Part I: The History of the A-12 Blackbird:
A. The Lockheed A-12 Blackbird was the child of the Cold War that erupted between the Soviet Union and the United States at the end of World War II. U.S. political and military leaders feared that the Soviet Union was developing an arsenal that it might turn loose on the United States. This belief and the desire to learn more about what was going on in the Soviet Union is what drove the United States to develop more methods of spying on the once ally of the United States. Cold War tensions increased which led to other countries in the Soviet block becoming targets for United States reconnaissance. Airborne reconnaissance was the way to go. It was the quickest, safest and quietest means of securing the needed information. The Central Intelligence Agency was the running the intelligence operations along with the support of the air Force. Tensions between the two services would later become legend in this fight to protect the United States from Soviet attack. The CIA while now in the game, did not have the all the experience it needed in creating a vehicle to command the skies for reconnaissance of the enemy.
President Eisenhower decided that he did not want "uniforms" in the cockpits of any reconnaissance bird. "If uniformed personnel of the armed services of the U.S. should overfly Russia, it is an act of war "legally" and I don't want any part of it." That problem was solved by sheep dipping military pilots into civilian pilots. The USAF and CIA came together to create the Lockheed U-2 Dragon lady, a bird that while not having tremendous speed, did have the altitude to protect her. While venerable in service, the U-2 was compromised early in its program with a shoot down over Soviet territory, The CIA had already known that the U-2 did not have a long service life and that she would soon be compromised, While the U-2 was still being built another aircraft was on the boards to replace her. The aircraft was the Lockheed A-12 blackbird and the name of her project was OXCART.
OXCART was one of the CIA's darkest projects. Devised in secrecy, built in deep black and flown in a place that didn't exist the A-12 was an aircraft that lived up to her 21st century design. To this day, she is still the fastest aircraft used in operations in the world. At least till know that we know of. Both the CIA and Lockheed knew that this was going to be an expensive, high risk proposition, something that neither could fund on their own. Only the government would fund a program like this. Richard Bissell, then head of the CIA special projects, decided to appoint another panel to explore this. Dr. Edwin land of Polaroid land camera fame became the chairman of the panel, which would look in to this problem. From 1957 through 11959, the panel met 6 times with presentation. Attended d by Clarence Kelly Johnson of Lockheed " Skunk Works", Vincent Dobson, president of General Dynamics ( Convey) and the assistant secretaries of the navy and the air force, the study grew into the program "GUSTO",
GUSTO had many evolutions before it finally arrived at the A-12 configurations. Coming from the defunct SUNTAN project, the Archangel as the GUSTO bird became known was a Mach 3 aircraft with a range of 4,600 miles and an altitude of 90,000 to 95,000 ft. Kelly Johnson initially had two other ideas in mind, the G2A and the archangel. G2a was a tailless subsonic low RCS (radar cross section) aircraft intended to take the place of the U-2. It was later tossed because testing showed it might be visible to soviet radar system. This left the archangel. This proposal was not without competition. The Convey Corporation (General Dynamic) had an idea too. This was a parasite aircraft that could be launched from a specially configured B-58 Hustler mother ship. The parasite could reach Mach 4 using a ramjet power. For landing it would use a more conventional turbojet. As the refining process went on, the design proposals for the Archangel went from A-1 to A-11. While the Lockheed concept was proven by A-11, the RCS on the airframe was too big. The altitude, range and sped were fine, but it was too visible to soviet radar. The final concept A-12 was the one that won the day. The first mention of A12 appeared in Kelly Johnson's log on April 21, 1958 Johnson wrote: "I drew up the first Archangel proposal for a Mach 3 cruise airplane having a 4,000 mile nautical range at 90,000 to 95,000 ft." Three months later on July 23rd, he followed with "I presented this airplane, along with GUSTO model G2a to the program office. It was well received. The navy mentioned in a study they had been making on the slower, higher altitude airplane, on which the program office wanted my comments."
August 28, 1959, Johnson got word that the Skunks Works had won the competition. The next day funding was approved for $4.5 million to cover from September 1, 1959 to January 1, 159. September 1959 the CIA gave Lockheed permission to start on the antiradar, structural tests and other functional modifications. It was at this point that GUSTO had become OXCART.
B: The Technical Breakdown of the A-12:
The A-12 was designed as a supersonic long-range aircraft, characterized by modified delta, thin, low aspect ration wings. Twin rudders, canted 15 degrees inward, were individually mounted on each engine nacelle, wing trailing edges contained inboard and out ward elevons (combination of aileron and elevator). These features reduced radar signature and aided in controlling yaw during single-engine flight. The a-12 would use two Pratt Whitney J58 engines.
fuselage was fabricated primarily out of titanium alloy and composite material,
with chines located along the sides of the fuselage. Airframe components, such
as the engine air inlet, rudders upper and lower inserts to the nose section,
fuselage and nacelle chines, wing leading edges, elevons and tailbone,
incorporated composite material. The inlet spikes in the forward section of the
engine nacelle moved forward and backward to regulate the airflow to the engines
above Mach 1.4. The A-12 would be flown by one pilot, who would be housed in a
pressurized cockpit and dressed in a pressurized, air-conditioned suit.
Unexpected difficulties arose from the metal fabrication stage. Titanium was equal to stainless steel in strength, but its virtues as an aircraft metal; light weight, strength, corrosion resistance and high temperatures tolerance were accompanied by new manufacturing 200,000 psi with an aging process of 70 hours to bring it to full strength. With careful aging and quality control, the time could be reduced to 40 hours but a serious glitch appeared with either process. The titanium being manufactured in the United States in those days that lacked the required purity. In technical terms, U.S. titanium was hydrogen embrittled. In simple terms, if a piece dropped, it would shatter. The purity problem became a major stumbling block in A-12 production. Initially, all of the manufacturing material secured from Titanium Metal Corporation had to be rejected on pure quality basis. The entire first batch of raw material ended up being tossed out, along with the exiting "pickling process". A source of purer titanium had to be found and it would be outside the United States. The outside source was located in the Soviet Union. Not only was Soviet titanium of the higher quality, but also the USSR had the only 25,000 lbs forging press needed to form the basic material. In a remarkable stroke of irony, the CIA was able to price titanium from the Soviet Union under covert conditions. The Soviet Union remained unaware that it was aiding in the development of an aircraft that someday might over fly them.
