Most aviation aficionados are quite familiar with the SR-71 Blackbird, Lockheed’s Cold War-era spy plane that set speed and altitude records for decades streaking across the skies at 80,000 feet at Mach 3, showcasing its insane capabilities with rare exotic alloys and futuristic design.
Now the wild blue yonder may soon to get a bit wilder with Lockheed Martin’s spiritual successor in the SR-72 Darkstar, a hypersonic jet intended to provide superior air reconnaissance for the Air Force later this decade or next. And it just might be making a cameo in the new "Top Gun: Maverick" film, according to a recent trailer.
Rumors are also flying that the upcoming "Top Gun" sequel starring Tom Cruise, “Top Gun: Maverick,“ features a peek at what might be the SR-72 in the latest trailer for the action feature that arrives in theaters on May 27, 2022.
Apparently Cruise's character, Pete Mitchell (call-sign Maverick) is piloting an experimental craft that looks suspiciously like the Darkstar, but it could also be a fictionalized variant of the SR-72 instead. Remember, this is Hollywood!
Matchbox is already marketing the super-secret aircraft in a blister pack as part of their line of "Top Gun: Maverick" toy line of tie-in products so it's a good bet this will be its official coming out party on the silver screen next month.
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This super-cool Mach 6 wonder is still in the testing phases but should be rolled out for initial flight demonstrations by no later than 2023. But with a tight lid on its stealthy creation, it actually might have already taken to the air without the general public being aware.
The so-called "Son of Blackbird's" developmental program has been cloaked in secrecy since whispers of its genesis swirled around the aviation industry 10 years ago. This unpiloted or semi-autonomous high altitude vehicle will employ a special hypersonic propulsion system to enable the wicked-looking plane to be deployed as an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft.
Despite satellites providing the brunt of military surveillance strengths, an ultra-fast tool like the SR-72 would act as a companion to existing manned aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to offer flexible options in the complicated global game of spycraft.
Here's what we've learned so far: Designed by Lockheed Martin's legendary California-based "Skunk Works," the SR-72 has been rumored to spotlight an advanced propulsion system revolving around a turbine-based combined cycle, which is the fusion of a modified fighter turbine engine with a dual-mode ramjet, AKA a scramjet. This type of hybrid engine would scoot the Darkstar machine toward the heavens at the staggering speed of 4,600 miles-per-hour!
So far, the SR-72 is being built simply as a hypersonic aircraft demonstrator, a designation that leaves open the decision of whether or not it will be given the green light as a full production vehicle. Also speculated upon is its role as a potential piloted research craft that might even carry a complement of clandestine strike weapons to bomb targets from the stratosphere.
As with any sophisticated aircraft of this nature, it takes time to work out the kinks and get big budgets passed. The debut testing phase of the SR-72 Darkstar is purported to be in late 2023, and if approved for an official production run it wouldn’t join the Air Force's arsenal until the 2030s.
Until then, you can always buy Matchbox’s die-cast toy of the Darkstar as part of the studio's merchandising effort.
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Jeff Spry is an award-winning screenwriter and veteran freelance journalist covering TV, movies, video games, books, and comics. His work has appeared at SYFY Wire, Inverse, Collider, Bleeding Cool and elsewhere. Jeff lives in beautiful Bend, Oregon amid the ponderosa pines, classic muscle cars, a crypt of collector horror comics, and two loyal English Setters.