“Top Gun: Maverick,” the sequel to the 1980’s naval aviation blockbuster debuts at the end of this month. It looks to feature plenty of F/A-18 Hornets and what may be Russia’s next-generation stealth fighter, the Su-57 “Felon.” And while the uniforms may not be perfectly accurate, the film appears to have nailed accuracy in at least one regard: They made a prop spy plane that looked so real that the Chinese government reportedly rerouted a spy satellite to get a look at it.
As producer Jerry Bruckheimer told Sandboxx News, “The Navy told us that a Chinese satellite turned and headed on a different route to photograph that plane. They thought it was real. That’s how real it looks.”
Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Programs, better known as the Skunk Works, has been working on a proposed successor to the long range, Mach 3-capable SR-71 Blackbird for years. Dubbed the SR-72, this hypersonic jet would reach top speeds up to Mach 6, or around 4,600 miles per hour.
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In 2017, a small demonstrator aircraft was reportedly spotted at the Skunk Works facilities in Palmdale, California, it remains a highly secretive project.
That doesn’t mean Skunk Works wasn’t willing to help out with the film’s production.
According to Bruckheimer and director Joseph Kozinski, Lockheed engineers were consulted in designing and producing a mockup of the Darkstar, a fictional aircraft from the movie that at least superficially resembles artists renderings of the SR-72.
“The reason we approached Skunk Works is because I wanted to make the most realistic hypersonic aircraft we possibly could. In fact, as you saw, we built it full-scale in cooperation with them,” Kosinski told Sandboxx News. “But the reason it looks so real is because it was the engineers from Skunk Works who helped us design it. So those are the same people who are working on real aircraft who helped us design Darkstar for this film.”
Much like the fabled Ghost Army of World War II – when the U.S. military used hundreds of inflatable tanks, planes and artillery pieces to deceive German reconnaissance – those production values paid off in the form of China sending one of its spy satellites to monitor the movie-making process.
In any event, they’ll be able to see what Tom Cruise’s Maverick has been doing with the Darkstar when the film is released at the end of this month.