April 25th, 2012: Members of Roadrunners Internationale celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first official flight of the CIA-A-12. Half a century ago today, on April 26,1962, Lockheed Test Pilot Lou Schalk eased Article 121 into the cool crisp air of Groom Lake, Nevada. The flight duration was only forty minutes, fifty years ago, but aviation history made a great leap that day. Under the direction of Kelly Johnson, Lockheed's famous Skunk Works first A-12 flight set the stage for the revolutionary high speed, high altitude records that followed. The OXCART Program was a joint operation of the CIA, USAF and Lockheed Corporation along with a host of corporations that developed special equipment and programs for the A-12 and YF-12. It took three more years to overcome the problems encountered in developing an aircraft that could consistently fly above 80,000 feet at 3.2 Mach.
From its inception in the spring of 1957 to June 26, 1968, OXCART lasted just over 10 years. Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson were well aware of the intelligence gathering capability of this unique aircraft and its importance to our nation and the world political scene. It was preceded by the U-2 program AQUATONE at the same location and succeeded by the USAF SR-71 program. The A-12 was America's first stealth plane. It flew faster than Mach 3 and at altitudes exceeding 80,000 feet.
The A-12 flew 29 missions during Operation Blackshield, 26 over Vietnam and 3 over North Korea. For these missions, six A-12 Agency pilots earned the CIA Intelligence Star for Valor. The OXCART program lost two A-12 pilots and 2 Air Force chase pilots piloting the F-101 VooDoo.
Thornton D. "TD" Barnes