Once Upon A Time... SR-71
Seeker of Truth, That's Without Peer or Equal
That's what Habu's, Air Force SR-71 pilots,
said their purpose & mission was about.
Before I go any further here, I know I am
treading on some strong feelings and con-
victions. Let me say this up front. Yes, I
believe in the Almighty & I further believe
with all my heart & soul that the heavens
are teaming with life and that at least 99%
of that life is much further along & advance
than our own. Having said that, I do believe
through personal knowledge and access to
a lot of classified records, that we on earth
have never in our history been visited by
ANY intelligent life and furthermore there
does not appear in any known location so
much as one shred of evidence to the con-
trary. I sincerely wish I could have better
news to state here, but that would not be
truthful to You or to Me.
Further to the above...
YES, this does include Roswell 47, Eglin,
Wright-Pat, Groom Lake & Majestic...
and the UFO Conspiracy Theory
November '54, CIA had entered into the world
of high technology with its U-2 overhead recon-
naissance project. Working with Lockheed's
Advanced Development facility in Burbank,
Ca, known as the Skunk Works & Kelly John-
son, an experimental aircraft: the U-2. It could
fly at 60'k in the mid-1950's most commercial
airliners flew between 10'k & 20'k. Consequent-
ly once the U-2 started test flights, pilots & air
traffic controllers began reporting a large in-
crease in UFO sightings. The early U-2s were
silver (they were later painted black) & reflect-
ed the rays from the sun, especially at sunrise
& sunset. They often appeared as fiery objects
to observers below. AF Blue Book investigators
aware of the secret U-2 flights tried to explain
away such sightings by linking them to natural
phenomena such as ice crystals & temperature
inversions. By processing within the Agency's
U-2 Project Staff in Washington, Blue Book in-
vestigators were able to attribute many UFO
sightings to U-2 flights. They were careful, how-
ever, not to reveal the true cause of sightings to
the public. According to later estimates from
CIA officials who worked on the U-2 project and
the OXCART (SR-71, or Blackbird) project, over
half of UFO reports from late Fifties through
the 1960s were accounted for by many manned
reconnaissance flights (the U-2) over the United
States. This led the AF to make misleading and
deceptive statements to the public in order to
allay public fears & to protect an extraordin-
arily sensitive national security assets.
Want To Take A Ride Aboard ?
While perhaps justified, this deception added
fuel to the later conspiracy theories and the
cover-up controversy of the 1970s. The per-
centage of what the Air Force considered
unexplained UFO sightings fell to 5.9% in
the release of the Robertson panel report on
UFOs. In 1956, Edward Ruppelt, former head
of the AF Blue Book project publicly revealed
the existence of the panel. A best selling book
by UFOlogist Donald Keyhoe, a retired Marine
Corps major, advocated release of all govern-
ment information relating to UFOs. Civilian
UFO groups such as the National Investigations
Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) and
the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization
(APRO) immediately pushed for release of the
Robertson panel report. Under pressure, the
AF approached CIA for permission to declas-
sify and release the report. Despite such pres-
sure, Philip Strong, Deputy Asst. Director of
OSI, refused to declassify the report and de-
clined to disclose CIA sponsorship of the
panel. As an alternative, the Agency prepared
a sanitized version of the report potential in
the UFO controversy.
The demands, however, for more government
information about UFOs did not let up. On 8
March 1958, Keyhoe, in an interview with Mr.
Mike Wallace of CBS, claimed deep CIA invol-
vement with UFOs and CIA sponsorship of the
Robertson panel. This prompted letters to the
Agency from Keyhoe and Dr. Leon Davidson,
a chemical engineer and UFOlogist. They de-
manded the release of the Robertson panel re-
port and confirmation of CIA involvement in
the UFO issue. Davidson had convinced him-
self that the Agency, not the Air Force, carried
most of the responsibility for UFO analysis &
that the activities of the US Government are
responsible for the flying saucer sightings of
the last decade. Indeed, because of the un-
disclosed U-2 & OXCART flights, Davidson
was closer to truth than he suspected. CIA,
never-the-less held firm to its policy of not
revealing its role in UFO investigations and
refused to declassify the full Robertson panel
report. In a meeting with Air Force reps to
discuss how to handle future inquires such
as Keyhoe's & Davidson's, Agency officials
confirmed their opposition to the declassi-
fication of the full report and worried that
Keyhoe had the ear of former DCI Vice
Admiral Roscoe Hillenkoetter, who served
on the board of governors of NICAP. They
debated whether to have CIA General
Counsel Lawrence R. Houston show Hill-
enkoetter the report as a possible way to
defuse the situation. CIA officer Frank
Chapin also hinted that Davidson might
have ulterior motives, 'some of them are
perhaps not in the best interest of this
country' & suggested bringing in the FBI
to investigate. Although the record is un-
clear whether the FBI ever instituted an
investigation of Davidson or Keyhoe, or
even whether Houston ever saw mister
Hillenkoetter about the Robertson report,
but in the end Hillenkoetter did resign
from the NICAP in 1962.
The Agency was also involved with Davidson
and Keyhoe in two rather famous UFO cases
in the 1950s, which helped contribute to a
growing sense of public distrust of CIA with
regard to UFOs. One focused on what was
reported to have been a tape recording of a
radio signal from a flying saucer; the other
on reported photos of a flying saucer. The
radio code incident began innocently enough
in 1955, when two elderly sisters in Chicago,
Mildred & Marie Maier, reported in Journal
Of Space Flight, their experiences with
UFOs, including the recording of a radio
program in which an unidentified code was
reportedly heard. The sisters taped the
program and other ham radio operators also
claimed to have heard the space message.
OSI became interested, asked the Scientific
Contact Branch to obtain a copy of the
recording. Field officers from the Contact
Division (CD), one of whom was Dewelt
Walker made contact with the Maier sisters,
who were 'thrilled that the government was
interested' and set up a time to meet with
them. In trying to secure the tape record-
ing, the Agency officers reported that they
had stumbled upon a scene out of Arsenic
& Old Lace.'The only thing lacking was the
elderberry wine' Walker cabled Hdqts. After
reviewing sisters' scrapbook of clippings
from their days on the stage, the officers
secured a copy of recording. OSI analyzed
the tape and found it was nothing more
than Morse code from a US radio station.
The matter rested until UFO-ologist Leon
Davidson talked with the Maier sisters in
1957. The sisters remembered they had
talked with a Mr. Walker who said he was
from the US Air Force. Davidson then
wrote to a Mr. Walker, believing him to be
a US Air Force Intelligence Officer from
OSI at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio and to
ask if the tape had been analyzed at ATIC.
Dewelt Walker replied to Davidson that the
tape was forwarded to proper authority for
evaluation & no information was available
concerning the results. Not satisfied, and
suspecting that Walker was really a CIA
officer, Davidson next wrote DCI Allen
Dulles demanding to learn what the coded
message revealed and who Mr Walker was.
The Agency, wanting to keep Walker's ID
as a CIA agent was a secret, replied that
another agency of the government had
analyzed the tape in question and that
Davidson would be hearing from the AF.
On 5th Aug, the AF wrote Mr Davidson
saying that Walker Was & Is an Air Force
Officer and that the tape was analyzed by
another government agency.The Air Force
letter confirmed the recording contained
only identifiable Morse Code which came
from a known US licensed radio station.
Davidson wrote Dulles again. This time he
wanted to know the identity of the Morse
operator and of the agency that had did
all the analysis. The CIA and the Air Force
were now in a quandary. The Agency had
previously denied that it had actually did
the tape analysis. The Air Force had also
denied analyzing the tape and claimed that
Walker was an Air Force officer. CIA officers,
under cover, contacted Davidson in Chicago
and promised to get the code translation &
the identification of the transmitter, if at all
possible. In another attempt to pacify Mr.
Davidson, a CIA officer, again under cover
and wearing his AF uniform, talked to
Davidson in New York City. The CIA officer
explained that there was no super agency
involved & that AF policy not to disclose
who was doing what. Seeming to accept
this argu-ment, Davidson never-the-less
pressed for disclosure of the recording
message and the source. The officer
agreed to see what he could do. After
checking Headquarters, the CIA officer
phoned Davidson to report that a thorough
check had been made and, because the
signal was of known US origin, the tape
and the notes made at the time had been
destroyed to conserve file space. Incensed
over what he then perceived was a big run
around, Davidson told the CIA officer that
he & his agency, whichever, were acting like
Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamster Union in
destroying records which might indict them'.
Believing that any contact with Davidson
would only encourage more speculation, the
Contact Division washed its hands of the
issue by reporting to the DCI and to ATIC
that it would not respond to or try contact
Davidson again. Thus, a minor but bizarre
incident, handled poorly by both CIA and
the Air Force, turned into a major flap that
just added fuel to the growing mystery
surrounding UFOs and the CIA's role in their
investigation. Another flap a few months later
added to the growing questions surrounding
the Agency's true role with regard to flying
saucers. CIA's concern over secrecy again
made matters worse. In 1958, Major Keyhoe
charged that the Agency was deliberately
asking eyewitnesses of UFOs not to make
their sightings public.The incident stemmed
from a November 1957 request from OSI to
the CD to obtain from Ralph C. Mayher, a
photographer for KYW-TV in Philadelphia,
certain photographs he took in 1952 of an
unidentified flying object. Harry Real, a CD
officer, contacted Mayher and obtained
copies of the photographs for analysis. On
12 December 1957, John Hazen, another CD
officer, returned the 5 photos of the alleged
UFO to Mayher without comment. Mayher
asked Hazen for the Agency's evaluation of
the photos, explaining that he was trying to
organize a TV program to brief the public on
UFOs. He wanted to mention on the show that
a US intelligence organization had viewed the
photographs and thought them of interest.
