USS ALABAMA BATTLESHIP COMMISSION FIRST TO PUBLICLY WELCOME AREA 51 ROADRUNNERS OF PROJECT OXCART HOME FROM THE COLD WAR
Forty years ago the Central Intelligence Agency's ultra secret A-12 Project OXCART and Operation Black Shield were terminated and the planes retired. It wasn't until the last few years that declassification of information about various cold war projects revealed the existence of the highly classified A-12 CIA project OXCART and Operation Black Shield where, for 6 years, the A-12 CIA pilots flying 15 miles above the earth photographed the movements of adversaries around the globe. During the flight phases of Area 51-based Project OXCART, 2,850 flights were completed for a total of 4,800 flight hours. There were 1,032 flights which reached or exceeded speeds of Mach 3.0 for a total of 675 flight hours at or above Mach 3.0. The maximum speed achieved was Mach 3.29 and the maximum altitude achieved was 90,000. During the last three years of OXCART, Mach 3.0 flights were made on a routine daily basis.
Project OXCART was the experimental test phase that was conducted in total secrecy at Groom Lake, Area 51 in Nevada. This unique project was supported by the 1129th Special Activities Squadron of the Air Force. In 1962, the pilots transitioned from the Air Force into this CIA project, returning to the Air Force in 1968. Twenty nine combat missions were flown during Operation BLACK SHIELD. Twenty four were flown over North Vietnam, two were primarily targeted over Cambodia and Laos and three were flown over North Korea. The photo imagery taken on these missions was excellent. Enemy radar tracking was reported, ranging from brief reflections of the A-12's presence to extended and accurate tracking. Surface to air missiles were launched at the A-12 without success.
Five of the A-12s were lost due to accidents. Two A-12 pilots were killed, Walter Ray near Groom Lake in January 1967 and Jack Weeks flying out of Kadena AB, Okinawa on 4 June 1968. After years of bureaucratic battles involving the CIA and the Air Force the program was terminated in 1968 - in favor of an Air Force SR-71. The remaining two A-12s in Okinawa left on 8 and 19 June 1968. The Operations and Maintenance facilities were given to the USAF for the SR-71 detachment. On 21 June 1968 Frank Murray made the final flight of an A-12 in Article 131 from the Area 51 Groom Dry Lake to the storage at Palmdale. In June 1968 OXCART& BLACK SHIELD were terminated as the BLACK SHIELD pilots were awarded the CIA Intelligence Star for Valor in the presence of their wives.
Formerly classified TOP SECRET-OXCART, Central Intelligence Agency, Washington, D.C., Project OXCART and Operation Black Shield were declassified 14 December 1998 and September 2007. The September 2007 declassification coincided with the dedication of A-12 Article 128 at CIA Headquarters during the 60th anniversary of the Central Intelligence Agency. Various participants in the project were brought to CIA Headquarters where for the first time ever the names of the Oxcart participants were declassified and released. This represented to the Roadrunners as being the first official acknowledgment of their individual participation in the CIA's Cold War Project OXCART.
Complimenting the Roadrunners' association Roadrunners Internationale's mission of establishing and recording their Cold War legacy through a web site and participation in the UNLV Cold War Oral History Project, the officers sought to organize the first public event in conjunction with the association's 20th reunion where the public could at long last be informed of the Roadrunners' participation in winning the Cold War. Considering that Area 51, Nevada was where the project and operation were based, and where many of the Roadrunners returned to retire, the state of Nevada was felt to be the logical venue of the first ever public Roadrunner event. Arrangements were made with the Atomic Museum in Las Vegas where the museum would organize and publicize a Roadrunner day where the 335 Roadrunners and guests attending the Roadrunner reunion would spend a day conducting symposium panels and otherwise interfacing with the home town public for the first time ever. At the last moment the museum decided to not invite the public, which aborted the Welcome Home Roadrunners tribute. Nevada's decision to not support the Roadrunner event was a wasted opportunity of the highest magnitude, both for the museum and the local populous, especially considering that the Central Intelligence Agency was supporting and participating in the event.
Thus it was with great appreciation that the Roadrunners accepted the opportunity tendered by the USS Alabama Battleship Commission to pay tribute to Jack Weeks in his home state on 4-5 June 2008 at the pristine USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile, Alabama. Hosted by the Commission, on Wednesday, June 4, 2008 a ceremony was held at the park beside A-12 Article 132 that included speeches, proclamations, a KC-135 flyover, etc. The following day was dedicated to welcoming home the Roadrunners from the Cold War.
