The full-size mockup was built by the Skunk Works to be as realistic as possible for the filming of the Darkstar scenes.
One of the topics most discussed after the release of “Top Gun: Maverick” is the Darkstar hypersonic prototype aircraft: was it only Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI)? Was there a model of some sorts used for the filming? The existence of a full-scale mockup was confirmed about a week after the movie was released, when Lockheed Martin disclosed further details about the company’s involvement in the film, and now there is even a behind the scenes video of the mockup itself.
“In our story we find Maverick pushing the envelope of human performance in aviation. Working in partnership with Lockheed Martin and Skunk Works, we were able to create Darkstar, our full scale prototype for the film”, says Top Gun: Maverick’s director Joseph Kosinski. “We based the design on the fastest aircraft, the SR-71, which Lockheed built in the 1960s. The team wanted to go beyond that.”
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.
“We lowered it a little bit. It also made it look a little sleeker and faster,” says Jeremy Hindle, the film’s Production Designer. “Through their design team, we learned how to make the plane look angry, mean, insanely fast.” Kosinski even added “it felt like something that could really fly”.
Even if those characteristics might be similar to the SR-71 Blackbird, as referenced by Kosinski, many have already noticed a close resemblance of the Darkstar with the concept images of the SR-72 hypersonic reconnaissance aircraft.
While we don’t know for sure if a SR-72 prototype has ever been produced, at least some features of the Darkstar come from real aircraft; actually, one of these comes straight out of a real aircraft currently being developed 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.
As we said in a previous story, 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.