Aviation History

Here’s why the Lockheed A-12 Oxcart was the first stealth aircraft

The A-12 represented Lockheed’s initial efforts at developing a spy plane capable of evading enemy detection and anti-aircraft fire. It was the first “attempt” at a stealth aircraft.

The Genesis of Stealth.

Lockheed’s chief engineer, Clarence “Kelly” Johnson, had almost an impossible task.

On paper, the specifications read like works of pure fantasy: a spy plane capable of taking crystal-clear photographs from 70,000 feet. A Mach-3 aircraft that could fly continuously for hours on end and literally outrun missiles. An attack aircraft that rendered itself invisible to enemy radar.

But Johnson simply fielded all requests and relayed to his handpicked band of Skunk Works employees what needed to be done.

And he conceived the A-12, the product of Project Oxcart, a secret military program to develop a high-speed, high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft.

The A-12 represented Lockheed’s initial efforts at developing a spy plane capable of evading enemy detection and anti-aircraft fire. It was the first attempt at a “stealth” aircraft through the exterior design, minimizing its radar cross-section (RCS). The black paint helped increase the emission of internal heat and paint was used with little balls of iron to further escalate the very beginning of stealth.

Before the discovery of carbon-fiber-based building materials, titanium was the best choice available for the A-12 while it was being developed. Only about 85% of the manufactured A-12 was made from titanium, and the titanium was used mostly on components that were exposed to the highest temperatures. The other 15% of the aircraft was made from polymer composite materials. The new radar-absorbing composite materials were in fact another improvement in RCS. They replaced the fillets and the were made from iron ferrite and silicon laminate, both combined with asbestos to absorb radar returns and make the aircraft more stealthy.

The A-12 in the picture is the ‘“titanium goose’” the trainer. This is the best example I could find of looking at the composite materials used on the airplane. It was very important to confuse the radar. The beginning design of the CIA’s A-12 was in 1959 so this was truly the genesis of stealth. This was carried on with the SR-71.

On Apr. 26, 1962, the top secret A-12 “Oxcart” made its first flight at a non-existent airfield in Nevada. The aircraft, codenamed “Article 121”, began oscillating badly in the air and disappeared into a dust cloud which Clarence “Kelly” Johnson, the aircraft’s designer, described as “horrible to watch.”

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. SR-71A Blackbird 61-7972 “Skunkworks”

Upon returning to the runway, it was discovered that some of the A-12’s equipment was installed backwards. The error was corrected and subsequent flights were performed without a hitch.

The top secret CIA aircraft, the replacement for the U-2, could fly at Mach 3 ( over 2,000 miles per hour) at an altitude greater than 80,000 feet.

The A-12 Oxcart was a super-secret, single-seater spy plane and was more secret and much rarer than the SR-71. In fact, the SR-71 was actually developed from the A-12.

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: U.S. Air Force, CIA, Chris Hunkeler from Carlsbad, California, USA, and Mys 721tx Own work via Wikipedia

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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