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Top Gun: Maverick’s Mach 10 Darkstar Is a Sign of Military Aircraft to Come
If the stars align, Tom Cruise’s latest on-screen adventure, Top Gun: Maverick, will shoot past $1 billion in earnings sometime this week. Something not all movies can brag about, but not at all surprising, given how this is a movie about military aircraft, Tom Cruise, and… Tom Cruise flying military aircraft.

Top Gun: Maverick’s Mach 10 Darkstar Is a Sign of Military Aircraft to Come

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Without going into details, as not to spoil to movie for you, in case you haven’t seen it already, we’ll only tell you that the fleet of aircraft used for Maverick is vast, and includes everything from the F-14 Tomcat to the Sukhoi Su-57.

All are incredible airplanes, but without a doubt the most stunning of them all is the Darkstar. In the real world, the thing does not exist as a fully functional machine, but the beast is flown in Maverick by Cruise to Mach 10 and to the edge of space (first video below), places probably every single aviator out there dreams of getting to.

Now, when made-up technology makes it into a movie, usually we’re dealing with nothing more than special effects and tons of CGI. For the Darkstar, though, the movie’s producers went straight to the source of many amazing flying machines, Lockheed Martin. Or, to be more precise, the company’s Skunk Works division.

These guys (Jim, Jason, Lucio, and Becky, you can meet them all in videos 2, 3, and 4 below the text) used the all-to-known SR-71 Blackbird as a starting point for the project, blended in some elements from the less-known SR-72 Son of Blackbird concept (proposed back In 2013 by the company, but so far still on the drawing board), and came up with the amazing Darkstar.

And by came up, we meant they actually built a full-scale model of the thing, “with a structurally sound body.” No engines were fitted on it, though, so the pair seen in the flick is all CGI, as is the entire plane flying for that matter. Something they did put in though was a fully-functional cockpit, one which was “mind-blowing” according to the people on the set.

The most important thing about this design concept, if we can call it that, is that some of the technologies imagined for it could one day be used in actual military aircraft. And by that we mostly mean the ability to go hypersonic.

Hypersonic is what travels at speeds greater than Mach 5. That would be 3,836 mph (6,173 kph), something the fastest jets ever designed, the already-mentioned SR-71, or the more familiar and still in use MiG-25 Foxbat and F-15E Strike Eagle, can only dream about.

Sure, there are hypersonic weapons, most of them in testing stages, but to date not a single human was capable of reaching Mach 10 in an aircraft while inside the atmosphere. The closest someone (Capt. Eldon W. Joersz and Maj. George T. Morgan Jr.) got was in the Blackbird, which hit 2,193.2 mph (3,529.6 kph) in 1976. When it comes to something other than traditional aircraft, things coming back from space hold the unofficial record, as they usually drop from the sky at 17,500 mph (28,000 kph).

Hypersonic atmospheric flight (true, maybe not exactly to Mach 10) with a pilot or more on board is however something that may come true in the near future. As Lockheed Martin itself said:

“Darkstar may not be real, but its capabilities are. Hypersonic technology, or the ability to travel at 60 miles per minute or faster, is a capability our team continues to advance today by leveraging more than 30 years of hypersonic investments and development and testing experience. The mission is to defend and protect our nation and allies with the discriminator of speed.”

It remains to be seen whether piloted aircraft flying so fast will have any real-world applications, but what the Darkstar has shown is that this is a future of military machines we must get ready for.



 
 
 
 
 

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