Although he advised Mayher not to take this
approach, Hazen stated that Mayher was a
US citizen and would have to make his own
decision as to what to do. Keyhoe later
contacted Mayher, who told him his story of
CIA and the photographs. Keyhoe then asked
the Agency to confirm Hazen's employment in
writing, in an effort to expose CIA's role in
UFO investigations. Agency refused, despite
the fact that CD field representatives were
normally overt and carried credentials that
identifying their Agency association. DCI
Dulles's aide, John Earman, merely sent
Keyhoe a noncommittal letter noting that,
because UFOs were of primary concern to the
Department of the Air Force, the Agency had
referred his letter to the Air Force for an
appropriate response. Like the response to
Davidson, the Agency reply to Keyhoe only
fueled the speculation that the Agency was
deeply involved in UFO sightings. Pressure
to release information on UFOs continued to
grow. Although CIA had a declining interest
in UFO cases, it continued to monitor UFO
sightings. Officials felt the need to keep
informed on UFOs if only to alert the DCI
to the more sensational UFO reports & flaps.
& the OXCART Aircraft
KEY: (U) Unclassified
(C) Classified since declassified
(S) Secret since declassified
(TS) Top Secret since declassified
Thanks to Freedom Of Information Act.
Once Upon A Time ...
THE OXCART STORY
compiled by Thomas P. McIninch (CIA)
(S) One spring day in 1962 a test pilot named
Louis Schalk, employed by the Lockheed Air-
craft Corporation, took off from the Nevada
desert in an aircraft the likes of which had
never been seen before. A casual observer
would have been startled by the appearance
of this vehicle; he would perhaps have noticed
especially its extremely long, slim, shape, its
two enormous jet engines, its long sharp, pro-
jecting nose, and its swept-back wings which
appeared far too short to support the fuselage
in flight. He might well have realized that this
was a revolutionary airplane; he couldn't have
known that it would be able to fly at 3 times
the speed of sound for more than 3,000 miles
without refueling, or that toward the end of
its flight, when fuel began to run low, it could
cruise at over 90,000 feet. Still less would he
have known of the equipment it was to carry,
or of the formidable problems attending its
design and construction.
(U) There was, of course, no casual observer
present. The aircraft had been designed and
built for reconnaissance; it was projected as
a successor to the U-2. Its development had
been carried out in profound secrecy. Despite
the numerous designers, engineers, skilled &
unskilled workers, administrators & others
who had been involved in the affair, no
authentic accounts & indeed scarcely any
accounts at all, had leaked. Many aspects
have not been revealed to this day & many
are likely to remain classified for some time.
(S) The official designation of the aircraft
was A-12. By a sort of inspired perversity,
however, it came to be called OXCART, a
code word also applied to the program
under which it was developed. The secrecy
in which it was so long shrouded has lifted
a bit & the purpose of this article is to give
some account of the inception, development,
operation, and untimely demise of this re-
markable airplane. The OXCART no longer
flies, but it has left a legacy of technological
achievement which points the way to new
projects. It became the progenitor of a
similar but somewhat less sophisticated
reconnaissance vehicle called the SR-71
by the Strategic Air Command & whose
existence is well known to press and public.
Sequel to the U-2
(S) The U-2 dated from 1954 & its development
began under the direction of a group headed
by Richard M. Bissell of CIA. In June 1956,
the aircraft became operational, but officials
predicted that its useful lifetime over the
USSR could hardly be much more than 18
months or 2 years. Its first flight over Soviet
territory revealed that the defense warning
system not only detected but tracked it quite
accurately. Yet, it remained a unique and
(S) invaluable source of intelligence inform-
ation for almost four years, until on 1 May
1960, Francis Gary Powers was shot down
near Sverdlovsk. (U) Meanwhile, even as
the U-2 commenced its active career, efforts
were under way to make it less vulnerable.
The hope was to reduce the vehicle's radar
cross-section, so that it became less suscep-
tible to detection. New developments in
radar-absorbing materials were tried and
achieved considerable success, though not
enough to solve the problem. Various far-
out designs were explored, most of them
seeking to create an aircraft capable of
flying at extreme ly high altitudes, though
still at relatively slow speed. However,
none of them proved practicable. (S)
Eventually, in the fall of 1957, Bissell ar-
ranged with a contractor for a job of
operations analysis to determine how far
the probability of shooting down an air-
plane varied respectively with the plane's
speed, altitude and radar cross section.
This analysis demonstrated that supersonic
speed greatly reduced the chances of de-
tection by radar. The probability of being
shot down was not of course reduced to
zero, but it was evident that the supersonic
line of approach was worth serious considera-
tion. Then from this time on, attention focused
increasingly on the possibility of building an
aircraft which could fly at extremely high
speeds as well as great altitudes, and which
would also incorporate the best that could be
attained in radar absorbing capabilities.
Lockheed Aircraft Corporation & Convair
Division of General Dynamics were both
informed of the general requirements and
their designers set out to work on the
problem without as yet receiving any
contract or funds from the government.
The fall of 1957 to late 1958 these designers
constantly refined & adapted their respective
schemes. (S) Bissell realized that develop-
ment and production of such an aircraft
would be exceedingly expensive, and that
in the early stages at least it would be
doubtful whether the project could succeed.
But, to secure the necessary funds for such
a program, high officials would have to
receive the best and most authoritative
presentation of whatever prospects might
unfold. Accordingly, he got together a
panel consisting of two distinguished auth-
orities on aero-dynamics and one physicist,
with none other than the Russian Jewish
immigrant Dr. Edwin M. Land of the
Polaroid Corporation as chairman. This
was a strange irony as one of the reasons
besides religious persecution was the
common European thinking at the time
was Jews could not be trusted for military
service or did not have anything to con-
tribute. Nobel, Einstein and Rickover
seems to have change that. Between '57
and '59 this panel met about six times,
usually in Land's office in Cambridge,
which was located on the grounds of MIT.
The Lockheed and Convair designers
attended many parts of the sessions. So
did the Assistant Secretaries of the AF &
Navy concerned with research and devel-
opment, together with one or two of their
technical advisors. 1 useful consequence
of the participation of service represent-
atives was that bureaucratic and juris-
dictional feuds were reduced virtually to
nil. Throughout the program both AF &
Navy gave valuable assistance & cooper-
ation. (S) As the months went by, the
general outlines of what might be done
took shape in the minds of those con-
cerned. Late in November 1958, the mem-
bers of the panel held an important mtng
They agreed that it now appeared feasible
to build an aircraft of such speed and
altitude as to be very difficult to track by
radar. They recommended that president
be asked to approve in principle a further
prosecution of the project, to make funds
available for further studies and tests. The
president and his Scientific Advisor, Dr.
James Killian were already aware of what
was happening & when CIA officials went
to them with the recommendations of the
panel they received a favorable hearing.
President Eisenhower gave his approval.
Lockheed and Convair were then asked
to submit definite proposals, funds were
made available to them, and the project
took on the code name GUSTO.
(C) Less than a year later the 2 proposals
were essentially complete, and on the 20
July 1959 the President was again briefed.
This time he gave final approval, which
signified that the program could get fully
under way. (C) The next major step was
to choose between the Lockheed and
Convair designs. On 20 August 1959
specifications of the two proposals were
submitted to a joint DOD / USAF / CIA
See The Video Above
(S) The Lockheed design was selected, Project
GUSTO terminated & the program to develop
a new U-2 follow-on aircraft was names
OXCART. On 3 September 1959, CIA author-
ized Lockheed to proceed with antiradar
studies, aerodynamic structural tests & engi-
neering designs. On 30 January 1960 gave the
green light to produce the first 12 aircraft.
Hence First Dozen Craft = A-12 designation!
(S) Pratt/Whitney Division of United Aircraft
Corporation had been involved in discussions
of the project, and undertook to develop the
Their J-58 engine, which was to be used in the
A-12, had been sponsored originally by the
US Navy for its own purposes, and was to be
capable of speed of Mach 3.0. Navy interest
in the development was diminishing, however
and the Secretary of Defense had decided to
withdraw from the program at the end of 59.
CIA's requirement was that the engine and
aircraft be further developed and optimized
for a speed of Mach 3.2. The new contract
called for initial assembly of three advanced
experimental engines for both durability &
reliability testing, and provision of three
engines for experimental flight testing in early
1961. (S) Primary camera manufacturer was
Perkin-Elmer. Because of the extreme com-
plexity of the design, however, a decision
was soon made that a back-up system might
be necessary in the event the Perkin-Elmer
design ran into production problems and
Eastman Kodak was also asked to build a
camera which was personally recommend-
ed by Edwin Land! Minn.-Honeywell Corp
was selected to provide both the inertial
navigation and automatic flight control
system. The Firewell Corp. & the David
Clark Corporation were the prime sources
of pilot equipment and associated life
(U) Lockheed's chief designer was
Clarence L. (Kelly) Johnson, creator of
the U-2 and he called his new vehicle not
A-12 but A-11. Its design exhibited many
innovations. Supersonic airplanes, how-
ever, involve a multitude of extremely
difficult design problems. Their payload-
range performance is highly sensitive
to engine weight, structural weight, fuel
consumption & aero dynamic efficiency.
Small mistakes in predicting these values;
lead to large errors in performance.
Models of the A-11 were then tested and
retested, adjusted & readjusted, during
thousands of hours in the wind tunnel.
