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    Hypersonic Dreams: Tracing the SR-72 in Hollywood and Reality

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    When “Top Gun: Maverick” soared into theaters, it not only resurrected an iconic film franchise but also ignited the imaginations of military tech enthusiasts with a breathtaking depiction of hypersonic flight.

    The film’s opening sequence introduces audiences to an aircraft resembling Lockheed Martin’s SR-72, a project often dubbed the “Son of Blackbird,” which has captivated aviation circles with its promise of Mach 6 speeds and a 2025 debut.

    But is this Hollywood fantasy grounded in reality, or simply a flight of fancy?

    In “Top Gun: Maverick,” Tom Cruise’s character “Maverick” pushes the limits of aviation, piloting the SR-72-like “Darkstar” to Mach 10.

    In creating the Darkstar’s cinematic debut, the film’s team worked closely with Lockheed Martin. The joint effort led to a full-scale model, although the movie aircraft doesn’t exist in reality.

    Despite the film’s theatrical liberties, the depicted craft hints at the SR-72’s rumored capabilities.

    Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works division, which designed the SR-71 Blackbird, has also taken on the development of the SR-72.

    The real SR-72 is expected to be an unmanned hypersonic UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle), unlike the manned jet featured in the movie.

    In order to propel the SR-72 beyond Mach 6, Lockheed has partnered with Aerojet Rocketdyne to create a scramjet-powered HV-3x.

    The SR-72 is anticipated to feature an air-breathing hypersonic propulsion system, which has the capacity to propel the aircraft throughout all stages of flight, ranging from subsonic to supersonic, and ultimately reaching hypersonic velocities.

    Lockheed Martin has teased, “With the 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…”

    The idea of Mach 10 manned flight, as depicted in the film, is exhilarating, but such speeds pose significant challenges.

    Mach 10, or about 7,672 mph, would push the boundaries of human endurance due to the immense acceleration and G-forces involved.

    Fighter pilots can handle up to 9Gs for brief moments, but even that is dwarfed by the forces at Mach 10.

    NASA’s unmanned X-43A reached Mach 10 in 2004, but a manned aircraft at those speeds remains untested.

    Relevant articles:
    SR-72: Could the Mach 10 Plane in Top Gun: Maverick Really Work?, The National Interest
    How Fast Is Mach 10? What Speed Maverick Travels In Top Gun 2, Screen Rant
    The Real Story of Darkstar in ‘Top Gun: Maverick’, Popular Mechanics
    Which scenes of Top Gun: Maverick included actual aerial footage and which are VFX?, Stack Exchange

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