CIA developed the highly secret A-12 OXCART as the U-2 spy plane’s successor, intended to meet the nation’s need for a very fast, very high-flying reconnaissance aircraft that could avoid Soviet air defenses.
CIA awarded the OXCART contract to Lockheed (builder of the U-2) in 1959.
In meeting the A-12’s extreme speed and altitude requirements, Lockheed–led by legendary engineer Clarence “Kelly” Johnson–overcame numerous technical challenges with cutting-edge innovations in titanium fabrication, lubricants, jet engines, fuel, navigation, flight control, electronic countermeasures, radar stealthiness, and pilot life-support systems.
In 1965, after hundreds of hours flown at high personal risk by the elite team of CIA and Lockheed test pilots, the A-12 was declared fully operational, attaining the design specifications of a sustained speed of Mach 3.2 at 90,000 feet altitude.
After an A-12 flight they found specks of insects on the windshield.
Norman Nelson recalls in Ben Rich‘s book “Skunk Works”;
‘I was the CIA’s engineer inside the Skunk Works, the only government guy there, and Kelly gave me the run of the place. Kelly ran the Skunk Works as if it was his own aircraft company.
‘A weird thing was that after a (A-12) flight the windshields often were pitted with tiny black dots, like burn specks. We couldn’t figure out what it was.
‘We had the specks lab tested, and they turned out to be organic material—insects that had been injected into the stratosphere and were circling in orbit around the earth with dust and debris at seventy-five thousand feet in the jet stream. How in hell did they get lifted up there?
‘We finally figured it out: they were hoisted aloft from the atomic test explosions in Russia and China.’
Be sure to check out Linda Sheffield Miller (Col Richard (Butch) Sheffield’s daughter, Col. Sheffield was an SR-71 Reconnaissance Systems Officer) Facebook Pages Habubrats SR-71 and Born into the Wilde Blue Yonder for awesome Blackbird’s photos and stories.
Photo credit: Dru Blair via www.drublair.com
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