Johnson was confident of his design, but
no one could say positively whether the
bird would fly still less whether it fulfilled
the extremely demanding requirements
laid down for it. (U) To make the draw-
ings & test the model was one thing; to
build the aircraft was another. The most
numerous problems arose from the simple
fact that in flying through the atmosphere
at its designed speed the skin of the aircraft
would be subjected to a temperature of
more than 550 degrees Fahrenheit. For one
thing, no metal hitherto commonly used in
aircraft production could with stand this
temperature, and those which would do so
were for the most part too heavy to be
suitable for the purpose in hand. (S) During
the design phase Lockheed evaluated many
materials and finally chose an alloy of new
titanium, characterized by great strength,
relatively light weight and good resistance
to high temperatures. Titanium was also
scarce & very costly. Methods for milling
it & controlling the quality of the product
were not fully developed. Of the early
deliveries from Titanium Metals Corp.
some 80 % had to be rejected and it was
not until 1961, when a delegation from
headquarters visited the officials of that
company, informed them of the object-
ives & high priority of the OXCART
program & gained their full coopera-
tion, that the supply became consistently
satisfactory. (S) But this only solved an
initial problem. One of the virtues of
titanium was its exceeding hardness, but
this very virtue gave rise to immense
difficulties in machining and shaping the
material. Even drills which worked well
on aluminum soon broke to pieces; new
ones had to be devised. Assembly line
production was impossible; each of the
small OXCART fleet was, so to speak,
turned out by hand. The cost of the
program mounted well above original
estimates, and it soon began to run
behind schedule. One after another,
however, the problems were solved and
their solution constituted perhaps the
greatest single technological achieve-
ment of the entire enterprise. Hence
forth it became practicable, if expen-
sive, to build the aircraft out of new
titanium. (S) Since every additional
pound of weight was critical, adequate
insulation was out of the question. The
inside of the aircraft would be like a
moderately hot oven. The pilot would
have to wear a kind of space suit, with
its own cooling apparatus, pressure
control, oxygen supply and other
necessities for survival.
The fuel tanks, which constituted by
far the greater part of the aircraft,
would heat up to about 350 degrees,
so that special fuel had to be supplied
and the tanks themselves rendered
inert with nitrogen. Lubricating oil
was formulated for operation at 600
degrees F., and contained a diluent in
order to remain fluid at operation
below 40 degrees. Insulation on the
plane's intricate wiring soon became
brittle and useless. During the life
time of the OXCART no better ins-
ulation was found; the wiring and
related connectors had to be given
special attention at great cost in
labor and in time.
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(S) Then there was the unique problem of the
camera window. The OXCART was to carry
a delicate and highly sophisticated camera
as its main mission, which would look out
through a quartz glass window. The effect-
iveness of the whole system depended upon
achieving freedom from optical distortion
despite the great heat to which the window
would be subjected. Thus the question was
not simply one of providing equipment with
resistance to high temperature, but assuring
there should be no unevenness of tempera-
ture throughout the area of the window. It
took three years of time & 2 million dollars
and a lot of sleepless nights to arrive at a
satisfactory solution. The program scored
one of its most remarkable successes when
the quartz glass was successfully fused to its
frame by an unprecedented process involv-
ing the use of high frequency sound waves.
(S) Another major problem of different
kind was to achieve the low radar cross-
section desired. The airframe areas giving
the greatest radar return were the vertical
stabilizers, the engine inlet & the forward
side of the engine nacelles. Research in
ferrite's, high temperature absorbing
materials & high temperature plastic
structures was undertaken to find methods
to reduce the return. Eventually the
vertical tail section fins were constructed
from a kind of laminated type "plastic"
material-the first time that such a thing
had been used for an important part of
an aircraft's structure. Such changes in
structural materials, the A-11 was re-
designated A-12 and as such has never
been publicly disclosed.
(C) To test the effectiveness of antiradar
devices a small-scale model is inadequate;
only a full-size mock-up will do. Lockheed
accordingly built one of these as early as
Nov 1959, transported it in a specially
designed trailer truck over hundreds of
miles of highway from the Burbank plant
to the test area. Here it was hoisted to the
top of a pylon and looked at from various
angles by radar. Tests and adjustments
went on for a year before the results were
deemed satisfactory. In the course of the
process it was found desirable to attach
some sizable metallic constructions on
each side of the fuselage & Kelly Johnson
worried a good deal about the effect of
these protuberances on his design. In
flight tests, it later developed that they
imparted a useful aerodynamic lift to the
vehicle, and years afterward Lockheed's
design for a supersonic transport
embodied similar structures.
CLICK BELOW 12 min BIO clip
(S) Pilots for the OXCART would obviously
have to be quite extraordinary competence,
not only because of the unprecedented per-
formance of the aircraft itself, but also
because of the particular qualities needed in
men who were to fly these intelligence type
missions. Brigadier General Don Littman,
of the Air Force, was designated to draw up
the criteria for selection, with advice from
Kelly Johnson and from CIA Hdqts. Pilots
had to be qualified in the latest high per-
formance fighters, they had to be emotion-
ally stable, and well motivated. They were
to be between 25 and 40 years of age, and
the size of the A-12 cockpit prescribed that
they be under six feet tall and under 175
pounds in weight. (S) Air Force files were
screened for possible candidates and a list
of pilots obtained. Psychological assess-
ments, physical examinations and refine-
ment of criteria eliminated a good many.
Pre-evaluation processing resulted in 16
potential nominees. This group under-
went a further intensive security and
medical scrutiny by the Agency. Those
who remained were then approached to
take employment with the Agency on a
highly classified project involving a very
advanced aircraft. In November 1961,
commitments were obtained from five
of the group. The small number recruited
at this stage required that a second sear-
ch be undertaken. (S) When the final
screening was complete the pilots select-
ed from the program were William L.
Skliar, Kenneth S. Collins, Walter Ray,
Lon Walter, Mele Vojvodich, Jack W.
Weeks, Ron "Jack" Layton, Dennis B.
Sullivan, Dave Young, Francis Murray
and Russell Scott. Right after the selec-
tion, arrangements were made with the
AFe to effect appropriate transfers and
assignments to cover their training and
to lay the basis for their transition from
military to civilian status. Compensation
and insurance arrangements were similar
to those for the U-2 pilots.
(U) One thing to be decided in the earliest
stages of the program was where to base
and test the aircraft. Lockheed clearly
could not do the business at Burbank,
where the aircraft were being built, if for
no other reason that its runway was short.
The ideal location ought to be remote
from metropolitan areas; well away from
civil and military airways to preclude ob-
servation; easily accessible by air; blessed
with good weather the year round; capable
of accommodating large numbers of per-
sonnel; equipped with fuel storage facil-
ities; fairly close to an AF installation and
possessing at least an 8,000 foot runway.
There was no such place to be found. (S)
Ten AF bases programmed for closure
were considered, but none provided the
necessary security and the annual oper-
ating costs at most of them would be
unacceptable. Edwards Air Force Base in
California seemed more likely candidate,
but in the end it also was passed over.
Instead a secluded site in Nevada was
finally picked. It was deficient in person-
nel accommodations and POL storage,
its long unused runway was inadequate,
but security was good, or could be made
so and a moderate construction program
could provide good facilities. Lockheed
then estimated what would be needed in
such respects as monthly fuel consump-
tion, hangars and shop space, housing
for personnel and runway specifications.
Armed with the list of all the major re-
quirements, Headquarters came up with
a construction & engineering plan. And
in case anyone became curious about
what was going on at this remote spot,
a cover story stated that the facilities
were being prepared for certain radar
studies, to be conducted by an engineer_
ing firm with support from the AF. The
remote location was explained as neces-
sary to reduce the effect of electronic
interference by outside sources.
(S) Excellent as it may have been from
the point of view of security, the site at
first afforded few of the necessities and
none of the amenities of life. It was far
from any metropolitan center. Lock-
heed provided a non descript C-47 as
shuttle service to its home plant at Bur-
bank and a chartered D-18 (Lodestar)
furnished transportation to Las Vegas.
Daily commuting was out of the ques-
tion, however and the construction
workers arriving during 1960 were then
billeted in surplus trailers. New water
wells were dug and a few recreational
facilities provided, but it was some time
before any of the accommodations
became agreeable. **
(** This footnote did NOT appear in the
original document. It is the method I will use
to indicate marginal notes that were hand
written, at the location of '**' in the original
document. The marginal note states: (1955)
(S) Among the lesser snags, 1 existed because
the laws of Nevada required the names of all
contractor personnel staying in the state for
more than 48 hours to be reported to state
authorities. It was generally felt that to list
all these names and identify the companies
involved would be likely to give the whole
show away. The Agency's general counsel,
however, discovered that any Government
employees were exempted from these require-
ments. Thenceforth all contractor personnel
going to the site received appointments as
paid Government consultants & if questions
were |asked the reply could be that no one
but official government employees were at
(C) Construction began in September
1960 and continued on a double shift
schedule until mid 1964. One of the
most urgent tasks was to build the run
way, which according to initial estimates
of A-12 requirements must be 8,500 feet
long. The existing asphalt runway was
5,000 feet long & incapable of supporting
the weight of the A-12. The new one was
built between 7 September and 15 Nov &
involved pouring over 25,000 yards of
concrete. Another problem was to provide
some 500,000 gallons of PF-1 aircraft fuel
per month. Neither storage facilities nor
means of transporting fuel existed. After
considering the use of airlift, pipeline and
truck transport, it was decided that the last
named was the most economical & could
be made feasible by resurfacing no more
than eighteen miles of highway leading into
the base. (C) Three surplus Navy hangars
were obtained, dismantled & erected on the
north side of the base. Over 100 surplus
Navy housing buildings were transported to
the base and made ready for occupancy. By
early 1962 a fuel tank farm was ready, with
a capacity of 1.3m gallons. Warehousing &
shop space was begun and repairs made to
older buildings. All this, together with the
many other facilities that to be provided,
took a long time to complete. Meanwhile,
however, the really essential facilities were
ready in time for the forecast delivery date
of Aircraft #1 in Aug 1961.
(S) Facilities were ready, but the aircraft were
not. Originally promised for delivery at the
end of May 1961, the date first slipped to
August, largely because of Lockheed's dif-
ficulties in procuring & fabricating titanium.
Then Pratt & Whitney found unexpectedly
great trouble in bringing the J-58 engine up
to the OXCART requirements. In March 61,
Kelly Johnson notified Headquarters: (U)
"Schedules are in jeopardy on two fronts.
One is the assembly of the wing & the other
is in satisfactory development of the engine.
Our evaluation shows that each of these
programs is from (S) three to four months
behind the current schedule." To this Bissell
replied: (U) "I have learned of your expected
additional delay in 1st flight from 30 August
to 1 Dec 61. This news is extremely shocking
on top of our previous slippage from May to
Aug & my understanding as of our meeting
19 Dec 61 that titanium extrusion problems
were essentially overcome. I trust this is the
last disappointment short of a severe
(U) Realizing that delays were causing the
cost of the program to soar, Headquarters
decided to place a top-level aeronautical
engineer in residence at Lockheed to moni-
tor the program & submit progress reports.
