Kelly Johnson was only a name that I had heard a few times and a person that I had seen only once during one of my few visits to the Skunk Works in Burbank, California. In addition to working at the ranch on the A-12, I had the task of checking out a number of the SR-71's ARC-50 systems as the aircrafts neared completion. Over the years, as I learned more about Kelly Johnson, I found myself admiring this great aviation genius.
I was a late comer to the A-12 program, being hired in June 1965 by Magnavox Research Laboratories as a Field Engineer assigned to the ARC-50 program. The ARC-50 sub-system on the A-12 worked fairly well while operating in a living room environment. However when subjected to the harsh bay environment existing in the "article" at speed and altitude reliability was poor at best. In fairness to the Vose Company as we were known at the site, I must state that only personnel cleared on the program were knowledgeable of the operating environment that the system was subjected to. As a consequence the design engineers could not be told all the facts and what conditions to design around. It took many modifications, over a long period of time, to improve the system reliability.
When the time came to deploy the A-12 to Okinawa a meeting was held outside the South Hanger Complex. Kelly Johnson took the stand and gave us a great go-get-um pep-talk. He stated that he knew that the aircraft, crews, and maintenance personnel would all accomplish the mission assignment. "His main concern, or problem area, was the ARC-50, if only they can get it together." That statement still rings in my ears today.
I remained on Okinawa throughout the deployment of both the A-12 and the SR-71. The ARC-50 was replaced with a solid state version, called the COMM-NAV-50. The latter system had a reliability figure in the upper 90s, and was credited with a "Save or Two."