There were other problems with titanium. It reacted to just about everything that touched it. Cadmium, mercury, mercury amalgam, cadmium-plated tools, halogens (chlorine, fluorine, bromine, iodine. even ink form some pens and lead from pencils. Ink from felt tip pens could actually eat a hole in a sheet of titanium in just under 12 hours. Skunk Works fabrications, after much detective work found that the spot welds done in the summer were more prone to deteriorate than those done during the winter. They discovered that the deterioration was related to problem with algae in Burbank's water supply. To prevent it, municipal water wads heavily chlorinated during the summer. This water was used to wash the titanium plates; it would eat away the welds. The airframes could be assembled by conventional construction techniques, but it would take hand-jigging or one by one assembly to keep the airframe Construction process moving. Despite the costs and fabrication problems there was a distinct advantage in using the titanium in the A-12: the hotter it gets, the more it "recurs" itself. That means that as heat builds up when the aircraft flies at Mach speed, the metal makes itself stronger, much the way it does in the annealing process.
There were separate test units treated to study the thermal effects on the large wing panels. When heated to the temperatures the aircraft could encounter in flight, the panels would warp badly. Notes from the first thermal test state that the wing section "crumpled up like an old dish rag" when exposed to the high temperatures of Mach 3 flight. The problem was solved by putting corrugations in the test wing section to control the shape and direction of the crumpling. When the titanium was heated, the corrugations merely deepened and retuned to their original shape when it cooled. This controlled the warping and resulted in the redesign of the A-12's wing to incorporate chord wise (longitudinal) corrugations.
The A-12 had any unique problems with its construction. Kelly Johnson saw unexpected problems with the color coding in the numerous wires and tubes used in the A-12. Lockheed found that 10 percent of the technicians working on the aircraft were color blind. It was no wonder there were so many mistakes in the wiring. The team developed odd shaped terminals keyed to ensure that color bind workers could not insert them incorrectly. Mostly everything for the A-12 had to be re-created even the hydraulic fluid. The A-12 required that hydraulic fluid suitable for use at temperatures above 600 degrees F. No such fluid was known to exist. Lockheed contracted Pennsylvania State University for help and scientists there developed a workable hydraulic fluid by combining some seven chemicals to maintain stability at high, as well as normal temperatures. These high temperatures also reflected problems in the rubber O rings and gaskets used on the A-12 Fuel tank sealants were manufactured by Lockheed but when they were exposed to cold temperatures wile the aircraft was on the ground, and left for too long,
The sealants would revert and turn to something like watery putty. In flight, the fuel tank components expanded from the heat and sealed the system. The engines never fully corrected the problem of leaky fuels tanks on the ground: they simply factored it into the fueling and storage decisions
The A-12 airframe was 93% titanium alloy and other materials were either metallic alloys or composites. The corrosion resistant steel used was designated A-286. This was a heated treatable alloy containing about 15% chromium, 26 % nickel, 1 % molybdenum, and 2% titanium. It could withstand temperatures up to 1,200 degrees f. Two nickel alloys Rene 41 and haste alloy X were used in areas that were subjected to intense heat in the engine nacelle ejector section.
The wings on the A-12 are a modified, thin, double-delta, fully cantilevered and highly tapered. The wing was designed to be the main fuel cell, holding fuel in the area defined by the leading edge to the elevon support beams to midwing on each side. Both wings support nacelles.
High speed flight was equal to heart build up on the A-12. The wings manage it with corrugated panels that allowed controlled expansion and contraction of the skin. Triangular or v shaped section made up the leading and trailing edges of the wing. Those wedge shaped panels were filed with composite plastic that absorbed and dispersed radar energy to inhibit to return of radar echo signal. The composite plastic was made from asbestos- silicone laminate and was essentially the same as that used in the chines and control surfaces. Aircraft #121 and #124 differed from the others in that the filler panels, skin, and hat sections were made of A100AT titanium alloy instead of silicone asbestos. The asbestos components would eventually become an environmental concern during maintenance, as well as during the restoration process later on, long after the A-12s were retired to museums. The fuel system and the inlets system of the A-12 were extensive and complicated. The fuel had to be delivered and reliable over intense heat and in a way that did not undermine the aircraft's stability, aerodynamics or small radar cross section. The a-12 was powered by two Pratt and Whitney J58 engines, one in each of the two nacelles. The J58 was an axial flow gas turbine with a nine stage single shaft compressor, a can annular combustion chamber and a two stage reaction turbine with afterburners, A start cart powered by two general Motors v-8 racing engines, was employed to get the engines turning. The chemical used in the system to ignite the very high flash point JP-7 fuel was Triethylborane or TEB, which has the unusual property of exploding whenever it comes in contact with air. The ignition system injected TEB into 16 points in the combustion chamber where the TEB combined with fuel produced a green flash that gave the blackbirds the nickname" green dragon".
The A-12 camera system was unique. The aircraft carried several different photographic systems. The Type I camera. Built by Perkins Elmer used a F4.0 18 inch lens and 6.6 inch wide, 5,000ft supply of film. It could resolve 140 lines per millimeter and provided a ground resolution of 12 inches. The film transport used a concentric supply and take up system to kept the weight of the film centralized; minimizing any shift in the aircraft CG as the film was advanced. A rotating cube mirror replaced the prism for the scanner. The A-12 had to be sealed in a special hanger at Are 51 in a virtual "clean room" environment. The a-12 photos hop hanger had doors that fir tightly around the aircraft so that all dust could be kept our while the film pallets were loaded and unloaded. Before entering the photo shop, technicians had to don complete clam room outfits and go through a high velocity air wash. This procedure was also followed when film was processed at the Okinawa shop where, a new facility was built so that film could be swapped out overnight. At the time of the OXCART program, there were actually five Type I camera systems in the inventory. By the type OXCART was phased down, two type I cameras of the "a' series were placed in storage.
