SR-71 Blackbird

A-12 pilot tells the story of when to keep the Oxcart project secret CIA stored in boxes A-12 spy planes and moved them from Skunk Works production site to Area 51

The A-12 Oxcart at Area 51

Since 1955, America’s most secret aircraft projects have been tested at Area 51, a top-secret military installation hidden in the desert northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada. The location is Groom Lake, known among crews and workers of the time as “The Ranch.”

CLICK HERE to see The Aviation Geek Club contributor Linda Sheffield’s T-shirt designs! Linda has a personal relationship with the SR-71 because her father Butch Sheffield flew the Blackbird from test flight in 1965 until 1973. Butch’s Granddaughter’s Lisa Burroughs and Susan Miller are graphic designers. They designed most of the merchandise that is for sale on Threadless. A percentage of the profits go to Flight Test Museum at Edwards Air Force Base. This nonprofit charity is personal to the Sheffield family because they are raising money to house SR-71, #955. This was the first Blackbird that Butch Sheffield flew on Oct. 4, 1965.

The Lockheed U-2 had been flown and tested there. But in 1961, preparations were being made for the arrival of an aircraft promising mind-boggling capabilities. Commissioned by the CIA and designed by the “Skunk Works” division of Lockheed, the A-12 was developed to fly reconnaissance missions over any target at speeds in excess of Mach 3 at altitudes over 80,000 feet. raft, Its combination of speed and altitude, if it could be shown to work, would make the A-12 practically invulnerable to interception. This was the first airplane to carry what would become the famous name “Blackbird.”

A-12 Oxcart stored in boxes

To go to Area 51 the A-12 had to be moved from its Skunk Works production site in Burbank to Area 51. Sometimes during the trip, they had to dig around the road to make a wide enough space for the aircraft.

Some unique details are provided by Frank Murray, A-12 Pilot and Roadrunners Internationale Historian, who wrote in his extensive and beautiful article (CLICK HERE to read the full piece) GROOM LAKE – AREA 51 A-12 ARCHANGEL CIA PROJECT OXCART, HOW THEY GOT HERE: On-The-Road:

‘The pictures show the varied nature of the trip from Burbank to Area 51. A couple of pictures show what can only be described as a “revolting development,” getting the big box wheels sunk in soft soil. Wonder how they got it jacked up and going again. No pictures of these steps. Several photographs show how close the box comes to signs, bridge abutments, etc. Travel was allowed on mid-week days, with no movement on the weekends or Holidays. During one of the movements, a Greyhound bus nicked the big box. The bus driver was paid cash for the bus repairs without any resultant attention to the details. The end of the road was the main hangar complex at Area 51, where the airplane was off-loaded into the hangar for re-assembly.

A-12 Oxcart Arriving at Area 51

‘The first convoy departed Burbank on 26 February 1962 and arrived three days later. The second convoy carrying Article 122 departed for Area 51 on 26 June 1962, followed by Article 123 in August 1962. The two-seat Article 124 got to the Area in November 1962. The rest of the A-12s and the three YF-12s arrived by mid-1964.’

Murray’s article continues with an eyewitness account:

‘To whom it may concern:

‘My name is Jim Noce, and I recall being on those moves from the “Skunk Works” to the ranch. We left the Area early in the morning, taking turns driving until we reached Burbank. When we arrived, the Article was concealed in a large crate and covered with a tarp on the semi, ready to travel. We headed East on the Freeway, and the California State Police gave escort.

‘The CSP had long poles along the route to clear hanging power lines or unpin road signs hinged for clearance purposes. When we reached the CA/NV border, we pulled to the side of the road and ate sack ‘lunches made up by the mess hall in the Area. We also had igloo coolers of lemonade and thermos of hot coffee or chocolate. We also had soda pop. Not bad for the ’60s.

Greyhound Bus barely scraping the side of the A-12 Oxcart box

‘After we had lunch, we headed up Highway 95 until we reached Mercury, that had our security clearance for entering the Atomic Proving Grounds. I may be wrong, but I think that once we reached the Ranch, the Article was uncrated and put on a cart by something like a cherry picker and I do believe the box was broken down and loaded back on the trailer, and sent back to Burbank. I never knew of anyone taking pictures from our group and I do recall the incident where a Greyhound Bus barely scraped the side of the box, and the driver was given cash to fix the few scratches avoiding insurance claims.

‘Sincerely, Jim Noce Former CIA agent Area 51.’

Be sure to check out Linda Sheffield Miller (Col Richard (Butch) Sheffield’s daughter, Col. Sheffield was an SR-71 Reconnaissance Systems Officer) Twitter Page Habubrats SR-71 and Facebook Page Born into the Wilde Blue Yonder for awesome Blackbird’s photos and stories.

Photo credit: Roadrunners Internationale


  • Dorsey G. Kammerer – Former Lockheed Enginer – Source of Photos
  • Jason Owen – Grandson of Kammerer- Contribution of Photos
  • Jim Noce – Former CIA Security Participant
  • Bob Murphy – Former Lockheed Project Manager
  • T.D. Barnes – Former EG&G Special Projects
  • Central Intelligence Agency
  • Lockheed-California Company
  • California Highway Patrol
  • Nevada Highway Patrol
This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. SR-71A Blackbird 61-7972 “Skunkworks”

Be sure to check out Roadrunners Internationale for some unique info about U-2, A-12 and YF-12 programs.

This model is available in multiple sizes from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.
Linda Sheffield Miller

Grew up at Beale Air Force Base, California. I am a Habubrat. Graduated from North Dakota State University. Former Public School Substitute Teacher, (all subjects all grades). Member of the DAR (Daughters of the Revolutionary War). I am interested in History, especially the history of SR-71. Married, Mother of three wonderful daughters and four extremely handsome grandsons. I live near Washington, DC.

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