(C) Delays nevertheless persisted. On 11
September, Pratt and Whitney informed
Lockheed of their continuing difficulties
with the J-58 engine in terms of weight,
delivery and performance. Completion
date for #1 aircraft by now had slipped to
22 December 1961, and the first flight to
27 February 1962. Even on this last date
the J-58 would not be ready, it was there
fore decided that a Pratt and Whitney
J-75 engine, designed for the F-105 and
flown in the U-2, should be used for early
flights. Engine, with other components,
could be fitted to the A-12 airframe and
it could power the aircraft safely to
altitudes up to 50,000 feet and at speeds
up to Mach 1.6. (S) When this decision
had been made, final preparations were
begun for the testing phase. In late 1961
Colonel Robert J. Holbury, USAF, was
named Commander of the base, with the
Agency employee as his his Deputy. sup-
port aircraft began arriving in the spring
of 1962. These did include eight F-101's
for training, two T-33's for proficiency f
lying, a C-130 for any cargo transport, a
U-3A for administration purposes, a helio
for search and rescue and a Cessna- 180 f
or liaison use. Additionally, Lockheed
provided an F-104 to act as chase aircraft
during the A-12 flight test period. (S)
Meanwhile in Jan 1962, an agreement was
reached with the Federal Aviation Agency
that expanded all the restricted airspace in
the vicinity of the test area. Certain FAA
air traffic controllers were cleared for the
OXCART Project; their function was to
insure that aircraft did not violate order.
North American Air Defense Command
established procedures to prevent their
radar stations from reporting appearance
of hi performance aircraft on radar scopes.
(S) Refueling concepts required pre-positioning of vast quantities of fuel at
certain points outside the United States.
Special tank farms were programmed in California, Eielson AFB Alaska,
Thule AB Greenland, Kadena AB Okinawa, and Adana AB, Turkey.
Since the A-12 use specially refined fuel, these tank farms were reserved
exclusively for use by the OXCART Program. Very small detachments of
technicians at these locations maintained the fuel storage facility and
arranged for periodic quality control fuel tests.
(S) At the Lockheed Burbank plant, Aircraft No. 1 (serially numbered 121)
received its final tests and checkout during January and February 1962,
and was partially disassembled for shipment to the site. It became clear
very early in OXCART planning that because of security problems and the
inadequate runway, the A-12 could not fly from Burbank. Movement of the
full-scale (S) radar test model was successfully accomplished in November
1959, as described above. A thorough survey of the route in June 1961,
ascertained the hazards and problems of moving the actual aircraft and
showed that a package measuring 35 feet wide and 105 feet long could be
transported without major difficulty. Obstructing road signs were removed,
trees trimmed and some roadsides leveled. Appropriate arrangements were
made with police authorities and local officials to help accomplish the safe
transport of the aircraft. The entire fuselage, minus wings was crated,
covered & loaded on the special trailer, which cost about $100,000.
On 26 Feb 1962, it departed Burbank, and arrived at the base.
(S) First Flights
(U) Upon arrival reassembly of the aircraft and installation of the J-75
engines began. Soon it was found that aircraft tank sealing compounds
had failed to adhere to the metals, and when fuel was put into the tanks
numerous leaks occurred. It was then necessary to strip the tanks of the
faulty sealing compounds and reline them with new materials.
Thus occurred 1 more unexpected AND exasperating delay in the program.
(U) Finally, on 26 April 1962, Aircraft 121 was ready. On that day in
accordance with Kelly Johnson's custom, Louis Schalk took it for an
unofficial, unannounced, maiden flight lasting some 40 minutes. As in all
maiden flights minor problems were detected, but it took only four more
days to ready the aircraft for its first official flight. (U) On 30 April 1962,
just under one year later than originally planned, the A-12 officially lifted
her wheels from the runway. Piloted again by Louis Schalk, it took off at
170 knots, with a gross weight of 72,000 pounds and climbed to 30,000'.
Top speed was 340 knots and the flight lasted 59 minutes. The pilot
reported that the aircraft responded well and was extremely stable.
Kelly Johnson declared it to be the smoothest official first flight of any
aircraft he had designed or tested. The aircraft broke the sound barrier
on its second official flight, 4 May 62 reaching Mach 1.1. Again only minor
problems were reported.
(S) With these flights accomplished, jubilation was the order of the day.
New Director of Central Intelligence, Mr. John McCone, sent a telegram
congratulating Kelly Johnson. A critical phase had triumphantly passed,
but there remained the long, difficult and sometimes discouraging process
of working the aircraft up to full operational performance.
Braking with a drouge chute
(C) Aircraft No. 122 arrived at base on 26 June, & spent three months in
radar testing before engine installations and final assembly. Aircraft #123
arrived in August and flew in October. Aircraft #124, a two-seated version
intended for use in training project pilots, was delivered in November.
It was powered by the J-58 engines, but delivery delays and a desire to
begin pilot training prompted a decision to install the smaller J-75's. The
trainer (SR71B/A-12B) flew initially in January 1963. The fifth aircraft,
Number 125, arrived at the area on 17 December. (S) Meanwhile the
OXCART program received a shot in the arm from the Cuban missile crisis.
U-2's had been maintaining a regular reconnaissance vigil over the island
and it was on one of these missions in October that the presence of
offensive missiles was discovered. Over flights thereafter became more
frequent, but on 27 October an Agency U-2, flown by a Strategic Air Force
pilot on a SAC directed mission, was shot down by a surface-to-air missile.
This raised the dismaying possibility that continued manned, high- altitude
surveillance of Cuba might become out of the question. The Oxcart program
suddenly assumed greater significance than ever, and its achievement of
operational status became one of the highest national priorities.
(S) At the end of 1962 there were two A-12 aircraft engaged in flight tests.
A speed of Mach 2.16 and altitude of 60,000 feet had been achieved.
Progress was still slow, however, because of delays in the delivery of engines
and shortcomings in the performance of those delivered. One of the two test
birds was still flying with two J-75 engines and the other with one a J-75 and
a J-58. It had become clear that Pratt & Whitney had been too optimistic in
their forecast; the problem of developing the J-58 up to OXCART then
specifications had proved a good deal more recalcitrant than expected. Mr.
McCone judged the situation to be truly serious, and on 3 December he wrote
to the President of United Aircraft Corporation. (U) "I have been advised
that J-58 engine deliveries have been delayed again due to engine control
production problems....By the end of the year it appears we will have barely
enough J-58 engines to support the flight test program adequately. Due to
various engine difficulties we have not yet reached design speed and altitude.
Engine thrust and fuel consumption deficiencies at present prevent sustained
flight at design conditions which is necessary to complete developments.
(U) By the end of January 1963, ten engines were available, and the first
flight with two of them installed occurred on 15 January. Thenceforth all
A-12 aircraft were fitted with their intended propulsion system. Flight testing
accelerated and contractor personnel went to a three-shift work day. (U) With
each succeeding step into a high Mach regime new problems presented
themselves. The worst of all these difficulties, indeed one of the most
formidable in the entire history of the program was revealed when flight testing
moved into speeds between Mach 2.4 & 2.8. The aircraft experienced such
severe roughness so as to make its operation virtually out of the question.
The trouble was diagnosed as being in the air inlet system, which its controls
admitted air to the engine. At the higher speeds the flow of air was uneven and
the engine therefore could not function properly. Only after a long period of
experimentation, often highly frustrating and irritating was a solution reached.
This further got postponed when the A-12 could be declared operationally ready.
(U) Among more mundane troubles was the discovery that various nuts, bolts,
clamps, and other debris of the manufacturing process had not been cleared **
away, and upon engine run up or even take-off were sucked into the engine.
The engine parts were machined to such close tolerances that they could be
ruined in this fashion. Obviously the fault was due to sheer carelessness.
Inspection procedures were revised and it was also found prudent at Burbank
to hoist the engine nacelles into the air, rock them back and forth, listen for
loose objects, and then remove them by hand.
(** This footnote did NOT appear in the original document. It is the method I
will use to indicate marginal notes that were hand written, at the location of
in the original document. The marginal note states: hasn't changed)
(S) While on a routine flight, 24 May 1963, one of the detachment pilots
recognized an erroneous and confusing air speed indication and decided to
eject from the aircraft, which crashed 14 miles south of Wendover, Utah. The
pilot Kenneth Collins, was unhurt. The wreckage was recovered in two days
and persons at the scene were identified and requested to sign secrecy
agreements. A cover story for the press described the accident as an F-105
and is still listed in this way on official USAF accident records.
(U) All A-12 aircraft were grounded for a week during investigation of the
accident. A plugged pitot static tube in icing conditions turned out to be
responsible for the faulty cockpit instrument indications. It was not something
would hold things up for long. (S) The loss of this aircraft nevertheless
precipitated a policy problem which had been troubling the Agency for some
time. With the growing number of A-12's, how much longer could the project
remain secret? The program had gone through development, construction and
a year of flight testing by now without attracting public attention. But then
the Department of Defense was having difficulty in concealing its participation
because of the increasing rate of expenditures, otherwise unexplained. There
was a realization that the technological data would be extremely valuable in
connection with feasibility studies for the SST. Finally, there was a growing
awareness in the higher reaches of the aircraft industry that something new
and remarkable was going on. Rumors spread, and gossip flew about.
Commercial airline crews sighted the OXCART in flight. The editor of Aviation
Week (as might be expected) indicated his knowledge of developments at
Burbank airport seemed 'very hush-hush.' The secrecy was thinning out.
(S) The Presidents Press Release
Habu Pilots were often asked, "How Fast & How High the SR-71?"
