Lockheed Archangel A-8 arrow
Design and development
With the failure of the CIA's Project Rainbow to reduce the radar cross section of the U-2, preliminary work began inside Lockheed in late 1957 to develop a follow-on aircraft to overfly the Soviet Union. The designs were nicknamed "Archangel", after the U-2 program, which had been known as "Angel". As the aircraft designs evolved and configuration changes occurred, the internal Lockheed designation changed from Archangel-1 to Archangel-2, and so on. These nicknames for the evolving designs soon simply became known as "A-1", "A-2", etc.
These designs had reached the A-11 stage when the program was reviewed. The A-11 was competing against a Convair proposal called Kingfish, of roughly similar performance. However, the Kingfish included a number of features that greatly reduced its radar cross section, which was seen as favorable to the board. Lockheed responded with a simple update of the A-11, adding twin canted fins instead of a single right-angle one, and adding a number of areas of non-metallic materials. This became the A-12 design. On 26 January 1960, the CIA ordered 12 A-12 aircraft. After selection by the CIA, further design and production of the A-12 took place under the code-name Oxcart.
A-12 during radar testing at Area 51 – mounted inverted.
After development and production at the Skunk Works, in Burbank, California, the first A-12 was transferred to Groom Lake test facility, where on 26 April 1962, Lockheed test pilot Lou Schalk took the A-12 on its shakedown flight. Many internal documents and references to individual aircraft used Johnson's preferred designation, using the prefix, "the Article" for the specific examples. Thus on the A-12's first flight, the subject aircraft was identified as "Article 121". The first official flight occurred on 30 April. On its first supersonic flight, in early May 1962, the A-12 reached speeds of Mach 1.1.
The first five A-12s, in 1962, were initially flown with Pratt & Whitney J75 engines capable of 17,000 lbf (76 kN) thrust each, enabling the J75-equipped A-12s to obtain speeds of approximately Mach 2.0. On 5 October 1962, with the newly developed J58 engines, the A-12 flew with one J75 engine, and one J58 engine. By early 1963, the A-12 was flying with J58 engines, and during 1963 these J58-equipped A-12s obtained speeds of Mach 3.2. Also, in 1963, the program experienced its first loss when, on 24 May, "Article 123" piloted by Kenneth S. Collins crashed near Wendover, Utah.
The reaction to the crash illustrated the secrecy over, and importance of, the project. The CIA called the aircraft an F-105 as a cover story; local law enforcement and a passing family were warned with "dire consequences" to keep quiet about the crash. Each was also paid $25,000 in cash ($179,335 today) to do so; the project often used such cash payments to avoid outside enquiries into its operations. The project received ample funding; contracted security guards were paid $1,000 monthly ($7,173 today) with free housing on base, and chefs from Las Vegas were available 24 hours a day for steak, Maine lobster, or other requests.
In June 1964, the last A-12 was delivered to Groom Lake,from where the fleet made a total of 2,850 test flights. A total of 18 aircraft were built through the program's production run. Of these, 13 were A-12s, three were prototype YF-12A interceptors for the Air Force (not funded under the OXCART program), and two were M-21 reconnaissance drone carriers. One of the 13 A-12s was a dedicated trainer aircraft with a second seat, located behind the pilot and raised to permit the Instructor Pilot to see forward. The A-12 trainer "Titanium Goose", retained the J75 powerplants for its entire service life.