that in mind, the first scene in Top Gun: Maverick must have surprised aviation fans, with Tom Cruise test flying an unusually-shaped plane dubbed The Darkstar. 

The low-flying triangular plane zoomed past the guard post on the desert floor, producing a flyby that blew the roof off the shack. Aviation fan forums lit up with rumors and theories attempting to identify the mystery aircraft. 

Key Takeaways

  • The upcoming unmanned hypersonic jet, dubbed the SR-72, inspired Top Gun’s The Darkstar. 
  • Engineers from Skunk Works, the Lockheed Martin department designing the SR-72, worked with Top Gun’s filmmakers to create a realistic The Darkstar mock-up. 
  • Due to logistical and security concerns, Tom Cruise didn’t fly The Darkstar or an SR-72 prototype. 
  • The SR-72 is also known as the ‘Son of Blackbird’ and is viewed as the successor to the impressive SR-71 Blackbird. 

The Darkstar is based on the SR-72 aircraft set to be launched by 2030

The Darkstar is based on the SR-72 aircraft, currently being developed by Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works department. The SR-72 is set to be the successor to the SR-71 Blackbird, hence the name ‘Son of Blackbird.’ 

Lockheed Martin announced plans for the SR-72 in 2013. In 2016, an executive at Skunk Works said that a hypersonic demonstrator aircraft would be ready by 2018. Another executive placed the development and flight costs at around $1 billion. 

The most recent reports claim that flight demonstrations for the SR-72 will start in 2023, with plans to launch the aircraft in 2030. 

Artist’s conception of the SR-72 | Lockheed Martin

Skunk Works maintains a culture of strict secrecy, yet it reportedly shared some of the technology on the SR-72 with Top Gun’s filmmakers. A LinkedIn post by James Taiclet, the Chairman, President & CEO at Lockheed Martin, confirmed that Skunk Works partnered with Top Gun. He wrote:

“[Skunk Works] partnered with Top Gun’s producers to bring cutting-edge, future forward technology to the big screen. Their critical work in hypersonic flight isn’t just movie magic. They’re pushing the art of the possible into reality to advance global security.”

John Neilson, Lockheed Martin’s Director of Communications for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, had tweeted that Top Gun: Maverick would provide a ‘sneaky peek at what might be the SR-72.’

“Every detail of that [The Darkstar] is based on reality, the way the aircraft functions, the way it looks, all the switches, and stick are actually taken out of real experimental aircraft,” director Joe Kosinski told Comic Book

The filmmakers built a full-scale mock-up of the Darkstar aircraft in Top Gun. “The reason it looks so real is because it was the engineers from Skunk Works who helped us design it,” Kosinski told Sandboxx News. He claimed that The Darkstar seemed so authentic that it attracted the attention of China. 

Cruise didn’t fly The Darkstar or a prototype SR-72 due to logistical and security concerns. The SR-72 is expected to be a hypersonic reusable military aircraft capable of carrying out recon, intelligence, surveillance, and strike missions. 

The original SR-71 was the most advanced jet of its time

The SR-71 was built during the Cold War as the American government needed a plane that could spy on enemies without being vulnerable to their defenses. 

It could fly at over three-and-a-half times the speed of sound at 88,000 feet, three times the height of Everest. SR-71 Blackbird pilots wore pressure suits to deal with the extreme speeds and altitudes the jet could manage. 

The SR-71 featured stealth technology, making it immune to enemy radar. Even if radar managed to find the aircraft, no weapon in Soviet Hands could keep up with the SR-71. 

Former Soviet pilot Victor Belenko said (per The Aviationist): “American reconnaissance planes, SR-71s, were prowling. They taunted and toyed with the MiG-25s sent up to intercept them, scooting up to altitudes the Soviet planes could not reach, and circling leisurely above them or dashing off at speeds the Russians could not match.”

Belenko said that the Soviets tried to use several planes against the mighty SR-71s, but the outdated technology in Russian planes hampered even the most clever ideas. He continued:

“First of all, the SR-71 flies too high and too fast. The MiG-25 cannot reach it or catch it. Secondly…the missiles are useless above 27,000 meters [88,000 feet], and as you know, the SR-71 cruises much higher. But even if we could reach it, our missiles lack the velocity to overtake the SR-71 if they are fired in a tail chase.”

The SR-72 jet that inspired The Darkstar is set to blow its predecessor out of the water.