"It could fly ever faster & higher until it melted & disintegrated, for
it's only enemy was really.... heat !" Colonel Tom Alison, Habu
(U) In spite of all this, 1963 went by without any public revelation. President
Johnson was brought up to date on the project a week after taking office and
directed that a paper be prepared for an announcement in the spring of
1964. Then at President Johnson's press conference on 24 Feb '64, he read
a statement the first paragraph was as follows:
(U) "The United States has successfully developed an advanced experimental
jet aircraft, the A-12, which has been tested in sustained flight at more than
2,000 miles per hour & at altitudes in excess of 70,000 feet. The performance
of A-12's will far exceed that of any other aircraft in the world today. The
development of this aircraft has been made possible by major advances in
aircraft technology of great significance for both military and commercial
applications. Several A-12 aircraft are now being flight tested at Edwards AFB
in California. The existence of this program is being disclosed today to permit
orderly exploitation of this advanced technology in our military and commercial
(U) The president went on to mention the "mastery of the metallurgy and
fabrication of titanium metal," gave credit to Lockheed and Pratt & Whitney,
remarked that appropriate members of the Senate and House had been kept
fully informed, and prescribed that the detailed performance the A-12 would
be kept strictly classified.
(S) The President's reference to the "A-12" was of course deliberate. "A-11"
had been the original design designation for the all-metal aircraft 1st proposed
by Lockheed; subsequently it became the design designation for the Air Force
YF-12A interceptor which differed from its parent mainly in that it carried a
second man for launching air to air missiles. To preserve the distinction between
the A-11 and the A-12 Security had briefed practically all witting personnel in
government and industry on the impending announcement. OXCART secrecy
continued in effect. Considerable speculation about the Agency role in the
development was told, but it was never acknowledged by the government.
News headlines ranged from "US has dozen A-11 jets already flying" to
"Secret of sizzling new plane probably history's best kept."
(U) The President also said that "the A-11 aircraft now at Edwards Air Force
Base are undergoing extensive tests to determine their capabilities as long
range interceptors." It was true that the Air Force in October 1960, had
contracted for three interceptor versions of the A-12 & they were by this time
available. But at the moment when the President spoke, there were no A-11's
at Edwards & there never had been. Project officials had known that the public
announcement was about to be made, but they had not been told exactly when.
Caught by surprise, they hastily flew two Air Force YF-12A's to Edwards to
support the President's statement. So rushed was this operation, so speedily
were the aircraft put into hangars upon arrival, that heat activated the hangar
sprinkler system, dousing the guests which awaited the planes.
(S) Thenceforth, while the OXCART continued its secret career at its own site,
the A-11 performed at Edwards Air Force Base in a considerable glare of publicity.
Pictures of the aircraft appeared in the press, correspondents could look at it and
marvel, stories could be written. Virtually no details were made available, but the
technical journals nevertheless had a field day. The unclassified Air Force and
Space Digest, for example, published a long article in its issue of April 1964,
commencing: "The official pictures and statements tell very little about the A-11.
But the technical literature from open sources, when carefully interpreted, tells
a good deal about what it could and, more importantly, what it could not be.
Here's the story ...
(S) Going Operational
Aircraft Design By Kelly Johnson,
Engine Housing Design by Ben Rich
(U) Three years and seven months after first flight in April 1962 the Oxcart
was declared ready for operational use at design specifications. The period
thus devoted to flight tests was remarkably short, considering the new fields
of aircraft performance which were being explored. As each higher Mach
number was reached exhaustive tests were carried out in accordance with
standard procedures to ensure that the aircraft functioned properly and
safely. Defects were corrected and improvements made. All concerned
gained experience with the characteristics and idiosyncrasies of the vehicle.
(S) The air inlet and related control continued for a long time to present the
most troublesome and refractory problem. Numerous attempts failed to find a
remedy, even though a special task force concentrated on the task. For a time
there was something approaching despair, and the solution when finally
achieved was greeted with enormous relief. After all, not every experimental
aircraft of advanced performance has survived its flight testing period. The
possibility existed that OXCART also would fail, despite the great cost and
effort expended upon it. (S) A few dates and figures will serve to mark the
progress of events. By the end of 1963 there had been 573 flights totaling 765
hours. Nine aircraft were in the inventory. On 20 July 1963 test aircraft flew
for the first time at Mach 3; in November Mach 3.2 (the design speed) was
reached at 78,000 feet altitude. The longest sustained flight at design conditions
occurred on 3 February 1964; it lasted to ten minutes at Mach 3.2 and 83,000
feet. By the end of 1964 there had been 1,160 flights, totaling 1,616 hours.
Eleven aircraft were available, 4 for testing & 7 assigned to the detachment.
(C) The record may be put in another way. Mach 2 was reached after six months
of flying; Mach 3 after 15 months. Two years after the first flight the aircraft had
flown a total of 38 hours at Mach 2, three hours at Mach 2.6, and less than one
hour at Mach 3. After three years, Mach 2 time had increased to 60 hours, Mach
2.6 time time to 33 hours, and Mach 3 time to nine hours; all Mach 3 time,
however, was by test aircraft, and detachment aircraft were still restricted to
(S) As may be seen from the figures, most flights were of short duration,
averaging little more than an hour each. Primarily this was because longer
flights were unnecessary at this stage of testing. It was also true, however,
that the less seen of OXCART the better and short flights helped to preserve
the secrecy of the proceedings. Yet it was virtually impossible for an aircraft
of such dimensions and capabilities to remain inconspicuous.
At its full speed OXCART had a turning radius of no less than 86 miles.
There was no question of staying close to the airfield; its shortest possible
flights took it over a very large expanse of territory.
(S) The first long-range, high-speed flight occurred on 27 January 1965,
when one of the test aircraft flew for an hour and forty minutes, with an hour
and fifteen minutes above Mach 3.1. Its total range was 2,580 nautical miles,
with altitudes between 75,600 and 80,000 feet. (U) Two more aircraft were
lost during this phase of the program. On 9 July 1964 Aircraft No. 133 was
making its final approach to the runway, at altitude of 500 feet & airspeed of
200 knots it began a smooth steady roll to the left. Lockheed test pilot Bill
Park could not overcome the roll. At about a 45 degree bank angle and 200
foot altitude he ejected. As he swung down to the vertical in the parachute
his feet touched the ground, for what must have been one of the narrower
escapes in the perilous history of test piloting. The primary cause of the
accident was that the servo for the right outboard roll & pitch control froze.
No news of the accident filtered out.
(S) On 28 December 1965 Aircraft No.126 crashed immediately after take
off and was totally destroyed. Detachment pilot Mele Vojvodich ejected safely
at an altitude of 150 feet. The accident investigation board determined that a
flight line electrician had improperly connected the yaw and pitch gyros had
in effect reversed the controls. This time Mr. McCone directed the Office of
Security to conduct an investigation into the possibility of sabotage. While
nothing of the sort was discovered, there were indications of negligence, as
the manufacturer of the gyro had earlier warned of the possibility that the
mechanism could be connected in reverse. No action had been taken, however,
even by such an elementary precaution as painting the contacts different colors.
Again there was no publicity connected with the accident.
(S) The year 1965 saw the test site reach the high point of activity. Completion
of construction brought it to full physical size. All detachment pilots were Mach
3.0 qualified. Site population reached 1,835. Contractors were working three
shifts a day. Private Lockheed Constellations made daily flights between the
factory at Burbank and the site. Two C-47 flights a day were made between the
site and Las Vegas. And officials were considering how and when and where to
use OXCART in its appointed role.
(S) Targeting the OX
(S) After the unhappy end of U-2 flights over the Soviet Union, US political
authorities were understandably cautious about committing themselves to
further manned reconnaissance over unfriendly territory. There was no
serious intention to use the OXCART over Russia; save in some
unforeseeable emergency it was indeed no longer necessary to do so.
What then, should be done with this vehicle?
(S) The first interest was in Cuba. By early 1964 Project Headquarters
began planning for the contingency of flights over Cuba under a program
designated SKYLARK. Bill Park's accident in early July held this program
up for a time, but on 5 August Acting DCI Marshall Carter directed that
SKYLARK achieve emergency operational readiness by 5 November. This
involved preparing a small detachment which should be able to do the job
over Cuba, though at something less than full design capability of the
OXCART. The goal was to operate at Mach 2.8 and 80,000'
(C) In order to meet the deadline set by General Carter, camera performance
would have to be validated, pilots qualified for Mach 2.8 flight & co-ordination
with supporting elements arranged.
(TS) The special cameras were a quiet revolution break through thanks to the
R&D department of Polaroid and its adjoining facility on the campus of MIT.
These units would remain classified for the longest time, in fact some parts
are classified to this day, over 40 years later. Only one of several for
electronic countermeasures (ECM) would be ready by November and a
senior intra-governmental group, including some representation from the
President's Scientific Advisory Committee, examined the problem of operating
over Cuba without the full complement of defensive systems.
This panel decided that the first few over flights could safely be conducted
without them, but the ECM would be necessary thereafter. The delivery
schedule of ECM equipment was compatible with this course of action.
(S) After considerable modifications to aircraft, the detachment simulated
Cuban missions on training flights, and a limited emergency SKYLARK
capability was announced on the date General Carter had set. With 2 weeks
notice the OXCART detachment could accomplish a Cuban over flight, even
though with fewer ready aircraft and pilots than had been planned.
(S) During the following weeks the detachment concentrated on developing
SKYLARK into a sustained capability, with five ready pilots & five operational
aircraft. The main tasks were to determine aircraft range and fuel consumption,
attain repeatable reliable operation, finish pilot training, prepare a family of
SKYLARK missions, and coordinate routes with North American Air Defense,
Continental Air Defense, and the Federal Aviation Authority. All this was
accomplished without substantially hindering the main task of working up
OXCART to full design capability. We may anticipate the story, however, by
remarking that despite all this preparation the OXCART was never used over
Cuba. U-2's proved adequate. A-12 was for more critical situations.
