Lockheed Martin Skunk Works will put a secret hypersonic airplane on static display at the Edwards Air Force Base airshow from October 14 to 16. But it will never fly. It is the Darkstar full-scale model that is featured in the opening scenes of this year’s hit movie “Top Gun: Maverick.”
The exhibit looks set to be the main attraction, at least on the first day of the show, when some 12,000 students from high schools in the region will attend. Lockheed and the show organizers hope that it will stimulate interest in aerospace careers.
Skunk Works is currently on a hiring drive, having secured multiple, mostly classified contracts from the Pentagon over the past few years. Last year, it opened a new 215,000-sq-ft advanced manufacturing facility at its Palmdale headquarters.
“Darkstar may not be real, but its capabilities are. Hypersonic technology is a capability our team continues to advance today by leveraging more than 30 years of hypersonic investments and development and testing experience,” Skunk Works said when the movie debuted in April.
Rumor and speculation about such developments at Palmdale, California, have circulated for years. First it was the “Aurora” and later the “SR-72.”
But the only fully acknowledged high-Mach program underway at Skunk Works is the X-59, an unclassified demonstrator of quiet supersonic technology for NASA that is due to fly later this year. Last year, Skunk Works released partial details of the Speed Racer, an air-launched UAS or missile, but this project is demonstrating fast digital development and manufacturing technology rather than very fast flight.
There really was an actual airplane built by Skunk Works named Darkstar in the mid-1990s. It was a joint effort with Boeing for a stealthy, subsonic, high-altitude UAV for reconnaissance.
The aircraft was funded by the Pentagon and first flew in 1996. But the prototype— designated RQ-3—crashed on its second flight. A modified version—designated RQ-3A—flew in 1998, but the program was canceled the following year.
The Edwards event is formally named the Aerospace Valley Open House, Airshow and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Expo. It is the first time in 13 years that the iconic airbase has opened its doors.
Organizers have promised “performances from nearly every aircraft in the current Air Force inventory, various NASA aircraft, and a world-exclusive special ‘Race to Mach 1’ high above the crowd.”
Preceding the event next Wednesday will be a “STEM Outreach Flyover” of some 50 schools in 14 communities, consisting of trainer, fighter and cargo aircraft.
Meanwhile, the locally-based Flight Test Museum Foundation (FTMF) will be celebrating the raising of the roof on the new building that it is constructing just outside the main gate at Edwards. The building will replace a smaller museum inside the base that was closed to non-military visitors some years ago for security reasons.