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Lockheed A-12

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Lockheed A-12

The Lockheed A-12 was a reconnaissance aircraft built for the CIA by Lockheed’s Skunk Works. The plane was designated A-12, the 12th in a series for “Archangel”, the aircraft’s internal code name. The CIA selected Lockheed because it had produced the U-2 had experience running a “black” project.

The A-12 was produced from 1962 and flew until 1968. The program was officially revealed in the mid-1990s. It was the precursor to the SR-71 Blackbird, a slightly longer variant able to carry a heavier fuel and camera load.  The crews named the A-12 the Cygnus to follow the Lockheed practice of naming aircraft after celestial bodies.

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Before the A-12, titanium was used only in small parts directly related to supporting, cooling, or shaping high-temperature areas on aircraft like those subject to the greatest kinetic heating from the airstream, such as wing leading edges. The A-12, however, was constructed mainly of titanium. Titanium is quite rigid and difficult to machine, which made it difficult to form into curves given available techniques. The solution was found by machining only small “fillets” of the material with the required shape and then glueing them onto the underlying framework which was more linear.

Although initially designed to succeed the U-2 in overflights over the Soviet Union and Cuba, the A-12 was never used for either role. After a U-2 was shot down in 1960, the Soviet Union was considered too dangerous to overfly except in an emergency and overflights were no longer necessary, thanks to reconnaissance satellites.

The CIA decided to deploy some A-12s to Asia, and it began Operation Black Shield operations, over North Vietnam, photographing surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites, flying at 80,000 ft (24,000 m), and at about Mach 3.1. During 1967, the A-12s carried out 22 sorties in support of the Vietnam War. During 1968 further Black Shield operations were conducted in Vietnam. Sorties were also carried out during the Pueblo Crisis with North Korea. Six of the 15 A-12s were lost in accidents, with the loss of two pilots and one engineer.

Lockheed A-12

  • Name:                 Lockheed A-12
  • Role:                    High-altitude reconnaissance aircraft
  • Manufacturer:      Lockheed Corporation
  • First flight:           1962
  • Retired:                1968
  • Primary user:       Central Intelligence Agency – CIA
  • Developed into:   Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird
  • Maximum speed:  Mach 3.35
  • Crew:                    1
  • Length:                101 ft 7 in (30.96 m)
  • Wingspan:            55 ft 7 in (16.94 m)
  • Height:                 18 ft 6 in (5.64 m)
  • Wing area:            1,795 sq ft (166.8 m2)
  • Museum:              Intrepid, Sea, Air & Space Museum

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Photo Credit: GM