Cold War Era

Blackbird Vs Oxcart: the story of project Nice Girl, the recon fly off between the SR-71 and the A-12 and why the Blackbird was chosen over the Oxcart

SR-71 Blackbird Vs A-12 Oxcart

The iconic SR-71 Blackbird spy plane is known for being the official record holder for the fastest jet-powered, piloted aircraft of all time.

The SR-71 was based on another Mach 3, high altitude reconnaissance aircraft, the A-12 Oxcart.

The A-12 was operated by CIA but its operational lifetime was short-lived because the CORONA reconnaissance satellite, which was first launched in June 1959, began providing worldwide imagery without much of the risk associated with airborne reconnaissance. At the same time, the SR-71 began operations with the US Air Force (USAF), leading to the A-12’s retirement in 1968.

Why was the SR-71 Blackbird chosen over the A-12 Oxcart?

“Nice Girl”

From Oct. 20 to Nov. 3, 1967 the A-12 and the SR-71 were pitted against each other in a recon fly off, code named “Nice Girl” over the US that included refueling, flying identical routes 1 hour apart on three different days and both would complete the full sortie with collection sensors operational.

On the first attempt, the SR-71 was OK but the A-12 had a problem while on the 2nd day, the reverse was the case. On day 3, both aircraft successfully flew the route. But since it was under-cast for the northern part (from California to Kentucky) and the A-12 could only photograph clouds while the SR-71 was able to collect ELINT and SLR data. After air refueling, both accelerated and climbed over the Gulf of Mexico. From New Orleans to the San Francisco area, the weather was CAVU and both aircraft were able to provide their full collection capability/data for the evaluation.

The aircrews that took part in the program were:

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. SR-71A Blackbird 61-7972 “Skunkworks”
  • Lt. Col. Al Hichew and I, Maj. Tom Schmittou flew mission #1.
  • Maj. John Storrie and Maj. Coz Mallozzi flew mission #2 Maj.
  • Bill Campbell and Capt. Al Pennington flew mission #3.
  • Jack Weeks flew all three A-12 missions.

The SR-71 was a better investment

The first two flight days were inconclusive. After the third day of flights, it was determined by Intelligence evaluators that the SR-71 was a better overall investment: in fact, even though the A-12s had much better cameras – wider swath and higher resolution, the SR-71 collected more types of intelligence than the CIA aircraft could. These other sensors were infrared detectors, side looking airborne radar, and ELINT-collection devices needed for the SR-71 mission of post-nuclear-strike reconnaissance.

The conclusion was they picked the SR-71 to continue flying. The A-12s were retired and put in hangars until 1984.

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

Photo credit: Lockheed Martin and U.S. Air Force

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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