SR-71 Blackbird

The A-12 program was so secret that CIA injected with sodium pentothal the first pilot that bailed out of an Oxcart to interrogate him after the crash

Ken Collins appeared to be very drunk as the sodium pentothal was still in his system. His wife Jane was a very understanding woman, her husband couldn’t offered any explanation for his condition. The A-12 Oxcart was so secret he couldn’t talk about it.

In 1959, Lockheed began work on the design of a long-range, high-altitude plane, then known as the A-11. It was a Cold War project. Heading the project team was Clarence “Kelly” Johnson, Lockheed’s Vice President for Advanced Development Projects. Johnson had previously led the development of the U-2 spy plane. Five years after work began on the A-11, on Feb. 29, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson told reporters that the aircraft (by that time modified to the A-12 Oxcart production version with a reduced radar cross section) had attained speeds of over 2,000 mph and altitudes of more than 70,000 feet in tests at Area 51.

Noteworthy during the first three years of pre-operational testing, three A-12s crashed – two from mechanical malfunctions and one because of ground crew error. All pilots ejected safely. On May 24, 1963, A-12 number 926 involved in a subsonic engine test flight and piloted by Ken Collins, crashed fourteen miles south of Wendover, Utah.

Colonel Ken Collins was the very first person to bail out of a Blackbird. The A-12,’ says our friend Linda Sheffield Miller (Col Richard (Butch) Sheffield’s daughter, Col. Sheffield was an SR-71 Reconnaissance Systems Officer) on her Facebook Page Habubrats.

Ken Collins

‘Later after the A-12 program was canceled in 1968 he was my neighbor at Beale AFB, California. Ken had re-joined the Air Force and was an SR-71 pilot. Another interesting thing is that he was checked out in the SR-71 with my father Richard “ Butch” Sheffield. They flew four flights together. My Dad writes in his unpublished book, that he was fully aware that Ken Collins was from the A-12 program because he had been briefed on Oxcart in 1965 at the Skunk Works. Only the first four men select to fly the SR-71 were briefed on A-12. The rest of the men in the SR-71 program did not know about it. The interesting thing about this is that Dad cannot discuss it with Ken. That’s how secret the A-12 program was!

‘The A-12 program was so secret that Ken could not tell his wife Jane, what his occupation was. The cover story was that he worked at Hughes aircraft.’

Sheffield Miller continues;

‘In 1963 he bailed out over Utah, he was unharmed and to his amazement a man pulled him up in a pick-up truck with his A-12 canopy in the back of the truck and asked him if he needed a ride back to his airplane. Ken was totally unflappable, calmly said no, that the F-105 that had just crashed … It had a nuclear weapon on it! He asked for a ride to the nearest highway patrol office and climbed in the back of the pick-up truck.

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

‘Took a dime out of his survival kit called the secret number that he had memorized and told them where he was and where the A-12 had crashed. The crash was the result of a pitch up of the nose and it went into an uncontrollable, flat, inverted spin.

‘The CIA asked if they could inject him with sodium pentothal. Collins said yes. After the interrogation Ken was dropped off at his home in Southern California where his wife Jane and their four children lived. He appeared to be very drunk as the sodium pentothal was still in his system. His wife Jane was a very understanding woman, her husband couldn’t offered any explanation for his condition. Ken Collins couldn’t talk about it.’

Sheffield Miller concludes;

‘These are the kind of men America needs to be proud of the ones that did their job, risked their life, not for the glory… but for love of country, thank you Ken.’

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

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and Ken Collins

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

Recent Posts

The story of how the iconic Vought F4U Corsair got the Nickname “Ensign Eliminator”

The F4U Corsair The Vought F4U Corsair was a high-performance fighter aircraft, either carrier or… Read More

4 hours ago

USAF avionics technician explains how stealth aircraft can be seen on radar screens

Stealth aircraft By the 1970s, new materials and techniques allowed engineers to design an aircraft… Read More

4 hours ago

Video shows Turkish Kaan 5+ Generation Multirole Fighter Aircraft maiden flight

Turkish Kaan National Combat Aircraft maiden flight Filmed on Feb. 21, 2024 the video in… Read More

16 hours ago

EF-111A EWO recalls when his Raven with Asymmetric Slats had to do a departure end cable arrestment

The EF-111A Raven EF-111A Ravens, known affectionately as "Fat Tails" and "Spark Varks," (the F-111… Read More

1 day ago