Nigel Randall kindly agreed to speak at a Rotary Zoom Meeting last month and chose a subject close to his heart – an aircraft! It was a famous and special one to interest us all!
Most of those attending had little or no knowledge of this plane, which is not surprising as it was developed and manufactured by the Lockheed Corporation, in the USA, in the early 1960s.
The A12 was developed as a follow- on aircraft to replace the U2, (the existing major reconnaissance plane at the time) to overfly the Soviet Union that was being closely monitored in view of the Cold War.
The new plane was designated A-12 because it was the twelfth internal design for the code-named project ‘Archangel’. In 1959 the Lockheed design was chosen by the C.I.A over its competitors because of its higher specifications and projected lower costs. The aircraft was manufactured from 1962/64 and flew from 1963/68.
The plane began flying missions in 1967 and its final flight was in May 1968.
Nigel supported his presentation with several slides highlighting images and performance details of the very impressive plane in use, After development and production, the first A-12 was transferred to the Groom Lake test facility and in April 1962 it was flown unofficially and unannounced by a Lockheed test pilot. Five days later the first official flight took place and subsequently supersonic the A-12 reached speeds of Mach 1.1 at 12,000 feet.
The first loss was seen in 1963 when a test aircraft crashed but the pilot parachuted to safety. The reaction to the crash illustrated the secrecy and importance of the project. The CIA issued an inaccurate report of the name and model of the plane and two farmers who assisted the pilot were advised that the plane was carrying nuclear weapons to discourage any tampering with the wreck. In addition, a law enforcement officer and a passing family were paid $25k dollar each to keep quiet. Three more losses due to technical problems were seen but each time the pilots ejected safely. The first human fatality was experienced in 1967. The pilot escaped the crash but regrettably he could not separate himself from the ejection seat and died on impact.
The introduction of space satellites meant that the original purpose of the plane was no longer relevant with the superpowers monitoring the activity of each other from space. The planes were used however in the Cuba crisis, in relation to North Korea and the Vietnam war. In 1968 three missions were flown over North Korea following the capture of the U.S.S. Pueblo to monitor the subsequent activity of the North Koreans and the potential for a further attack on the U.S.
Even before the A-12 became operational, its intended purpose of reconnaissance flights over the Soviet Union became unlikely and unnecessary, as the Soviets improved their radar considerably leaving the A-12 more vulnerable. In any event President Kennedy confirmed publicly that the U.S would stop these flights.
Our thanks to Nigel for making the effort to become the first Friday Rotarian lunchtime speaker at a Zoom meeting. He still has the interesting slides that alongside the Internet offer further interesting facts and performance details regarding the A-12.