For Roadrunner president, TD Barnes, and former presidents Roger Andersen and Frank Murray as well as the other Roadrunners attending the ceremony, the tribute climaxed years of effort to establish, record, and maintain the legacy of the Roadrunners of Area 51. Only a week prior to the event in Mobile the Roadrunners learned that the six Black Shield pilots are being considered for induction into the National Aviation Hall of Fame, meeting another milestone of the Roadrunner association. The appreciation of the Weeks family, the Roadrunners, and the Alabama Battleship Commission for the support provided by the Central Intelligence Agency was immeasurable. During the Jack Weeks tribute portion of the 2-day event, A-12 Article 132 on display at Battleship Park in Mobile was dedicated to Jack Weeks by the Battleship Commission. Col. Barney Gass, Chairman, USS Alabama Battleship Commission welcomed the Roadrunners and other guests, followed by Battleship Commission Executive director Bill Tunnel reading a commendation from Gov. Bob Riley that called Weeks 'an Alabamian of distinction and an American of heroic proportions.' Chief CIA historian David Robarge credited Weeks with obtaining the first photographs of the USS Pueblo after the intelligence gathering ship was captured by the North Koreans in 1968. Doctor Robarge further credited the Weeks mission with the alleviation of conflict with North Korea. As he did at the CIA's dedication of Article 128, famous artist Dru Blair unveiled another of his exceptional paintings, this one depicting Jack Weeks' A-12 mission over North Korea during the USS Pueblo seizure by North Korean naval forces. The EAA CIA store unveiled its new line of Roadrunner memorabilia in support of the 2-day event. Renown A-12 author, Jeannette Remak unveiled her latest book, The Archangel and the Oxcart coauthored by Joseph Ventolo Jr. with special material by Ronald Girouard. Complimentary copies were distributed to the Weeks family, the CIA participants, and various museum dignitaries organizing and supporting the event.
Falling far short of the number that could have participated at the last reunion in Las Vegas, members of Roadrunners Internationale attending were, President T.D. Barnes, former president Roger Andersen, historian and former president Frank Murray,Sam Pizzo, Sharlene Weeks, Jim Janowski, Charlie O'Quin, Sal Lucio, Jack Dupuis, Mike Schmitz, Connie Pardew, Dick Wilson, Ron Girouard, Torrey Larsen, and Mike Thompson.
Weeks family attending were Sharlene, her and Jack's sons, Steve and Tim, daughter Tana, Tim's wife Amyna and youngest daughter Kyla. Family members unable to attend due to school, work and other obligations were daughter Susan Weeks Barry, Steve's wife Linda, Tana's husband Don Prodan, and Susan's husband, Mark Barry. Besides Kyla, who attended, there were eight other grandchildren and two great-grandchildren who could not: Steve and Linda:3, Tana and Don: 1, Tim and Amyna: 4 grand kids and 2 great-grands, and Susan and Mark: 1.
CIA representation were Dr. David Robarge, Mark Wiggins, Cheryl Moore, and Jennifer Martin.
A highlight of the 2d day was the impromptu raising of the canopy of the A-12 and allowing the Weeks family, the CIA personnel, Battleship Commission members and museum personnel to sit for photos in the cockpit of the A-12 and have their photo taken with the Roadrunners. Roadrunners on the symposium panel fielded a diverse group of panelists that included a project pilot, command post ops, maintenance, Honeywell, Pratt & Whitney, Lockheed flight engineer, and EG&G Special Projects. The symposium panel addressed the questions of approximately 135 members of the audience for 2 hours. The remainder of the day was spent meeting the public to answer individual questions and sign autographs. Considerable media was present for the symposium portion of the day. Dr. James T. Griffin, Executive Director of the Southern Museum of Flight in Birmingham was present at the symposium and afterwards met with Barnes and Murray concerning a possible Roadrunner presence at the Southern Museum of Flight in Birmingham once they get Article 131 moved indoors.