The Type I camera used a 21 inch lens and an 8,400 ft, 8 inch wide film supply. It produced photographic pairs covering 60 mile wide swath with a stereo overlap of about 30% overlap. The Type III camera was a modified Hycon B camera similar to the one that was used in the U-2. A 26 inch focal length camera was brought on line because the first two systems weren't giving as much resolution as had been planned. The problem with the Hyson was that it really was not made for the high speeds attained by the A-12. The Type IV camera known as the "big hammer" was an advanced version of the Hycon B camera. It used a 48" f5.6 lens and 12,000 ft of 9.5 wide inch film for extremely high resolution spotting. No long axis camera was ever used in the A-12 as the size created too many installation difficulties. B: Flight Test:
The A-12 unofficially began test flights at Area 51 on April 25, 1962 when Lou Schalk took # 121 on her first flight-less than 2 miles at 20 to 30 feet altitude. During the short hop, Schalk discovered that the control linkages were not correctly installed. A true maiden flight took place at area 51 the following day. This flight lasted approximately 40 minutes, during which some chine inserts were lost and had to be replaced.
The first official flight, its true inaugural, also with Lou Schalk as pilot and lasting 59 minutes, came several days later, in the presences of CIA and USAF observers. The A-12 took off at 170 knots, climber to 30,000 ft and attained a top speed of 340 knots. The A-12 went supersonic during the second official flight, on May 2, 1962.
Four additional aircraft, one of which was a two seat trainer, arrived at Area 51 in 1962. The J58 engines, however, were still not ready, so early test flights were conducted with J75 engines. As the J58s gradually reached Area 51, the two seat trainer flew with one J75 and one J58. The first A-12 equipped with two J58s was flown on January 15, 1963. Performance flight test thus began in earnest in 1963, and by July 20, 1963, the A-12 had flown to Mach 3. Before the year was out, the nine A-12 in inventory would make 573 flights for a total of 765 test flights.
On November 22, 1963, while the Kennedy assassination unfolded, the A-12 met its speed goals, hitting Mach 3.2 at 78,000 ft. At this time Kelly Johnson wrote in his log: "The time has come for the bird to leave the nest." It had been three years and seven months since the contract to put the OXCART on the boards had been signed. Kennedy had left us, but the A- 12 was truly born.
On February 3, 1964, the A-12 took its longest sustained flight about Mach 3, traveling at Mach 3.2 at 83,000 ft for 10 minutes.
SKYLARK AND SILVER JAVELIN:
Because of the deteriorating conditions with Cuba, the United States and the CIA had been monitoring the island with periodic U-2 over flights during the summer of 1962. Those missions revealed development of surface to air missile sites construction. As the summer progressed, military strategists came to believe that the Sam site pattern was similar to the layout the soviets had used at home to defend nuclear missile installations. On October 14, 1962, U-2 reconnaissance photographs showed clear evidence of long range missiles with nuclear capability on trucks in Cuba. President Kennedy promptly mobilized U.S. forces. Facing the prospect of a full-scale nuclear war, the Soviets backed down and removed the missiles.
Following the Cuban missile crisis, the United States would continue to monitor activities in Cuba closely. The problem was that the U-2, which had served the United States well for many years, was becoming increasingly vulnerable as surface to air missiles and radar defenses became more advanced and widespread. The A-12 was an obvious and intended replacement, but at the time, everything about it was virtually brand new and untried. This led to Project Skylark, an opportunity to test the plane's operational limits and abilities through possible over flights of Cuba. Politicians were looking for new ways to keep an eye on Castro without getting airplanes shot down, and the A-12 was looking more and more like the answer. Yet to upgrade the aircraft and get authorization to fly it over Cuba, the politicians would have to win the support of some key military officials. namely Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and much of the USAF brass.
Less than two years after the missile crisis the national Security council (NSC) was once again evaluating how it could continue the necessary reconnaissance without sacrificing men and aircraft. In a May 1964 meeting that included secretary of State Dean Rusk, and the secretary of Defense, McNamara, the NSC discussed using the U-2 and electronic counter measures (ECM) over Cuba. McNamara felt that an ECM equipped U-2 would not compromise implementation of SIOP (Single Integrated Operations plan). Many experts disagreed, contending that the ECM over Cuba would greatly endanger U.S. bombers if they were ever needed for an Attack. They also felt that ECM would protect American aircraft flying regularly over Cuba. The ECM protections would be good for the first aircraft over and would not be sufficient support the U-2 on regular missions, as the Cubans would quickly learn to counter the tactic. The estimated chance of a U-2 to evade a shoot down, after the first flight dropped to 10% assuming the Cubans were determined to get the plane out of its airspace.
What could be done in an all-out effort to get OXCART ready? McCone, then CIA director, answered that the problem were being worked on as they rose: he promised to keep the pressure on, but didn't and one was acceptable. They decided that the A-12 was the answer to their reconnaissance problem and the CIA and Lockheed were to get the A-12 ready as fast as possible. This was s the beginning of Operation "SKYLARK".
In a memo dated August 22, 1964, acting CIA Director Marshall c. Carter told the A-12 development team that the plane was to be ready for a Cuban over flight mission no later that the week of November 5, 1964. The memo also laid down the flight characteristics needed for the mission: Mach 2.8 with an altitude of 80,000 ft and a range of 2,500 nautical miles or better. It would include four OXCART aircraft. Carter went on to state that Operation SKYLARK was to have the highest priority, unhampered in any way by contractors, commanders, or any other entity that would have a direct effect on the completion of the program objectives. It was going to be an "all out, no holds barred" effort. At the time SKYLARK was being worked, the longest sustained A-12 flight with tow J-58 engines was 4:25 hours. The trainer, #124 held the longest sustained flight record with two J75 engines: 5:25 hours. The top speed the trainer reached was Mach 3.27, and the maximum altitude attained was 85,000 ft., the longest sustained flight to date that closely approximated design conditions.
