Pete “Maverick” Mitchell flies the experimental Darkstar jet past Mach 10 speed in Top Gun: Maverick — but exactly how fast is that? The film starts the adrenaline kick early with former TOPGUN instructor Maverick piloting the Darkstar, an experimental aircraft. The Lockheed Martin SR-71, nicknamed Blackbird, was in use during the late 1960s through the 1980s and was capable of outpacing enemy missiles, reaching Mach 3.2. Because Lockheed was a film consultant, it’s likely the Darkstar was actually based on a combination of experimental jets, including the SR-72, a successor to the Blackbird currently in development. The company is expected to begin test flights with the SR-72 by 2025, with speeds up to Mach 6 — roughly twice as fast as its predecessor.
During the first act of the Top Gun sequel, Maverick takes the Darkstar on a test flight with the intention of reaching Mach 9. Upon news that Top Gun‘s villainous Rear Admiral Cain was on-route to shut the program down, Maverick leaves with the intention of showing how fast the Darkstar can really go. He eventually pushes the jet to Mach 10 speed but pushes the Darkstar even further, reaching Mach 10.2 before the craft spirals out of control and breaks apart. So, how fast is Mach 10? “Mach” is a ratio in fluid dynamics that represents an object’s speed in comparison to the speed of sound. Mach 1, therefore, represents the actual speed of sound, which is 760 mph at sea level. Multiplying Mach 10.2 by the speed of sound (at sea level) means Maverick was traveling roughly 7,826 mph.
The Answer To How Fast Is Mach 10 Is Tricky
It’s not that simple, however, as the speed of sound deviates due to altitude, temperature, and air density. While the speed of sound is 760 mph at sea level, it’s actually closer to 660 mph at 55,000 ft. In the Top Gun sequel’s opening scene, Maverick pilots an experimental aircraft that doesn’t exist in real life. However, there are things that are comparable. Both the SR-71 and the rumored SR-72 could reach altitudes of over 80,000ft, where the speed of sound is lower than it is at sea level. Therefore, the answer to “how fast is Mach 10?” is tricky to answer.
The Darkstar is likely to reach the same heights as the SR-72. While there is limited data on the speed of sound at altitudes greater than 60,000 ft. (except with jets dropped from space) the differences in temperature between 40,000 and 60,000 ft. are seemingly negligible. The differences at 80,000 feet should be minimal as well, meaning that Maverick’s projected top speed (Mach 10.2), if he were to fly the Darkstar beyond 60,000 ft., is around 6,732 mph. This would theoretically allow the pilot to travel the width of the U.S. in under 25 minutes.
In Top Gun: Maverick Tom Cruise’s character reaches speeds that no manned flight is even close to achieving. The X-15 and pilot William J. Knight set the world record for the fastest manned aircraft all the way back in 1967, reaching a maximum speed of Mach 6.7. Top Gun: Maverick repeat’s the title character’s trait of being unable to resist the need for speed as he pushes the Darkstar further than Mach 10 speed, reaching hypersonic speed and resulting in the aircraft being destroyed. However, Maverick showed the aircraft’s capability beforehand, making the mission an overall success and Maverick the fastest man alive.
Could The Human Body Survive Mach 10?
Tom Cruise’s character’s feat of Mach 10 speed in Top Gun: Maverick is one scientifically improbable stunt out of many featured in the film. That being said, is it possible for the human body to be able to withstand such acceleration? The most likely answer is a resounding no. Mach 10 speed has been achieved by aircraft in the past. On November 16, 2004, NASA launched the X-43A, an air-breathing hypersonic vehicle, and was able to reach real Mach 10 while being pushed into the atmosphere. But that was an unmanned craft.
The problem with humans withstanding such a speed has to do with acceleration, deceleration, and G-force. Changes in speed are measured by G-force, and a normal person can take 4-6Gs. Real fighter pilots, on the other hand, are able to take a whopping 9Gs for a second or two, but that only comes with extensive training. Though a human can take 6Gs, sustained time at that speed could prove fatal. Astronauts only experience 3G at liftoff, which is hard enough to imagine for anyone who has been on a realistic launch simulator ride. So, while Tom Cruise’s fictional character may have been able to achieve Mach 10 speed in Top Gun: Maverick, it’s unlikely that a real human would be able to withstand such acceleration and deceleration.
A Lot Of Work Went Into Maverick’s Mach 10 Jet
Given the thrill of the Mach 10 Top Gun: Maverick scene, it is not too surprising that a lot of details and work went into creating the cinematic moment. In a breakdown of the Top Gun flying scene, director Joseph Kosinski explained how the production worked with Lockheed to build a full-scale model of a realistic aerial craft of this kind that “may or may not” exist. He also pointed out that the suit Maverick wears in the scene is based on a real high-altitude flight suit used by pilots of such aircrafts.
After a 34-year hiatus before Top Gun: Maverick, it was important to bring the franchise back with a memorable opening scene. Kosinski explained the Mach 10 scene is both an homage to the original’s opening scene and a way of showing how the character has been taken into the future of flying. Most impressively, the take-off scene was performed by a real pilot, one of the few cleared to operate such a plan. The shot could only be done once because of the damage caused by the plane’s take-off force which Ed Harris endured as the epic Top Gun moment had no stunt double.