(S) In 1965 a more critical situation did indeed emerge in Asia, and interest in
using the aircraft there began to be manifest. On 18 March 1965 Mr. McCone
discussed with Secretaries McNamara and Vance the increasing hazards to
U-2 and drone reconnaissance of Communist China. A memorandum of this
(S) "It was further agreed that we should proceed immediately with all
preparatory steps necessary to operate the OXCART over Communist China
and have them flying out of Okinawa at Kadena Air Base. It was agreed that
we should proceed with all construction & related arrangements. However,
this decision did not authorize the deployment of the OXCART to Okinawa
nor the decision to fly the OXCART over Communist China. The next
scheduled rotation decision would authorize all preparatory steps and the
expenditure of such funds as might be involved. No decision has been taken
to fly the OXCART operationally over Communist China. This decision can
only be made by the President." (S) Four days later Brigadier General Jack C.
Ledford, Director of the Office of Special Activities, DD/S&T, briefed Mr. Vance
on the scheme which had been drawn up for operations in the Far East.
(TS) The project was called BLACK SHIELD and it called for the OXCART to
operate out of the Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa. In the first phase, 3
aircraft would stage to Okinawa for 60-day periods, twice a year, with about
225 personnel involved.
(S) After this was in good order, BLACK SHIELD would advance to the point
of maintaining a permanent detachment at Kadena. Secretary Vance made
$3.7 million available to be spent in providing support facilities on the island,
which were to be available by early fall of 1965.
(S) Meanwhile the Communists began to deploy surface-to-air missiles around
Hanoi, thereby threatening our current military reconnaissance capabilities.
Then Secretary McNamara called this to the attention of the Under Secretary
of the Air Force on 3 June 1965 & inquired about the practicability of substituting
OXCART aircraft for U-2's. He was told that BLACK SHIELD could operate over
Vietnam as soon as there was adequate aircraft and the expected performance
(S) With deployment overseas thus apparently impending in the fall, the
detachment went into the final stages of its program for validating the reliability
of aircraft and aircraft systems. It set out to demonstrate systems reliability at
Mach 3.05 and at 2,300 nautical miles range, with penetration altitude 76,000'.
A capability for three aerial refuelings was also part of the validation process.
(S) By this time the OXCART was well along in performance. The inlet, camera,
hydraulic, navigation and flight control systems all demonstrated acceptable
reliability. Nevertheless, as longer flights were conducted at high speeds and
high temperatures, new problems came to the surface, the most serious being
with the electrical wiring system. Wiring connectors and components had to
withstand temperatures of more than 800 degrees Fahrenheit, together with
structural flexing, vibration, and shock. Continuing malfunctions in the inlet
controls, communications equipment, ECM systems, and cockpit instruments
were in many cases attributable to wiring failures. There was also disturbing
evidence that careless handling contributed to electrical connector failures.
Difficulties persisted in the sealing of fuel tanks. What with one thing and
another, officials soon began to fear that the scheduled date for Black Shield
readiness would not be met. Prompt corrective action on the part of Lockheed
was in order. The quality of maintenance needed drastic improvement.
The responsibility for delivering an aircraft system with acceptable reliability
to meet an operational commitment lay in Lockheed's hands.
(S) In this uncomfortable situation, John Paragosky, Deputy for Technology,
OSA, went to the Lockheed plant to see Kelly Johnson on 3 Aug 1965. A frank
discussion ensued on the measures necessary to insure that BLACK SHIELD
commitments would be met, and Johnson concluded that he should himself
spend full time at the site in order to get the job done expeditiously. Lockheed
President Dan Haughton offered the full support of the corporation & Johnson
began duty the next day. Effective management got Project BLACK SHIELD
back on schedule.
Habu pilots would wear... Astronaut Wings
(S) Four primary Black Shield aircraft were selected & final validation flights
conducted. During these tests the OXCART achieved a maximum speed of
Mach 3.29, altitude of 90,000 feet & sustained flight time above Mach 3.2 of
one hour and fourteen minutes.
The maximum endurance flight lasted six hours and twenty minutes. The last
stage was reached on 20 November 1965, and two days later Kelly Johnson
wrote General Ledford:
(S) " ... Over all, my considered opinion is that the aircraft can be successfully
deployed for the BLACK SHIELD mission with what I would consider to be at
least as low a degree of risk as in the early U-2 deployment days. Actually,
considering our performance level of more than four times the U-2 speed and
three miles more operating altitude, it is probably much less risky than our 1st
U-2 deployment. I think the time has come when the bird should leave its nest."
(S) Ten days later 303 Committee received a formal proposal that OXCART be
deployed to the Far East. The committee, after examining the matter, did not
approve. It did agree, that short of actually moving aircraft to Kadena AFB, all
steps should be taken to develop and maintain a quick reaction capability,
ready to deploy within a 21-day period at any time after 1 Jan 1966.
(S) There the matter remained, for more than a year. During 1966 there were
frequent renewals of the request to the 303 Committee for authorization to
deploy OXCART to Okinawa and conduct reconnaissance missions over
North Vietnam, Communist China, or both. All were turned down. Among high
officials there was difference of opinion; CIA, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the
Presidents Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board favored the move, while
Alexis Johnson representing State and Defense in the persons of Messrs.
McNamara and Vance, opposed it. The proponents urged the necessity of
better intelligence, especially on a possible Chinese Communist build-up
preparatory to intervention in Vietnam. The opponents felt that better
intelligence was not so urgently needed as to justify the political risks of
basing the aircraft in Okinawa and thus almost certainly disclosing to
Japanese and other propagandists. They also really believed it was very
undesirable to use OXCART and wind up revealing something of its secret
capability until a more pressing requirement appeared. At least once, on
12 August 1966, the divergent views were brought up to the President, who
confirmed 303 Committee's majority opinion against deployment.
(S) Meanwhile, of course, flight testing and crew proficiency training continued.
There was plenty of time to improve mission plans and flight tactics, as well as
to prepare the forward area at Kadena. New plans shortened deployment time
from the 21 days first specified. Personnel and cargo were to be airlifted to
Kadena AB the day deployment was approved. On the 5th day the first OXCART
would depart and travel the 6,673 miles in five hours & 34 minutes. The second
would go on the seventh and the third on the 9th day. The first two would be
ready for an emergency mission on the eleventh day, and for a normal mission
on the fifteenth day. (S) An impressive demonstration of the Oxcart's capability
occurred on 21 December 1966 when Lockheed test pilot Bill Park flew 10,198
statute miles in six hours. The aircraft left the test area in Nevada & flew north
ward over Yellowstone National Park, then eastward to Bismarck, North Dakota
and on to Duluth, Minnesota. It then turned south and passed Atlanta en route
to Tampa, Florida, northwest to Portland, Oregon, then southwest to Nevada.
The flight turned eastward, passing Denver & Omaha. Turning around at St.
Louis and on over to Knoxville, Tennessee, it then passed Memphis in the home
stretch back to Nevada.
This flight established a record unapproachable by any other aircraft; it began
at the same time a typical government employee starts his work day and ended
two hours before his quitting time.
* (S) Shortly after this exploit, tragedy befell the program. During a routine
training flight on 5 January 1967, the fourth aircraft was lost, together with its
pilot. The accident occurred during descent about 70 miles from the base. A
fuel gauge failed to function properly, and the aircraft ran out of fuel only
minutes before landing. The pilot, Walter Ray, ejected but was killed when he
failed to separate from the ejection seat before impact. The aircraft was
totally destroyed. Its wreckage was found on 6 January and Ray's body
recovered a day later. Through Air Force channels a story was released to the
effect that an AF SR-71, on a routine test flight out of Edwards AFB, was
missing and presumed down in Nevada. The pilot was identified as a civilian
test pilot and newspapers connected him with Lockheed. Flight activity at the
base was again suspended during investigation of the causes both for the
crash and for the failure of the seat separation device.
(S) It's worth observing that none of the 4 accidents occurred in the high
Mach numbers or high temperature regime of flight. All involved traditional
problems inherent in any aircraft. In fact, the OXCART was by this time
performing at high speeds, with excellent reliability.
(S) BLACK SHIELD
(S) About May of 1967 prospects for deployment took a new turn. A good deal of
apprehension was evident in Washington about the possibility the Communists might
introduce surface-to-surface missiles into North Vietnam & concern was aggravated
by doubts as to whether we could detect such a development if it occurred. The
President asked for a proposal on the matter; CIA briefed the 303 Committee and
once again suggested that the OXCART be used. Its camera was far superior to
those on drones or on the U-2, its vulnerability was far less. The State and Defense
members of the Committee decided to re-examine the requirements and the political
risks involved. While they were engaged in their deliberations, Director of Central
Intelligence, Richard Helms, submitted to the 303 Committee another formal proposal
to deploy the OXCART. In addition, he raised the matter at Pres. Johnson's "Tuesday
lunch" on 16 May, and received the Presidents approval. Walt Rostow later in the
day formally conveyed the President's decision and the BLACK SHIELD deployment
plan was forthwith put into effect.
(S) On 17 May airlift to Kadena began. 22 May the first A-12 (Serial No. 131) flew
onstop to Kadena in six hours and six minutes. Aircraft Number 127
(TS) * Neither on this nor on other flights was there much trouble from sonic boom.
To be sure, the inhabitants of a small village some 30 miles from the site were
troubled as the aircraft broke through the sound barrier while gaining altitude. A
change of course remedied this. At altitude OXCART produced no more than an
ominous rumble on the ground and since the plane was invisible to the naked eye
no one associated this sound with its actual source.
(C) departed on 24 May and arrived at Kadena five hours and 55 minutes later. The
third, No. 129, left according to plan on 26 May 1967 & proceeded normally until in
the vicinity of Wake Island where the pilot experienced difficulties with the inertial
navigation and communications systems. In the circumstances, he decided to make
a precautionary landing at Wake Island. The prepositioned emergency recovery team
secured the aircraft without incident and the flight to Kadena resumed next day.
(C) Arrangements were made to brief the Ambassadors and Chiefs of Station in the
Philippines, Formosa, Thailand, South Vietnam, Japan, and the High Commissioner
and Chief of Station, Okinawa. The Prime Ministers of Japan and Thailand were
advised, as were the President and Defense Minister of the Republic of China. The
Chiefs of the Air Force of Thailand and the Republic of China were also briefed.
Reactions were favorable.
