You had a chance to see the SR-72 up close this weekend: During the production of this summer’s blockbuster hit Top Gun: Maverick, the Chinese government reportedly re-tasked one of its most powerful reconnaissance satellites to spy on the film. Though China continues to bootleg western-made movies, while also producing low-budget knockoffs of Hollywood hits for the Asian market, in this particular case it was interested in one of the film’s props – namely the mock-up of the SR-72 “Darkstar.”
The hypersonic jet seen on the big screen was produced with some key insight from Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works, the defense giant’s not-so-secret department at its aerospace wing where secret aircraft such as the SR-71 Blackbird was developed. Top Gun: Maverick producer Jerry Bruckheimer certainly knows how to make a splash with his films, and he wanted something truly unseen in a movie.
In this case, it was the “Darkstar,” which aviation experts say could be capable of reaching speeds of Mach 6. Apparently, Beijing didn’t know it was a movie prop, and believing it was a real experimental aircraft, wanted a closer look. That speaks to how good the faux Darkstar was.
SR-72: See It Up Close
Though there has been speculation as to how much of the aircraft was created with the magic of CGI (computer-generated images), in fact, a full-size prop was produced – and it was actually rolled out this past weekend’s 2022 Aerospace Valley Open House, Air Show & STEM Expo at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB), California.
Even the news that the mock-up would be at the show drew mass attention on social media.
“Yes, the rumors were TRUE! The Lockheed Martin Darkstar IS at Edwards and will have its world debut at the 2022 Aerospace Valley Open House, Air Show, & STEM Expo this weekend! Designed to showcase the future, it was only right local #STEM students received the first look! The Darkstar will be on static display all weekend long at #AvAirshow,” Edwards AFB announced via its Facebook page last week.
The Aerospace Valley Air Show (@AVAirShow) also shared a series of images of the Darkstar prop aircraft for those who couldn’t make the event in person.
To showcase the future, it was only right local #STEM students received the first look!
— Aerospace Valley Air Show (@AVAirShow) October 13, 2022
Even though it was just a static display, and certainly not capable of flight, let alone hypersonic travel, by all accounts, the Darkstar was still a star of the airshow.
“The Darkstar looks so real that seeing the aircraft prop in person is even more impressive than seeing it in the movie,” reported TheAviationist.
Until the Real Thing Arrives
It may have just been a static prop for a Hollywood blockbuster, but rumors continue to swirl that a real SR-72 Darkstar is in the works – and Lockheed Martin has already been clear on the matter, posting on its website, ” 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…”
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.