Thanks are extended to Owen Miller, Mike Schmitz, and Connie Pardew for the photos below depicting this historical tribute
and some of those who made it happen.
|Bill Tunnell introducing the Roadrunners||Bill Tunnell introducing the Roadrunner panel||Symposium panel
L-R: T.D. Barnes, Frank Murray, Roger Andersen, Dick Wilson, Sal Lucio
|Panel (con't) Charlie O'Quin, Jack Dupuis, Sam Pizzo, Jim Janowski, Torrey Larsen||Symposium Panel and audience|
|T.D. Barnes & Frank Murray||Roger Andersen, Dick Wilson, Sal Lucio||Jim Janowski and Torrey Larsen||Sam Pizzo, a.k.a. 007||Jack Dupuis|
Though not part of the agenda, the opening of the A-12's canopy developed into one of the more exciting and unexpected events of the day for many of the distinguished guests. The Roadrunners and museum staff basked in the pleasure of introducing the A-12 Article 132 cockpit to the visitors from CIA, the Weeks family, and even the Alabama Battleship Commission representatives.
|George Krietemeyer||Chip Dobson||Owen Miller||Jennifer Martin|
|Mark Wiggins||Cheryl Moore||Melba Brooks||Sal Lucio||Melba Brooks & Frank Murray|
|Sharlene Weeks & Mike Thompson||Steve Weeks||Kyla Weeks||Deputy Director Pam Jeffcoat||Tana Weeks|
|Roger Andersen||T.D. Barnes||Frank Murray||Roger Andersen, Sam Pizzo, Dick Wilson||T.D. Barnes, Frank Murray, Bill Tunnell at TV Channel 5|
|Connie Pardew & Sam Pizzo||Frank Murray & Connie Pardew||T.D. Barnes & Cheryl Moore|
|It even worked for Mark Wiggins||Sam Pizzo &
|Cheryl Moore, T.D. Barnes, Jennifer Martin||Great group of friends||Owen Miller, Cheryl Moore, Mark Wiggins, Jennifer Martin|
Consistent with any gathering of the Roadrunners, the entertaining interaction between them, the CIA personnel, and the museum and Commission representatives started at the hotel's continental breakfast, carried through lunch at various seafood restaurants, impromptu dinners in the evening, and ending up in the hotel lounge until closing time. They even staged a birthday party for Dick Wilson.
|Dr. David Robarge's hangout||Great sea food & excellent company||More of the same||Roadrunner hangout in hotel lobby||Continental breakfast: Mark Wiggins, Jennifer Martin, Cheryl Moore, T.D. Barnes|
|Frank Murray & Mark Wiggins entertaining the troops at the Bluegill||Mike Thompson and Frank Murray||Tom Friedman, Frank Murray, Sharlene Weeks, Dick Wilson, Cheryl Moore, TD. Barnes showing Dick Wilson how to light the candle on his birthday cake||Dick Wilson won't forget this birthday||Connie Pardew, Sam Pizzo, Tom Friedman, Frank Murray, Sharlene Weeks, Dick Wilson, Cheryl Moore, T.D. Barnes|
|The Roadrunner panel displaying an panel from the A-12 with their signatures||T.D. Barnes, Owen Miller, Dru Blair, Torrey Larsen at Continental breakfast at the hotel||A-12 Article 132 the center of attention||Frank Murray visiting with Dr. Jim Griffin, Executive Director Southern Museum of Flight at Birmingham, AL||Frank Murray visiting with members of the USS Alabama Battleship Commission|
|Frank Murray & Owen Miller||Museum crowd viewing the A-12||Sharlene Weeks visiting with Melba Brooks with the museum||Roadrunner Mike Schmitz supplying us with photos of the event||Owen Miller, T.D. Barnes, Chip Dobson|
|Dick Wilson admiring the painting by Dru Blair||Sharlene Weeks and Col. Barney Gass||Can you believe the CIA trusted this motley crew with our nation's secrets?||s||Sharlene Weeks and Mike Thompson peering into the cockpit of the A-12|
|Frank Murray and Bill Callender viewing the Jack Weeks dedication to A-12 Article 132||Artist Dru Blair viewing the Roadrunner display by the plane||Dick Wilson and Sharlene Weeks sharing a tender moment.|
More about the Jack Weeks Tribute.
THE MEMBERS OF ROADRUNNERS INTERNATIONALE THANK YOU, ALABAMA!!
Museum information is as follows:
Bill Tunnell- Museum Director
Mike Thompson-Aircraft Curator
Owen Miller, Purchasing Agent/Property Manager
Battleship Memorial Park
2703 Battleship Parkway
P. O. Box 65,
Mobile, Alabama. 36601