10 Fictional ‘Black Jet’ Toys, Models, And Video Games From The 1980s To Today
All I want for Christmas is an F-19 stealth super fighter.
Christmas is almost here. If you’ve got a child or collector in your life, you’ve no doubt already bought some of the season’s newest toys. Among the hot new selections this year are the many toy aircraft and vessels spun off from the highly-anticipated Top Gun: Maverick film now set to release on July 1, 2021. While the Matchbox Top Gun: Maverick toys largely center on existing aircraft that are featured in the film from the past and present of aviation, such as the P-51, F-16, F-35, and F/A-18 Super Hornet, there is one fictitious addition to the line-up: the “Darkstar.”
The Darkstar is the secret hypersonic jet that Maverick takes on a test mission in the upcoming film, as seen in the trailers. Regardless of its recent release, the new Matchbox toy, seen later on in this piece, closely resembles many other famous “black jet” toys and models that have hit shelves over the last few decades. These toys, models, and the occasional video game, all depict an aircraft featuring an elongated, chined forward fuselage that extends back into a delta-like wing situated behind the fuselage's midpoint, and usually features two inward-canted tail fins. The configuration is reminiscent of the SR-71 Blackbird, but only very loosely so. These toys and games also describe this mythical aircraft as being extremely fast, stealthy, and sometimes capable of spaceflight.
Since toys and nostalgia go together so well at Christmas, mix up a cup of hot cocoa and join us for a look back at the most popular plastic and pixelated depictions of these fictitious phantom aircraft from the 1980s to today.
Testors F-19 Stealth Fighter Model Kit (1986)
In 1986, model maker Testors rolled out one of its most enduring and famous model kits, called the "F-19 Stealth Fighter." The model, designed by John Andrews, was based on various accounts Andrews had collected from aircraft spotters, engineers, and pilots.
To this day, the F-19 remains Testors' highest-selling model, having sold over 1 million units. As it turns out, Andrews had likely based his design, at least partially, on bits of information about the F-117 that had trickled out into the public sphere.
Monogram F-19 Stealth Fighter Model Kit (1987)
After the success of Testors' kit, one of its biggest competitors on the model market, Monogram, rushed to put out its own competing version of the "F-19 Stealth Fighter." Unlike the preceding model, the Monogram stealth fighter featured highly prominent leading-edge canards and foldable wingtips. It also eschewed an all-black finish in favor of a two-tone grey scheme.
Monogram's model design appears to have largely been influenced by concept art by Northrop/Loral, who proposed designs early on for the Advanced Tactical Fighter program. That program would later lead to Lockheed YF-22 and the Northrop YF-23. None of Loral's highly notional concept art appears to have led to anything other than some awesome toys and models.
Revell F-19 Stealth Fighter (1988)
Not to be outdone by its main competitors, model maker Revell released its own "F-19 Stealth Fighter" in 1988. Revell’s design seemed to blend together aspects of the Monogram and Testors kits’ designs, featuring an all-black finish, rounded canards, prominent inward-canted tail fins, and downward-curving wings.
F-19 Stealth Fighter on DOS (1988)
The flight combat simulator games of the 1980s were their own special blend of horrible-yet-fun gameplay, pixelated graphics, and motion sickness. Games back then really knew how to punish a player. Amidst the "F-19" model madness, legendary game designer Sid Meier cranked out F-19 Stealth Fighter in the late ‘80s for the Commodore 64 and DOS, a game that put players in the cockpit of the mythical aircraft.
The game was later re-released in 1991 under the title Night Hawk: F-117A Stealth Fighter 2.0. This new version allowed the player to choose between the F-117 or the fictional F-19.
Air Diver on Sega Genesis/Mega Drive (1990)
Like the DOS-based F-19 Stealth Fighter released a few years prior, the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive console game Air Diver put the player at the controls of a high-speed, top-secret fighter similar to the many F-19 designs that came before it, although this version would be known as the "F-119." This is likely because, by then, the F-117 was already disclosed.
The craft in Air Diver featured prominent canards similar to the Monogram F-19 model released in 1987 and mimicked the designs of other hypothetical F-19 models that came before it. In Air Diver, the game was played from the perspective of the aircraft’s cockpit and allowed the player to venture outside of the atmosphere to battle massive terrorist space cruisers in Earth’s orbit.
Whisper from Transformers (1988)
Sometimes written as “Visper,” Whisper was a Decepticon who first appeared in Marvel’s Transformers comic books. When not in robot form, Whisper could transform into a working “F-19” stealth jet with the same planform, canards, and inward canted twin tail fins as other depictions of the F-19.