Using the wind tunnel tests, A-12 engineers were able to improve the aircraft inlet recovery and distortion to specification requirements to maximize range and engine life. Yet major
problems remained with fuel consumption during the climb to altitude; the fuel was insufficient to meet the specified cruise range. Quality assurance was a major concern in the SKYLARK project. There were many issues at hand, false cockpit instrument readings, fuel tank leaks, hydraulic leaks, and pressure fluctuations in the brake system, compressor disc durability problems involving excessive growth after repetitive cycles to Mach 3.2 were showing up in the ground test as early as 1964.
Meanwhile, the flight speeds were restricted to Mach 2.8, which limited the maximum temperature and steep thermal gradient imposed on the disc by rapid descents from hot to cold environment. Because of all the corrective measure taken in 1964, the 18 flight engines, plus all the new production engines, acquired new discs and were not restricted in any way. Other problems showed up in SKYLARK Engine nozzle actuator pipes failed twice during flight. This prompted an investigation which showed vibration and system instability problems. Those were addressed at the Area 51 test site. Replacement pipes were sent to the site and a search began for the cause of the vibration. Because of risks and demands involved, pilot comfort was another concern. Project works developed a new parachute pack, lighter and 1 1/2 inches thinner than the previous one. This pack, with better seating, would allow the pilot more mobility on the long missions being planned.
Much of the inertial navigation system INS and the ARC-50 aircraft communications system were revamped. Detachment pilots helped conduct continuous AR-50 test, ranging from 500 nautical miles down to 1 nautical mile, and automatic direction finder (ADF) test from 200 nautical miles to a contact point.
The CIA report on SKYLARK included a test mission summary. Since the first flight of the A-12 on April 26, 1962, 1234 flight had been made, totaling 1745 hours; all the flights were done by the 13 aircraft in residence at Area 51. Of the totals, 794 flights accumulated 104 hours using the J 58 engines. The maximum speed encountered was Mach 3.27; maximum altitude was 85,000 ft. Seven aircraft, including #`24 (the trainer) were assigned to the detachment and were flown by operational pilots. Four of the seven aircraft were primary Skylark aircraft and included #1245, #127, #128 and #132. Four of the assigned to flight test while two 3129 and #131 were assigned to detachment as operational aircraft, after modifications were installed.
By January 27, 1965, #129 had completed the first in a series of long range, high speed flights. This project within skylark to demonstrate the A-12's maximum range was known as SILVER JAVELIN. The total flight time was 1:15 hours above Mach 3.1, with a total range based on final flight data, of 2, 580 nautical miles at a cruising altitude between 75,600 ft. and 80.000 ft. This was the longest sustained flight bordering on design conditions. Before #129 took the second SILVER JAVELIN flight in early March 1965, Lockheed made a number of modifications to the aircraft, including additions to the air inlet duct seals to improve inlet efficiency strengthening the rudder actuator linkage, and rescheduling the fuel management system to keep the aircraft balanced and reduce drag. There wasn't much flying done while the Phase II SKYLARK was being put into place. At no time were there less than five operational aircraft available for service.
SKYLARK Phase II also encompassed work on the J 58 engines it brought about a new inlet system, auto forward bypass, J cams, and duct seals. Designers also improved the composite panels and use the Blackbird's signature black paint for the first time.. there was improved nitrogen conservation, rudder improvements to support the 450 KEAS climb, film and map destruction capability and the first incorporation of the "Birdwatcher" System (electronic means of tracking the aircraft on a flight on a separate frequency). The Phase II summary of the Aircraft performance showed that the A-12 had achieved Mach 2.9 with a range of 1700 nautical miles from tanker to tanker hookup, with an altitude of 76,000 ft in test. The projected performance for the A-12 after the Phase II moods were completed was flight speed of Mach 3.05 with a range of 2,500 nautical miles and an altitude of 76,000 ft. The minimum modifications that had to be in place upon completion of Phase II need to support SUPERMARKET (the ECM package), incorporated in the Lockheed inlet control design and provided for the three refueling mission. The actual overall mission reliability for Cuban over flights, there as still concern for the ECM problems and fear that those problems were being resolved too slowly. The A-12 might be ale to overfly Cuba, but it would have to do so without ECM protection. The training missions continued for nearly three months after SKYLARK and demonstrated that the A-12s were capable of collecting photographic reconnaissance. But due to the delicate nature of the negotiations surrounding the crisis, the A-12s were never used over Cuba. Instead the U-2s continued to photographs Castro's installations and the breakdown of those installations just as before.
D: Completion There were still some modifications going on to complete the bird. KEMPSTER A-B was an RCS device that utilized different devices on A-12 which generated an electron cloud that could absorb radar frequencies. The equipment was held in the Q bay. The ion guns created a steam of ionized particles that materialized from small holes in the chines which was just ahead of the air inlets. The concept was solid and had the A-12 remained in service and not been cancelled for the SR-71, all A-12s would have carried the system. In a restoration process for the A-12 #122 at the Intrepid Museum the author found the small holes in the chine at station #715 on the aircraft. The other program EMERALD was the development of device which would generate a seeded plasma electric arc for the purpose of absorption of radiation. EMERALD was not continued. The CIA began to qualify pilots and ground crews on a series of training flights that simulated missions over Cuba. The training mission continued for nearly three months after SKYLARK and demonstrated that the A-12 was indeed capable of collecting photographic reconnaissance. But due to the delicate nature of the negotiations surrounding the Cuban crisis, the A-12s were never used over Cuba. The A-12 was now awaiting a mission.