(S) On 29 May 1967, the unit at Kadena was ready to fly an operational mission.
Under the command of Colonel Hugh C. Slater two hundred and sixty personnel
had deployed to the BLACK SHIELD facility. Except for hangars, which were a
month short of completion, everything was in shape for sustained operations.
Next day the detachment was alerted for a mission on 31 May, and the moment
arrived which would see the culmination of ten years of effort, worry, and cost.
As fate would have it, on the morning of the 31st heavy rain fell at Kadena. Since
weather over the target area was clear, preparations continued in hopes that
the local weather would clear. When the time for take-off approached, OXCART,
which had never operated in heavy rain, taxied to the runway, and took off while
the rain continued.
(S) The first BLACK SHIELD mission followed one flight line over North Vietnam
and one over the Demilitarized Zone. It lasted three hours and 39 minutes and
the cruise legs were flown at Mach 3.1 and 80,000 feet. Results were very
satisfactory. Seventy of the 190 known SAM sites in North Vietnam were
photographed, as were nine other priority targets. There were no radar signals
detected, indicating that the first mission had gone completely unnoticed by
both Chinese and North Vietnamese.
(S) Fifteen BLACK SHIELD missions were alerted during the period from 31
May to 15 August 1967. Seven of the fifteen were flown and of these four
detected radar tracking signals, but no hostile action was taken against any
of them. By mid-July they had determined with a high degree of confidence
that there were no surface-to-surface missiles in North Vietnam.
(C) All operational missions were planned, directed, and controlled by Project
Headquarters in Washington. A constant watch was maintained on the weather
in the target areas. Each day at a specified hour (1600 hours local) a mission
alert briefing occurred. If the forecast weather appeared favorable, the
Kadena base was alerted and provided a route to be flown. The alert preceded
actual take-off by 28 to 30 hours. Twelve hours prior to take-off (H minus 12) a
second review of target weather was made. If it continued favorable, the mission
generation sequence continued. At H minus 2 hours, a "go-no-go" decision was
made and communicated to the field. The final decision, depended not solely on
weather in the target area; conditions had to be propitious also in the refueling
areas and at the launch and recovery base.
(S) Operations and maintenance at Kadena began with the receipt of an alert
notification. Both a primary aircraft & pilot and a back-up aircraft and pilot were
selected. The aircraft were given thorough inspection and servicing, all systems
were checked, and the cameras loaded into the aircraft. Pilots received a detailed
route briefing in the early evening prior to the day of flight. On the morning of the
flight a final briefing occurred, at which time the condition of the aircraft and its
systems was reported, last-minute weather forecasts reviewed, & other relevant
intelligence communicated together with any amendments or changes in the flight
plan. Two hours prior to take- off the primary pilot had a medical examination, got
into his suit, and was taken to the aircraft. If any malfunctions developed on the
primary aircraft, the back-up could execute the mission one hour later.
(S) A typical route profile for a BLACK SHIELD mission over North Vietnam
included a refueling shortly after take-off, south of Okinawa, the planned
photographic pass or passes, withdrawal to a second aerial refueling in the
Thailand area and return to Kadena. So great was the Oxcart's speed that it spent
only 12 1/2 minutes over North Vietnam in a typical "single pass" mission, or a
total of 21 1/2 minutes on two passes. Its turning radius of 86 miles was such,
however, that on some mission profiles it might be forced during its turn to intrude
into actual Chinese airspace.
(S) Once landed back at Kadena AB, the camera film was removed from the
aircraft, boxed, and sent by special plane to the processing facilities. Film from
earlier missions was developed at the Eastman Kodak plant in Rochester, NY.
By late summer an Air Force Center in Japan carried out the processing in order
to place the photo intelligence in thehands of American commanders in Vietnam
with in 24 hours of completion of a BLACK SHIELD mission.
(S) Between 16 August and 31 December 1967, 26 missions were alerted. Fifteen
were flown. On 17 December one SAM site tracked the vehicle with its acquisition
radar but was unsuccessful with its Fan Song guidance radar. On 28 October a
North Vietnamese SAM site for the first time launched a single albeit unsuccessful,
missile at the OXCART. Photography from this mission documented the event with
photographs of missile smoke above the SAM firing site, and with pictures of the
missile and of its contrail. Electronic countermeasures equipment appeared to
perform well against the missile firing.
(S) During the flight of 30 October 1967, pilot Dennis Sullivan detected radar
tracking on his first pass over North Vietnam. Two sites prepared to launch
missiles but neither did. During the second pass at least six missiles were fired
at the OXCART, each confirmed by missile vapor trails on mission photography.
Sullivan saw these vapor trails and witnessed three missile detonations. Post
flight inspection of the aircraft revealed that a piece of metal had penetrated
the lower right wing fillet area and lodged against the support structure of the
wing tank. The fragment was not a war head pellet but, may have been part of
the debris from one of the missile detonations observed by the pilot.
(S) Between 1 January and 31 March 1968 six missions were flown out of fifteen
alerted. Four of these were over North Vietnam and two over North Korea. The
first mission over North Korea on 26 Jan occurred during a very tense period
following seizure of the Pueblo on the 23rd. The aim was to discover whether the
North Koreans were preparing any large scale hostile move on the heels of this
incident. Chinese tracking of the flight was apparent, but no missiles were fired
at the Blackbird plane.
(C) The Department of State was reluctant to endorse a second mission over North
Korea for fear of the diplomatic repercussions which could be expected if the aircraft
came down in hostile territory. BG Paul Bacalis then briefed Secretary Rusk on the
details and objectives of the mission, and assured him that the aircraft would transit
North Korea in no more than seven minutes. He explained that even if some failure
occurred during flight the aircraft would be highly unlikely to land either in North
Korea or in China. Secretary Rusk made suggestions to alter the flight plan, thus
becoming the projects highest ranking flight planner. (S) Between 1 April and 9
June 1968 two missions were alerted for North Korea. Only the mission which flew
on 8 May was granted approval.
(S) SR-71 Replaces the A-12
50th Anniversary Golden Air Tatoo, Nellis AFB on April '97 Flyby
plus one on static display! A sight Never to be repeated !
(S) All through the OXCART program the Air Force had been exceedingly
helpful. it gave financial support, conducted the refueling program, provided
operational facilities at Kadena AB, and airlifted OXCART personnel and
supplies to Okinawa for the operations over Vietnam and North Korea. It
also ordered from Lockheed a small fleet of A-11's, which upon being
finished as two seated reconnaissance aircraft would be named SR-71.
These became operational about 1967.
(S) The stated mission of the SR-71 was to conduct "post-strike
reconnaissance," that is, to look the enemy situation over after a nuclear
exchange. The likelihood of using the aircraft in the capacity hardly appeared
great, but SR-71 was of course also capable of ordinary intelligence missions.
For these purposes, the OXCART possessed certain clear advantages.
It carried only one man and largely for this reason it had room for a much bigger
and better camera, as well as for various other collection devices which at the
time could not be carried by the SR-71. It was certainly the most effective
reconnaissance aircraft in existence, or likely to be in existence for years to
come. Also it was operated by civilians, and could be employed covertly,
or at least without the number of personnel and amount of fanfare normally
attending an Air Force operation.
(S) The fact the SR-71's were ordered eased the path of OXCART
development, since it meant that the financial burden was shared
with the Air Force, and the cost per aircraft was reduced by producing
greater numbers. In the longer run, however, the existence of SR-71
spelled the doom of OXCART, for reasons which appear to have been
chiefly financial and in a manner now to be related.
(S) The Demise of a Pioneering Aircraft
(S) During November 1965, the very month when OXCART was finally
declared operational, the moves toward its demise commenced. Within
the Bureau of the Budget a memorandum was circulated expressing
concern at the costs of the A-12 and SR-71 programs, both past and
projected. It questioned the requirement for the total number of
aircraft represented in the combined fleets, and doubted the necessity
for a separate CIA Oxcart fleet. Several alternatives were proposed to
achieve a substantial reduction in the forecasted spending, but the
recommended course was to phase out the A-12 program by September
1966 and stop any further procurement of SR-71 aircraft. Copies of this
memorandum were sent to the DOD & the CIA with the suggestion that
those agencies explore the alternatives set out in the paper. The
Secretary of Defense declined to consider the proposal, because the
SR-71 wouldn't be operational by Sept 1966.
(S) Things remained in this state until in July 1966 the Bureau of the
Budget proposed that a study group be established to look into the
possibility of reducing expenses on the OXCART and SR-71 programs.
The group was requested to consider the following alternatives:
1. Retention of separate A-12 and SR-71 fleets, i.e., status quo.
2. Collocation of the two fleets.
3. Transfer of the OXCART mission and aircraft to SAC.
4. Transfer of the OXCART mission to SAC and storage of A-12 aircraft.
5. Transfer of the OXCART mission to SAC and disposal of all A-12 aircraft
(S)The study group included C. W. Fischer, Bureau of the Budget; Herbert Bennington,
Department of Defense; and John Paragosky, CIA. (S) This group conducted its study
through the fall of 1966 and identified three principal alternatives of its own. They were:
1. To maintain the
status quo & continue both fleets at current approval levels.
2. To mothball all A-12 aircraft, but maintain the OXCART capability by
sharing SR-71 aircraft between SAC and the CIA.
3. To terminate the OXCART fleet in Jan 68 (assuming an operational readiness
date of Sep 1967 for the SR-71) & assign all missions to the SR-71 fleet.
(S) On 12 December 1966 there was a meeting at the Bureau of the Budget
attended by Mr. Helms, Mr. Shultze, Mr. Vance, and Dr. Hornig, Scientific Advisor to the
President. Those present voted on the alternatives proposed in the Fischer Bennington
Messrs. Vance, Schultze and Hornig chose to terminate the OXCART fleet & Mr. Helms
stood out for eventual sharing of the SR-71 fleet between CIA and SAC. The Bureau
of the Budget immediately prepared a letter to the President setting forth the course
of action recommended by the majority.
