How an Aircraft Prop From Top Gun Maverick Fooled China Into Re-orbiting a Spy Satellite

Top Gun: Maverick features a fictional aircraft that is so realistic that Chinese intelligence thought it was a never-before-seen prototype.
top gun darkstar

An aircraft in Top Gun: Maverick is getting more attention than usual… A fictional hypersonic jet called Darkstar was under scrutiny by the Chinese government, which spied on it thinking it was a real aircraft.

Actually, Lockheed Martin’s specialists helped design the new Top Gun aircraft prototype – and even if it is entirely fictional, it was taken as a real groundbreaking hypersonic aircraft, fooling the Chinese intelligence.

The controversial Darkstar prototype

The Darkstar will be one of the leading aircraft in the upcoming movie Top Gun: Maverick.


It was designed by Skunk Works, the research division of Lockheed Martin – and China shifted the orbit of one of its satellites to spy on this American futuristic hypersonic aircraft.

It is clear that Top Gun’s Darkstar looks so real that China fell into the trap of believing it was a genuine prototype when they saw it on the runways of the naval base from its satellite.

This indicates that the aircraft is indeed realistic – and that China is stepping up its efforts to spy on the US.


The Darkstar is modeled on the SR-72

It’s not known to what extent the Top Gun’s Darkstar is really close to any real aircraft.

Some reports suggest that it is based on the SR-72 AKA Son of Blackbird, the first hypersonic aircraft still in development, which will be the successor of the SR-71 Blackbird as the fastest aircraft ever created.

Darkstar SR-71 Blackird
SR-71 Blackird by VargaA. Licensed under CC by 4.0

The Son of Blackbird could have its first test flight in 2025 if the project goes according to plan. But, probably, the Chinese intelligence thought the USAF was already testing the aircraft.


This is why China considered that the US was testing a never before seen prototype. 

China is intensively spying on the US

China CSST Xuntian
China CSST Xuntian by Jaimito130805. Licensed under CC by 4.0

It’s not the first time China use a spy satellite to snap photos of American aircraft.

Actually, the Chinese government has been deploying more satellites to spy on US aircraft effectively, and China was even able to take a video of what is believed to have been an F-22 in mid-flight with a satellite.

And Chinese specialists are intensifying their espionage activities to copy American aircraft and, at some future point, duplicate its technology with reverse engineering.


The hypersonic arms race between China and the US

Chinese Hypersonic Gliding Vehicle
Chinese Hypersonic Gliding Vehicle by 果壳军事. Licensed under CC by 4.0

Apart from intercontinental ballistic missiles that reach hypersonic speeds (beyond Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound), both China and the United States have invested heavily in developing hypersonic ramjet technology.

There are regular reports of hypersonic weapons being developed in China and the US since both are working hard to dominate the air with new hypersonic jets and missiles that will allow them to maintain air supremacy.

China will do whatever it takes to keep spying on the US

China moved a satellite from its orbit with the aim of taking pictures of the apparently new hypersonic aircraft, the Darkstar.


But, if they had waited a few days, they could have saved the costly expense of shifting a satellite from its orbit and watching Top Gun: Maverick in theaters… or at least check it out in the latest Lady Gaga music video.

Featured image credit: Paramount Pictures Studios and YouTube screen capture.