E. Fielding Black Shield:
In 1965, the United States began sending trips to South East Asia and Vietnam, moves that created a greater need to substitute the A-12 in place of the U-2. This was needed because of the new vulnerability of the U-2 due to SAM sites newly placed in the Vietnam, SE Asia area. New CIA director William Raborn said the A-12 could operate in the new theater once final operational readiness tests were passed. Once again, due to politics prevalent in any project even black ones, the 303 Committee, which was created by the NSC (National Security Office) to oversea covert activities, turned down the A-12 for deployment on the basis that the Japanese might find out about it and object, something at the time that was not wanted. On August 12, 1966, President Lyndon Johnson held up the 303's decision. The CIA then asked for over flights on Cuba. Again the 303 withheld its agreement, again because they feared that it might upset an already fragile peace in the area.
On May 16, 1967 President Lyndon Johnson finally agreed to let the A-12 be used to see if there were any SAM sites that had gone undetected in North Vietnam. By May 17, 1967, the airlift to Kadena Air Base had begun, for what was to be known as BLACK SHIELD had begun. The first movement of A-12s to Kadena transpired May 22, 1967. thirteen days later, the A-12 OXCART was ready to fly its first mission.
On May 31, 1967, the first of the Black Shield missions was flown. This included one pass over North Vietnam and another over the DMZ. The A-12 flew at Mach 3.1 and 80,000 ft for a flight of 3 hours and 39 minutes. It photographed 70 of 190 suspected sites and 9 other priority targets. The A-12 did not detect any radar signals bouncing off her during the mission, meaning her mission went undetected by the Chinese and the North Vietnamese. From June 19 through August 21, 1967, seven more Black Shield flights were made, with 14 more missions from August 31 through December 16. On the December 16 flight, there was one latch-on by Chinese Fan Song guidance radar, but it was not successful. OXCART's efforts and results in Vietnam were truly stunning, since it was the first time that non satellite reconnaissance at high speed and altitude could be maintained without the worry of being shot down. Flying over enemy territory was just about what the A-12 was born and bred to do. There were 22 Black shield missions and the A-12 flew all of them retuning unscathed. The photographs these flights produced provided exactly the kind of information the military and the CIA wanted. The A-12's cameras snapped pictures of airfields, military hardware and military infrastructure.
On October 28, 29 and 30 1967, Black Shield flew missions that covered about 55 percent of North Vietnam, including Hanoi, Hai Phong, Pingshiany, and the Dong Dang area. The flights surveyed all six of the major airfields of North Vietnam and more than half of the SA17 2 SAM sites. The flights were used for bomb damage assessment and to search for surface to surface missiles. Missions 6732 and 6734 of October 28 and 30 1967 involved two passes over North Vietnam panhandle. The 6732 mission passed along the Chinese border. Mission 6733 on Oct 29th also flew along the border, and the combined reconnaissance from all three missions yielded no evidence of surface to surface missiles.
These three missions photographed more than 260 SA-2 sites in North Vietnam, including two new ones. The SAMs were plaguing U.S. pilots at every turn and the more that could be discovered in their hiding places, the better.
The A-12 was also giving good assessments of the damage from carpet bombing that B-52s were carrying out daily in North Vietnam. The photographs also revealed the carpet bombing along the lines of MiGs left on these air fields had not done nearly as much as expected.
The A-12 missions over North Vietnam also came home with other information. Information regarding Hanoi thermal power plant showed damage in a raid from August 21, 1967. The generator hall roof showed a penetration and possible internal detonations. Although there was no evidence that the plant was again in use, the plant had been reopened. Last and not certainly least, there was the flight BX-6847 on January 28, 1967. A-12 Article number #131, piloted by Jack Weeks found the captured USS Pueblo in Wonson harbor. The North Koreans had boarded the Navy spy ship in international waters on January 23, 1967 and took her and her crew prisoners. Weeks and his A-12 found the captive ship iced up in Wonson harbor. The A-12 photos were the only ones taken of the seized ship. Week's initial mission was to find out if there were other North Korean build up of military in the area. By May 8, 1968, the last of the Black shield missions were flown over North Korea by pilot Jack Layton. This was the end of the Black Shield Mission, the only one that OXCART ever flew.
B. The Close of the OXCART program:
As early as September 29, 1966 the Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Nitze proposed at an executive committee meeting that OXCART be phased out of the inventory. He was ready to discuss the USAF's version of the A-12, the SR-71, a slower, two man aircraft without the speed and camera capabilities of the A-12. The SR-71 was in advanced tests and true to the USAF penchant for wanting everything, they wanted their position back and the ruler of the skies. The A-12 had taken that away from them via the CIA. This was something that ate at the USAF's ever increasing ego and budget. In Nitze's mind, and many others, tow supersonic spy planes was one plane too many. The United Stated didn't need it nor could it afford it. Dr. Alexander Flax, director of the national Reconnaissance Office (NRO), had circulated papers showing that the SR-71 was in satisfactory condition and could take over North Vietnam duties as soon as December 1, 1967. the Joint Chiefs of Staff concurred that the SR-71 was ready to go operational. But one member of the panel, Dr Donald Hornig, disagreed based on the calculations on equipment lists, statistical factors, and performance curves. Hornig stated that the SR-71 was two to four times more vulnerable than the A-12. Hornig looked at the SR-71s operational techniques and impact including the ECM systems and abilities, present enemy activity and perceived future operations. Hornig concluded that the committee shouldn't be too quick to deploy the SR-71. Dr. Flax pointed out that is there weren't any economic constraints, he would keep the entire force, but money as always was a factor. Flax also felt that there was a need for a firm decision. If no decision was made, keeping both programs would cost around $32 million. The question of putting A-12s in storage and alter retrieving them was also raised. It would cost $300,000 to $500,000 in 1968 dollars to reactivate each aircraft if they were put away and then brought out for flight status again. This cost based on reactivation being done within the first year. The financial plan in place at the time would fund the A-12 and allow continued operation at Are 51 only through December 1966, any longer would require additional funds.