Whisper would later reappear in the Transformers Trading Card Game in 2019 and the 2020 Netflix series Transformers: War for Cybertron.
G.I. Joe Phantom X-19 (1988)
Hasbro Toys released a G.I Joe version of the apocryphal F-19 the same year Whisper appeared in Transformers, another Hasbro property. G.I. Joe changed the aircraft’s designation, naming its version the “Phantom X-19 Stealth Fighter.” The craft was piloted by the character Ghostrider, real name Jonas S. Jeffries, who is described as being as invisible as his aircraft.
On the back of the Phantom X-19’s box, the aircraft is described as “the most secret and most lethal aircraft in existence today” and a multi-role fighter “able to penetrate enemy air-space at speeds over Mach 3.5.”
Hasbro's G.I. Joe black jet came with an action figure of its pilot, “top-secret blueprints of an actual Phantom X-19” and two removable cruise missiles.
Various Die Cast Models and Toys (1980s & 1990s)
Aside from the many well-known “F-19” toys and models cranked out in the 1980s and 1990s by major toy makers, there were dozens of diecast F-19s made by lower-end manufacturers, such as Ertl or Micro Machines, looking to capitalize on the successes of Revell and Testors. Many of these cheaper diecasts were made for foreign markets, but can be found today on various toy collection or online auction sites.
Among the rather similar designs of these various diecast or battery-operated F-19 toys, the influence of the Testors and Monogram models can be clearly seen. Some of these "F-19" designs still pop up in generic diecast aircraft sets still sold today.
Matchbox Sky Busters “Stealth Launch” (2011)
While the Matchbox Sky Busters “Stealth Launch” diecast toy clearly owes some of its design elements to the Grumman X-29, it’s also reminiscent of many of the Testor, Revell, and Monogram "F-19 Stealth Fighter" designs of the 1980s.
The "Stealth Launch" features the same basic design as other “F-19” plastic depictions, but this more recent Matchbox version features a forward-swept wing configuration, more reminiscent of the X-29. Still, its “Stealth” name, twin tail fins, canards, and downward-curved wings harken back to the classic F-19 toys and models of the ‘80s.
Matchbox Top Gun “Darkstar” (2020)
The latest “black jet” to hit the toy market is the Matchbox ‘Darkstar” from the Top Gun: Maverick line of toys that debuted this year. While the release of the film was delayed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Matchbox forged ahead with their toy releases, clueing us in somewhat about the fictional aircraft Tom Cruise’s titular character can be seen flying in the film’s trailer.
The “Darkstar,” as Matchbox is calling it, appears to have some design elements in common with the renderings of the long-teased SR-72 hypersonic jet, which has been speculated to be the inspiration for the mysterious aircraft in the Top Gun: Maverick trailer. The aircraft in the film’s trailer has a more angular planform, while the Darkstar toy is more rounded in some areas, however. This could be a result of the toy's production mold not being fully representative of the final onscreen model, or maybe the film's renders will be more refined when the actual movie debuts.
Of course, this also could have been a design choice made by Matchbox in order to keep sharp corners away from young children. Whatever the case may be with this latest in a long line of fictional, but similar 'black jet' toys, the Matchbox Darkstar, like so many other toys, appears to owe at least a part of its design lineage to the Testor F-19 Stealth Fighter of 1986.
While these toys, models, and games are merely fanciful misinterpretations of early advanced combat aircraft concepts, some of which surrounded the Air Force's first stealth jet, similar designs have been used in the insignia of actual military units, like the Alabama Air National Guard’s 117th Intelligence Squadron.
A Department of Defense spokesperson stated in regards to the insignia that "an emblem is supposed to last for generations, therefore we do not depict anything mission-specific, because then the emblem would be mismatched or obsolete." Just as in the toy world, the mythos and imagery of the mysterious "black jet" F-19 have became enshrined within the military itself. You can read all about this insignia and its lineage in this past piece of ours.
Ultimately, these toys should be viewed as just that: toys, meant to stimulate the childhood imagination. Who knows what little girl or boy will open up the Matchbox “Darkstar” this Christmas morning and be inspired to pursue a lifetime of aviation photography, aerospace engineering, or a career as a pilot or aircraft mechanic? Who knows how many countless others, like many of us here at The War Zone, were inspired by the black jet toys, model kits, and video games of the 1980s and 90s?
So, with that in mind, it's great to see Top Gun's Darkstar carry on what has become something of a rich tradition.
Contact the author: Brett@thedrive.com