Plane from “Top Gun: Maverick”: How a German builds Hollywood’s dream machines

Status: 03/10/2023 1:07 p.m

“Top Gun: Maverick” is nominated for six Oscars. The German designer Daniel Simon also played a part in the success: he designed an airplane for the film. Chinese satellites also found the model exciting.

By Katharina Wilhelm, ARD Studio Los Angeles

It’s probably one of the best action scenes of the year: Tom Cruise illegally boards the supersonic plane called “Darkstar” as a test pilot. An ultra-modern Navy aircraft that can reach the speed of Mach 10, i.e. more than 12,000 kilometers per hour. Converted that is the distance from Hamburg to Munich in three minutes.

“Darkstar” was designed by Daniel Simon. The trained car designer from Stralsund designed the plane on behalf of director Joe Kosinski. The result is a matte black, arrow-like, futuristic aircraft.

Darkstar’s design should tell a story

The task was not only to develop a believable, realistic design, but also to tell a story with it, says Simon. “If you are a bit interested in aviation, you know that there are always people who risk their lives, simply for the thrill or for records,” he says.

This time is coming to an end with the advent of artificial intelligence, remote-controlled machines and drones. The film’s main character, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell – played by Cruise – is the complete opposite of that. “So initially we wanted to show an aircraft that would make it almost impossible for a human to pilot it at these high speeds,” explains the designer.

In Germany, Simon worked for the VW Group, among others. His book about futuristic automobiles and airplanes, published in 2007, caught the interest of director Joe Kosinski. At the time, he was working on the science fiction film “Tron Legacy” and immediately wanted Simon on board as a designer.

“That fascinated me so much that I packed my bags relatively quickly and then just took a plane from Berlin to Los Angeles,” says the designer. He stayed in the USA and now lives in Florida.

China is said to have mistaken the hypersonic jet for real

A lot has happened since then: His extraordinary, futuristic designs can be seen in films such as “Oblivion”, “Captain America” ​​and “Star Wars”. In “Top Gun: Maverick” the plane should be close to reality. The model was therefore also built at “Skunkworks”, a department of the aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin, which is known for experimental aircraft and secret projects.

The design is so realistic that China has aligned its satellites to it, producer Jerry Bruckheimer likes to say in interviews. Simon saw it first-hand while filming on a military base in California, he says:

When this plane was then pushed onto the runway, a high-ranking military officer came up to the film crew relatively quickly and said: ‘We have increased satellite activity at the base’. It turned out that our model airplane, which is the right size, has already attracted some attention.

Even if a real aircraft manufacturer was involved: “Darkstar” is not a real aircraft, but a model. A lot of trickery was done with wood and glue, “maybe a bit of tape here and there – it has to be quick and efficient,” says Simon.

In Top Gun: Maverick, Tom Cruise plays Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a test pilot who works for the US Navy.

Image: Paramount Pictures via AP

Airplane had to convince Tom Cruise

His job also includes explaining the model. Cruise, himself a trained pilot and producer of the film, has a good idea of ​​​​the subject, says Simon: “I remember a moment when Tom Cruise was a little surprised about the lack of lateral support on the seat that comes on this plane.”

The designer replied that it was only an experimental aircraft. It only has to fly straight ahead at Mach 10. “These are moments where I think, yeah, wait a minute, he’s probably flown 20 different crazy planes like this,” says Simon.

That Cruise crashes the “Darkstar” right at the beginning of the film – for free, it’s part of the story.

Oscars 23: Behind the scenes – German builds Hollywood’s dream machines

Katharina Wilhelm, ARD Los Angeles, March 10, 2023 1:50 p.m

source site