Some members felt that a delay of three to six months in shutting down OXCART would be appropriate. Even Dr. Flax felt that the delay would give a higher degree of confidence that the SR-71 would be able to carry out the job in the face of North Vietnamese defense improvements. Deployment, Flax felt, should be delayed for three months and the deployment should be scheduled for February 1968.
This meeting set the stage for the closing down of the OXCART program. It would be a matter of when it would be convenient. The SR-71 did not reach operational deployment at the expected time and the A-12 was extended through Mach 31, 1968. OXCART was extended again through June 30, 1968 allowing a one month overlap for the SR-71 to take the field. There was a test program run between the SR-71 and the A-12. It was called NICE GIRL. This allowed for both aircraft to follow a complex and distant flight plan. As it turned out, there was no competition between either aircraft as no one could be declared the winner, it was a draw. The demonstration didn't change the minds of the people in charge. The A-12 was available, but the political will wasn't. The USAF had been supporting OXCART since the inception, but USAF pilots weren't flying it, CIA pilots were. The A-12 was being serviced on the ground and refueled in the air---by the USAF, but the USAF was not getting the glory of performing the mission. The USAF was not comfortable as the support team for the A-12 in a black project headed by the CIA. In short, USAF wanted the CIA out of the aircraft business. Due to overlapping capabilities, the purchase of the SR-71 by the USAF effectively bought the A-12 off the flight line. As always, there was another political gain to be had. The purchase of the SR-71 gave the USAF the lead in aerial reconnaissance once again. The A-12 was operated by a civilian agency and could be deployed quickly and with a minimum of logistics and that stuck in the Use's craw. The A-12 had to be retired.
That is how it ended, one of the most spectacular programs in aviation history. OXCART was brought down by ego, politics, and petty jealousy. The OXCART program had so much life left in it, but it was relegated to a hanger to save the face of the USAF that was already overblown with post war greed.
A. What is a Museum? The technical description of a museum is "a permanent institution in the service of society and of its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates, and exhibits tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment. " (Int'l Council of Museums)
When it comes to Military Aviation Museums, things are just a little different. Basically, not only are they the keepers of history for the aircraft, it is a hard look at the handmaidens of war. A Military Aviation Museum is unique in many ways. While an art museum brings you the beauty of a painting or a sculpture, an aviation museum brings the beauty of line, form and design and the power that an aircraft does possess. You see the beauty but you also see the deadly purpose of a machine of war. Military Aviation Museums show the public where their tax money is going and explains the necessity of these awesome aircraft in the defense and protection of the nation.
B. Responsibility of a Museum:
The responsibility of a Military Aviation Museum is also unique. The stories that these aircraft hold are powerful. It is a monumental task to present these aircraft in the correct light with the correct history, and not to be displayed as some oddity or menace, but as the entities they are. According to the American Association of Museums:
"Museums in the United States are grounded in the tradition of public service. They are organized as public trusts, holding their collections and information as a benefit for those they were established to serve. Members of their governing authority, employees, and volunteers are committed to the interests of these beneficiaries. The law provides the basic framework for museum operations. As nonprofit institutions, museums comply with applicable local, state, and federal laws and international conventions, as well as with the specific legal standards governing trust responsibilities. This Code of Ethics for Museums takes that compliance as given. But legal standards are a minimum. Museums and those responsible for them must do more than avoid legal liability; they must take affirmative steps to maintain their integrity so as to warrant public confidence. They must act not only legally but also ethically."
That is the magic word, ETHICS. In its responsibility to the public and the Museum itself, ethics is the principal function. Without it, a museum is no more than a store house or a side show.
B. The A-12 in the Aviation Museum system:
In the early 1990's, the A-12 Blackbird was tossed out into the public eye without any fanfare or any concept of just who and what these magnificent aircraft really were. As the USAF Museum Program coordination office took possession of the 9 Blackbirds, no one truly understood their rarity, history or accomplishments. It should be noted much of that happened because; the program was so black no one knew outside of the CIA who had not declassified the program. There were 7 aircraft that looked like the SR-71 but weren't and no one had handle on the fact that they came without any manuals, descriptions or nomenclature. As host museums lined up at PC's door to adopt one of these fine aircraft, the usual credentials were laid out to see if the host museums would be able to meet the criteria. One by one they applied and the bidding war began. At first, the New England Air Museum was the first to put its bid in on an A-12. $250,000 in escrow had been held to show their intentions were good and that they could comply with the loan agreements of the USAF Museum contract. It would be a handsome aircraft for the east coast museum, who could prove not only were they competent enough to handle it, they had an indoor spot that would be perfect for the titanium skinned A-12. Other museums followed: Alabama, Minnesota, San Diego, they all came. The deal was done and the NEAM would get their A-12 until something queered the deal. That queer belonged to no other than Zak Fisher owner and operator of the Intrepid Museum in NYC. While that was good for Intrepid, Zak Fisher's wheeling and dealing within the military circles was well known. A real estate kind in NYC, he had the money and the contacts to make his dream of an SR-71 come true. Fisher wanted a SR-71. He had no idea what an A-12 was except that it looked like an SR-71. Fisher with a little help from the Pentagon managed to pull the NEAM's A-12 right out from under their noses and hauled over to Intrepid. It needs to be noted that Fisher and the Pentagon jumped all over the Program Coordination office at Wright Patterson AFB and the USAF Museum director to get this deal done. The ill equipped Intrepid operations department, with not aviation professional among them, transported the unprepared A-12 through the open sea on a barge back to the Hudson River and home to Intrepid.