Mr. Helms, having dissented from the majority, requested his Deputy Director for
Science and Technology to prepare a letter to the President stating CIA's reasons
for remaining in the reconnaissance business. (S) On 16 December Mr. Schultze
handed Mr. Helms a draft memorandum to the President which requested a decision
either to share the SR-71 fleet between CIA & SAC or to terminate CIA capability entirely.
This time Mr. Helms replied that new information of considerable significance was
brought to his attention concerning SR-71 performance. He requested another meeting
after 1 January to review pertinent facts, and also asked that the memorandum to the
President be withheld pending that meeting's outcome. Specifically, he cited indications
that the SR-71 program was having serious technical problems & that there was real
doubt that it would achieve an operational capability by the time suggested for
termination of the A-12 program. Mr. Helms therefore changed his position from sharing
the SR-71 aircraft with SAC to a firm recommendation to retain the OXCART A-12 fleet
under civilian sponsorship. The Budget Bureau's
memorandum was never-the- less transmitted to the President, who on 28 Dec 1966
accepted the recommendations of Messrs. Vance, Hornig, and Schultze, and directed
the termination of the OXCART Program by 1 January 1968.
(S) This decision meant that a schedule had to be developed for orderly phase-out.
After consultation with project Headquarters, the Deputy Secretary of Defense was
advised on 10 January 1967 that four A-12's would be placed in storage in July 1967,
two more by December, and the last four by the end of January 1968. In May 1967
Mr. Vance directed that the SR-71 assume contingency responsibility to conduct
Cuban over flights as of 1 July 1967 and take over the dual capability over the
Southeast Asia and Cuba by 1 December 1967. This provided for some overlap
between OXCART withdrawal and SR-71 assumption of responsibility.
(S) Meanwhile until 1 July 1967 the OXCART Detachment was to maintain its
capability to conduct operational missions both from a prepared location over seas
and from the US. This included a 15 day quick reaction capability for deployment to
the Far East and a seven-day quick reaction for deployment over Cuba. Between
1 July and 31 December 1967 the fleet would remain able to conduct operational
missions either from a prepared overseas base or from home base, but not from
both simultaneously. A quick reaction capability for either Cuban over flights or
deployment to the Far East would be maintained.
(S) All these transactions and arrangements occurred before the OXCART had
conducted a single operational mission or even deployed to Kadena AB for such
a mission. As recounted above, the aircraft first performed its appointed role
|over North Vietnam on the last day of May 1967. In months it demonstrated both
its exceptional technical capabilities and the competence with which its operations
were managed. As word began to get around that OXCART was to be phased out,
high officials commenced to feel some disquiet. Concern was shown by Walt Rostow,
the President's Special Assistant; by key Congressional figures, members of the
President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board & the President's Scientific Advisory
Committee. The phase-out lagged & the question was reopened.
(S) A new study of the feasibility and cost of continuing the Oxcart program was
completed in the spring of 1968 & 4 new alternatives proposed...
1. Transfer all OXCART aircraft to SAC by 31 Oct 1968; substitute Air Force for
contractor support; turn the test A-12 aircraft over to the SR-71 test facility.
2. Transfer OXCART as in alternative 1, above, and store eight SR-71's.
3. Close the OXCART home base and collocate the fleet with SR-71's at Beale AFB
in California, but with CIA retaining control and management.
4. Continue OXCART operations at its own base under CIA control & management.
(S) Mr. Helms expressed his reactions to these alternatives in a memorandum to
Messrs. Nitze, Hornig, and Flax, dated 18 April 1968. In it he questioned why, if
eight SR-71's could be stored in one option, they could not be stored in all the
options, with the resultant savings applied in each case. He questioned the lower
cost figures of combining the OXCART with the SR-71's and disagreed, for security
reasons, with collocating the two fleets. Above all, however, he felt that the key
point was the desirability of retaining a covert reconnaissance capability under
civilian management. It was his judgment that such a requirement existed and
he recommended that OXCART continue at its own base under CIA management.
(S) In spite of all these belated efforts, the Secretary of Defense on 16 May 1968
reaffirmed with his principal advisors on 21 May 1968, the President confirmed
Secretary Clifford's decision.
(S) Early in March 1968, USAF SR-71 aircraft began to arrive at Kadena AB to
take over the BLACK SHIELD commitment, and by gradual stages the A-12 was
placed on standby to back up the SR-71. The last operational mission flown by
OXCART was on 8 May 1968 over North Korea, following which the Kadena AB
Detachment was advised to prepare to go home. Project Headquarters selected
8 June 1968 as the earliest possible date to begin redeployment, and in the
meantime flights of A-12 aircraft were to be limited to those essential for
maintaining flying safety and pilot proficiency.
After BLACK SHIELD aircraft arrived in the US they would proceed to storage.
Those already at base were placed in storage by 7 June. (S) During its final days
overseas the OXCART enterprise suffered yet another blow, as inexplicable as it
was tragic. On 4 June Aircraft No. 129, piloted by Jack Weeks, set out from
Kadena AB on a check flight necessitated by a change of engine. Weeks was
heard from when 520 miles east of Manila. Then he disappeared. Search and
rescue operations found nothing. No cause for the accident was ever ascertained
and it remains a mystery to this day.
Once again the official news release identified the lost aircraft as an SR-71 and
security was maintained.
(S) A few days afterwards the two remaining planes on Okinawa flew to the US
and were stored with the remainder of the OXCART family.
(S) Epitaph of an Original
(S) In summary; the OXCART Program lasted just over ten years, from its inception
in 1957 through first flights in 1962 to termination in 1968. Lockheed produced 15
OXCARTS, three YF-12A's and 31 SR-71's. The 49 supersonic aircraft had completed
more than 7,300 flights, with 17,000 hours in the air. Over 2,400 hours had been
above Mach 3. Five Oxcart's were lost in accidents; two pilots were killed, and two
had narrow escapes. In addition, two F-101 chase planes were lost with their USAF
pilots during Oxcart's testing phase. And then... there is THE ONE.
ONE was lost during Action Off Russia by JASDF F-15's see below.
(U) The main objective of the program-to create a reconnaissance aircraft of
unprecedented speed, range, and altitude capability was triumphantly achieved.
It may well be, however, that the most important aspects of the effort lay in its
by-products: the notable advances in aerodynamic design, engine performance,
cameras, electronic countermeasures, pilot life support systems, antiair devices,
in milling, machining, & shaping titanium; it was a pioneering accomplishment!
(S) In a ceremony at the Nevada base on 26 June 1968, Vice Admiral Rufus L.
Taylor, Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, presented the CIA Intelligence
Star for valor to pilots Kenneth S. Collins, Ronald L. Layton, Francis J. Murray,
Dennis Sullivan, and Mele Vojvodich for participation in the BLACK SHIELD
operation. The posthumous award to pilot Jack W. Weeks was accepted by his
widow. The United States Air Force Legion of Merit was presented to Colonel
Slater and his Deputy, Colonel Maynard N. Amundson. The USAF Outstanding
Unit Award was presented to the members of the OXCART Detachment 1129th
Special Activities Squadron, Detachment 1 and the US Air Force supporting units.
(U) Wives of the pilots were present and learned for the first time of the activities
in which their husbands had been involved. Kelly Johnson was a guest speaker
at the ceremony and lamented in moving words the end of an enterprise which had
marked his most outstanding achievement in aircraft design. His own awards had
already been received:
The Presidents Medal of Freedom
in 1964, and on 10 February 1966, the National Medal of Science, from President
Johnson, for his contributions to aerospace science and to the national security.
However, sad as it may be the final chapter may have now been written.
On October 1, 1997, the start of the '98 budget year, the necessary funds
for the SR-71 program were cut and the aircraft was ordered BACK into retirement...
ONCE AGAIN !
Pronounced: Are Vua = A Fond Good Bye
STRATEGIC RECONNAISSANCE Aircraft
Who says KC-10's have not been converted to service Blackbirds?
Yes, there are still more Pages coming here.
Then there was the time... an SR71 was shot down over the Straits of Japan
by an... F-15, a JASDF (Japan Self Defense Force) F-15C !
September 1, 1983, Korean Airlines (KAL) flight 007 made an unusual stop from
USA to Seoul South Korea at an Alaskan airfield where pilot and co-pilot were
switched out. It was then found 200 miles OFF course over super secret Soviet
military installations on the Kamchatka peninsula where it was shot down
because the new Soviet radars were tracking a CIA/USAF spy mission
using the SR71 spy plane as a shadow flight to penetrate this restricted
airspace but the Russians were on to this game and had new planes
on to this RUSE. Then KAL flight 007 would become an early victim.
The us had no air force assets in area or theater but some naval carrier
types Intruders were sent in, then JASDF northern radar picked up the
secret missions going on and launched F-15's from Chitose AB who
accidentally would target the Blackbird. The Russians had a flying
cigar on their scopes which would had to be the SR-71 rendezvous
refueler KC-10 AND if you hold a model out from your hand and have
the body hide the main wings. Hmmm.
all detailed in a great book by an retired French airline captain.
French aeronautical expert, Michel Brun, supported by a former American
diplomat to Moscow, John Keppel, and the American association
Foundation for Constitutional Government,
in his book Incident at Sakhalin: The True Mission of KAL Flight 007.
by Rich Graham (Habu) $19.95 Motorbooks International
Below A Farewell Final Family Foto
One Final Unrelated Note To Aviation Enthusiast
The Super Secret Black Widow II YF-23 Was
Never The Rumored Aurora Despite What Those
OK, It Might Be The End of One Era;
But, Just The Beginning Of Another
DARPA's Hypersonic (+Mach 7) Blackswift SR-72 for 2015
SR-72 Designed To Reach Anyplace On Earth in 2 Hours
VietNam Forward Air Controller at LINK
Super Skymasters & Snoopy Bird Dogs
with interviews & text by Colonel Hal,
a Quang Tri TRIPLE VET Pilot (WWII, Korea & RSVN!)
Anyone wishing to
order a 2 hr stereo 3D BD-DVD color video
of all 3 teams plus stealth's & SR-71: just click Here.
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