Skunk Works division of Lockheed Martin shares details about the creation of the Darkstar hypersonic aircraft featured in the film. The involvement of 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 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…”
The webpage includes additional artwork showing off the design, as well as three brief video interviews with individuals who helped bring the Darkstar to the big screen. All of these employees are identified only by their first names.
“Most of the stuff I work on, I can’t talk about,” Jim, described as an “artist… with some technical boundaries applied” who helps “conceptualize the future” at Skunk Works, says in his video featurette. “The first thing you draw may not be the right answer. The 10th thing you’ve drawn may not be the right answer. And so you have to be willing to start over.”
“What excites me around here is the ability to see the future,” Jason, a radio frequency engineer at Skunk Works says in his video interview, where he speaks alongside Lucio, a laboratory mechanic.
“When we aren’t changing cinematic history by building Darkstar, we’re changing the future of aviation by building the next generation aircraft,” Lucio adds in the clip, which includes footage from Skunk Works’ Helendale Radar Signature Test Range.
In my role, my responsibility is to design and fabricate different types of full-scale pole models,” mechanical engineer Becky explains in her video interview, referring to the kinds of models that Skunk Works creates to mount on poles at facilities like Helendale to test a design’s radar signature. “On Darkstar, I was the lead mechanical design engineer. That was the first model that I ever did and it was so rad.”
The captions to the features also confirm that Skunk Works built a physical mockup of some kind that included “a forebody model with a functional cockpit for an iconic actor [Tom Cruise]” and that required attention from Becky during the production to keep it “structurally sound and worthy of its pilot.” The company describes what was built as “a functional piece of art.”
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 Darkstar bears a striking resemblance to artist renderings of Lockheed Martin’s long-awaited follow-up to the SR-71 Blackbird, the hypersonic SR-72, many times referred to as the SR-72 Darkstar. As it turns out, that may not have been by happenstance.