D. Why the Loan Agreement doesn't work.
The USAF Museum loan agreement that supports the transfer of aircraft from the USAF Museum system to a host museum is adequate itself as a written document. The problem with the loan agreement is adherence to the policies set in it. The Program coordination office, who overseas the loans cannot in reasonable thought manage to look after the hundreds of aircraft that they have on loan to host museums. Hence the policies they put forth can't be supported and the breakdown of discipline regarding the care of the aircraft happens.
The loan agreement requires a yearly update on the aircraft including photos. This means that over a year a complete check of the aircraft must be made. Any maintenance issues, repairs, or new damage must be reported to the USAF Museum. There is no way that this will happen. Only the most professional of museums can uphold this end of their loan agreement.
D. Breakdown of a Museum Procurement and loan system.
What needs to happen for the many aircraft in these loan programs to be successful is for the USAF Museum officials to visit the aircraft at least every 2 years. However there is not enough money or man power for that to happen. Since this can't happen, there is no way to police the various loans out there. Without this type of support, there is not way to check on the various loans and the host museums are left to their own devices. An attempt has been made by the services at least in military museums is for the Navy to police any aircraft they may hold for the Army and so on. It may solve some of the problem, but inmost cases it does not. The loaning of aircraft via political pressure needs to also be controlled. This is another case of jumping the gate to get what you want. Using politics and pressure in attaining aircraft for no other reason than to satisfy a want in dangerous in the Museum policy. Once this has happened it is hard to stop it because a precedent has been set. In the case of Intrepid, this aircraft has undergone the worst of maintenance, in the worst possible place for an aircraft of its type, the flight deck outside. And because of political pressure, the USAF Museum was not able to effectively protect the aircraft it loaned out. The ethics of Museum policy was brushed aside to the detriment of the artifact.
E: Non Vetting of a Host Museum:
One of the requirements of the loan agreement is to show that there is a maintenance plan in place, a safe exhibition space and money enough to support the aircraft once it arrives at the host museum. Adherence to that requirement is also a common joke among many of the host museums. Because there is not a proper policing policy and no way of punishing the host museum for non-compliance, many of the poorer quality museums sneak past in their duties regarding care for their artifacts. Host Museums in general need to be gone over with a fine tooth comb to prevent the type of mishandling that has caused the destruction of some aircraft by neglect. There must be a plan in place that can be proved viable before the loan agreement is signed. As has happened in the past, because of either political concerns or past history with the lender museum, other aircraft are usually given over without much thought to its concern. There has been some minor cause for joy in this issue. The Memphis Belle, a famous B-17 that has been in a museum that couldn't care for the historic aircraft has been recalled back to the USAF Museum for restoration and exhibition. However, the only way this occurred was because the USAF Museum had more clout politically than the host museum. It doesn't happen this way all the time and that is the major problem: any recourse for museums that let their historic artifact down.
F. How to care for an A-12 ---- Fact from Fiction:
The A-12 Blackbird as it's been show in the above paragraphs is not your usual aluminum skinned aircraft. This aircraft by its nature should be an indoor exhibit which will protect it from harsh outside environment. That basically means that life on a flight deck 17 stories above a brine river and outside in a known hurricane zone is not the best of all showrooms. While the A- 12 is a tough "bird" in many circumstances, it still needs maintenance, painting and repairs all through the year if you wish to keep it in the prime of condition. That does mean setting up a rigorous inspection and repair plan along with keeping an exhibit area that can best show off the aircraft and protect it from further wear and tear. The better kept the fewer headaches. It also means that there needs to be enough money is the restoration budget to care for such an exotic aircraft.
HOMES AND HORRORS:
A. Neglect by some host museums and care by others: If you take a look at the various museums that house A-12's, some of them don't worry too much about their charges or their special care.
1. Seattle Museum of Flight-Washington: This aircraft is kept indoors in a magnificent display and kept with exemplary care. The A-12 configuration with the D-21 drone mounted on top is rare. Years of work with volunteer efforts and historical research went into preparing this aircraft. This exhibit shows what can happen when the right museum knows how to handle precious artifact.
2. The San Diego Air and Space Museum: This aircraft has been left in an outside display. Actually, the aircraft is treated more like a gate guard at the entrance of the Museum. No care has been given to this aircraft for some time and it is quite evident that the lack of care is showing. The aircraft is weathered and covered in bird poop, which because of it acidity can cause lots of damage. Since the USAF Museum has not been out to visit this aircraft or even consult with the aircraft curator concerning it, this is a prime example of how a loan agreement means nothing. The aircraft, subject to hostile weather and environmental conditions will continue to deteriorate until someone informs the USAF museum of its condition. That can only be done by concerned citizens visiting the museum. There have been reports of other visitors who have taken the museum to task concerning the A-12, but they have all but been ignored. 3. The Battleship Alabama Memorial Museum: This A-12 has always been indoors. During Hurricane Katrina, the aircraft was badly damaged. The aircraft curator restored this aircraft by hand with every detail lovingly placed. This aircraft was the showpiece for the "Welcome Home Roadrunners -2008" celebration. This again shows that even with little or no money, miracles can happen if you have a museum that cares.
4. Alabama Space and Rocket Center: This is again an outdoor exhibit. The aircraft is in need of restoration. However, not only is the aircraft marked as it flew for NASA, which it never did; it is also displayed as an SR-71 which is completely erroneous. This museum is also the home of the Space Shuttle camp for kids. This is another case of the Museum system turning a blind eye as to what happens to aircraft after the loan agreements are signed. There have been calls to the USAF Museum regarding this problem, but nothing has ever been done about it.
5. CIA-Langley VA; This is an outdoor exhibit on a pylon of an A-12. This aircraft was recalled from the Minnesota Air National Guard Museum and given to the CIA. The reason for this was political, but also solved the problem of a rather dubious individual who claimed the aircraft for his personal use. Again, this was a long term problem that was known by the USAF Museum but nothing was done until it was almost too late.
