The A-12 and Why Are They So Cool?
Most people, when shown a picture of an A-12 identify it as an SR-71", if there was any recognition at all on their part. But they would be wrong. Few are able to note the differences between the two craft at any distance, but the differences are significant.The A-12 was born in absolute secrecy at the end of the 1950s to replace the U-2 which had become vulnerable to Soviet SAM defenses. Fifteen Lockheed A-12s were built.
Officially, the program was known as Oxcart, a misnomer if ever there was one. Since no self-respecting pilot wanted to fly something as un-sexy as an "Oxcart", Lockheed unofficially dubbed them "Cygnus", named after the constellation of Cygnus the swan.
Cygnus patch of the A-12 program
An SR-71 was nothing to sneeze at. It flew close to the same speed and height as the A-12, and seated two instead of the A-12's single, overworked occupant. But it just didn't have the same charisma as its sneaky black older brother. The SR-71 was publicly announced in late 1964, prior to its first flight. The A-12s had already been zipping around for two years! And although much remained classified about the SR-71, it was still very much in the public eye.
The A-12 program was just the opposite, hiding out at Groom Lake (with occasional overseas postings) until the program was finally closed down in June of 1968. The burdens of running both the A-12 and SR-71 programs were just proving too costly. Besides, the Air Force wasn't too pleased that the CIA was in the spy plane business and wanted to keep all that Mach 3 stuff to themselves. But even though the project was shut down in 1968, the surviving A-12s were put in secret storage, and the project remained classified until 1981!
A-12 #60-6924 at the Blackbird Airpark in Palmdale, California
A-12 and SR-71(background), nose to nose. Note extra window behind canopy on SR-71
|Maximum Speed||Mach 3.35 at 85,000' (Estimated)||Mach 3.2 at 85,000' (Estimated)|
|Maximum Operational Ceiling||95,000'||85,000'|
|Maximum Unrefueled Range||2,500 miles||3,250 miles|
|Wing Span||55.6 ft.||55.6 ft.|
|Wing Area||1,795 sq. ft.||1,795 sq. ft.|
|Length||98.75 ft.||103.8 ft.|
|Empty Weight||60,000 lbs.||67,500lbs.|
|Gross Takeoff Weight||120,000 lbs.||152,000 lbs.|
|Sensor Payload||2,500 lbs.||3,500 lbs.|
Give in to the dark side"...Any plane that looks like Darth Vader HAS to be cool!
- They could outperform an SR-71
- Their "nest" was Groom Lake (and anything from Groom is cool!)
- They were owned and operated by Spook Central, the CIA
- They were a secret until 1981
- Their design and fabrication was nothing short of genius (They came before the SR-71s)
- The only people who've flown in A-12s are CIA pilots. Congressmen (yuk!) have been given rides in SR-71s
- The two A-12 crash sites on public landhave been found by the public, but remain shrouded in secrecy