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Did You Know That The Darkstar Movie Prop Can Be Seen In Satellite Images Of Palmdale?

Darkstar Palmdale
A screengrab from Google Earth showing the Darkstar movie prop outside a hangar in Palmdale. (Image credit: Google)

The famous Darkstar of “Top Gun: Maverick” can be seen on Google Earth at Lockheed’s Skunk Works facility in Palmdale.

More or less one year ago today, the fictional Lockheed Skunk Works Darkstar hypersonic test aircraft prop used in the production of “Top Gun: Maverick” broke cover at Edwards Air Force Base, California, where it was prepared to be put on static display next to a real Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird during the 2022 Aerospace Valley Open House, Air Show and STEM Expo.

Back then, we had the chance to have a close look at the aircraft prop and we couldn’t but notice that not only was the Darkstar strikingly similar to the SR-72 hypersonic reconnaissance aircraft concept, but also that it looked convincingly real.

In fact, the full scale movie prop’s sleek aerodynamic shapes, with small wings and canted vertical twin tails, along with a turbine-based combined cycle propulsion system, with two turbojet/low-bypass turbofan afterburning engines and two scramjets, were not designed by Hollywood, but by Lockheed’s 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. Moreover, they used some real features coming from real aircraft. For instance, the cockpit, with no forward visibility that forces Maverick to rely on a synthetic vision system to see what’s in front of the aircraft, comes straight out of the X-59 QueSST currently being developed by the Skunk Works.

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The Darkstar movie prop is actually more realistic in person than from its movie appearance. (Image credit: Tom Demerly/The Aviationist)

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The Darkstar movie prop is actually more realistic in person than from its movie appearance. (Image credit: Tom Demerly/The Aviationist)

Noteworthy, after its appearance among the highlights of the airshow at Edwards AFB in 2022, the prop disappeared. At least, until earlier this year: a satellite image you can find on Google Earth Pro, dated Apr. 17, 2023, depicts the mysterious aircraft outside of a hangar at Lockheed’s Skunk Works facility in Palmdale, California.

We don’t know the reason why it was there and where it ended up immediately thereafter, however, it’s at least interesting to know it  was there several months after the airshow and some five years after the filming of the movie, especially since we know that during the production of “Top Gun: Maverick”, China was reportedly fooled in believing that it was a real experimental aircraft and even reoriented a spy satellite to take photos of it…

Someone still believes Darkstar is not just a movie prop but something much similar to an existing, secret aircraft and what happened last month fuelled such theories: an aircraft resembling the Darkstar made a cameo in a promotional video published by LM on social media last month; a clip that featured some of Skunk Works’ current and future programs.

Anyway, I would like to thank our long time reader Matt W, who sent me an email about the prop in Palmdale that made me realize that the presence of the Darkstar in the satellite images publicly available, which I had been aware of for a few months, had not received much attention online, despite the hype for the first public appearance of the hypersonic prototype aircraft featured in Top Gun sequel at Edwards AFB last year.

“Surprised they have the room to spare for a showpiece!” Matt commented in his email. I can’t but agree with him.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.

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