6. Blackbird Park- Palmdale California: This is another case of an outside aircraft. However, in this case the weather is not a problem as it is warm and dry. The aircraft does see routine maintenance and is cared for. However, there is very little if any communication between the USAF Museum and the airpark.
7. Intrepid Museum-New York City: the aircraft is outdoors and subject to repeated negligence. Weather varies from ice, freezing temperatures, wind and snow in the winter to humidity, heat and acid rain in the spring fall and summer. It is only because of harassment of the USAF museum by various sources, that some of the negligence and vandalism has been addressed. However since the refit of the Intrepid, the aircraft is still questionable as to the depth of resolve in care and maintenance.
Out of seven aircraft, the only remaining A-12s in existence, there are: 2 in poor condition 2 in political situations dictating their care 3 in good museums that are being cared for.
That is a cause for concern. In the case of the Seattle Museum of Flight, this is how an exotic artifact should be cared for and is an example to every other museum on what to do. In the case of the San Diego Museum, the USAF Museum should have been alarmed at the aircraft's state when notified by patrons. However since the USAF Museum has not been out to inspect the aircraft, the museum continues to proceed as it always has and ignore the situation. The case of the Intrepid Museum is on record here. It is the same political environment and whether things have been successfully worked out remains to be seen. The Alabama Space and Rocket Museum in Huntsville, is marked up as a NASA aircraft and is shown as a SR-71. To this date nothing has been done by the USAF museum to correct the situation.
Update: In early 2009 the NASA stickers were removed from the plane and its ID changed from SR-71 to A-12.
C. Case in point: #122 and the Intrepid - a history of trouble and years of neglect: Case in point: The A-12 on the flight deck of the Intrepid Museum in NYC had been on that outside deck since 1992. That is a lot of acid rain, heavy snow, ice storms and rain, not to mention Nor'easters and hurricanes. The aircraft on Intrepid has seen only 3 serious attempts in almost 15 years at serious restoration work in all of that time. The first was to seal the many open areas and repair damage to the chine areas along with removal of asbestos from the saw tooth panels on the wings. That was a monumental amount of work done with care and has kept the aircraft safe from further interior harm all these years. The tires were changed for new ones and filled with foam so they would no longer go flat. The next attempt and that is all it was, was a paint job that was done over the existing paint job causing a pillow effect because moisture had gotten into the new paint coat. The paint did not adhere properly, hence the pillow effect. The aircraft was also subject to more damage by mishandling. The aircraft sustained holes in her side due to being slammed up against a wire fence on the deck of Intrepid. We might also note that while moving an aircraft around is at best a dangerous assignment, it is even more dangerous in the case of the A-12 due the her unique configurations. You don't ever attempt to back it up, as some have done. There was more vandalism recorded with names being written on her wheel well doors, a pitot never properly replaced with an adequate model and the substitution of what can only be termed a "clown nose" placed on this prestigious bird. The third attempt at restoration was done after the aircraft was placed in 2 year dry-dock with the rest of the ship for overhaul and that remains to be seen. This was also for political reasons as the city wanted the docks refitted and could not do it with Intrepid in place. This situation has occurred for three reasons: 1. Due to the fact that the lender museum had no recourse and the political involvement of the host museum with a money wielding owner and the military, the lender museum had to resort to undercover operations to protect its aircraft. It was a success. 2. After that operation had outlived its welcome, the lender museum was once again being stalled by the host museum and could only rely on some reports of the aircraft's mistreatment. It chose to do nothing and the situation seriously deteriorated. 3. Due to the fact that the lender museum once again was tasked by external reports of mistreatment of the aircraft, the Museum's commanding officer found it necessary to threaten the Intrepid with aircraft removal if something wasn't done. We must interject that at this point the Intrepid had no curatorial staff and had not informed the USAF Museum of its situation which was in violation of its 501C tax code as a museum. This jeopardized not only the Intrepid but the USAF Museum as well.
As can be seen from the Intrepid situation had political concerns and pressures by rich owners not have been brought to bear, this aircraft would have had a safe home in the New England Air Museum. Because of this, the aircraft has been left in danger, has deteriorated and still remains in the hands of a museum that only operates when threatened.
PART III: Technical Issues in Caring for A-12 Blackbirds:
A. Restoration issues:
Restoration Philosophy and Policy: According to Louis Casey, Curator of the National Air and Space Museum in a policy written in 1969, Mr. Casey says: "During the restoration process, extreme care should be taken to preserve intact, existing material. In making the specimen "like new", we can destroy the research value of the specimen. Try as we may it is difficult if not impossible to restore a specimen to its former or original condition. The general tendency for laymen to "restore" vintage aircraft to a like new condition should be resisted at all costs. As a national museum we should expend the time and energy necessary to preserve the original materials and details. There has to be a first time for process and preservation. We should intensify our efforts in that direction as hopefully other museums will look to us, NASM for guidance. We should prepare ourselves for that challenge and responsibility." The question of "New Look" over restoration gives unquestionable new look with no evidence of aging or appearance of ever being used. Restoring or preserving originality retains evidence of usage and aging while returning aircraft to operational status
Original: A specimen that can be shown to be in the original as built configuration or as a modified by the user, that remains unaltered from the time it ended operational status. Restored Original: As artifact composed of at least 50% original components (by surface area or volume) and the remainder returned to accurate early condition made with the same materials, components and accessories.
Reproduction: A reasonable facsimile in appearance and construction of an aircraft made with similar materials and having substantially the same type engine and operating system.
Preservation: Act of sustaining and maintaining cultural and natural resources that have been identified as significant and or threatened and that warrant protection.
Conservation: As technology of preservation, conservation is the scientific investigation of materials environment and with those things responsible for deterioration of cultural resources. Preservations and Conservation: are similar and designed to keep an object in its existing condition. Restoration: is more active process which attempts to undo changes cause by past deteriorations.
The professional view of restoration is to document the aircraft in the collection in its time period they were built. Aircraft not only preserve but exhibit the technology of their times. Real reasons for compromise in quality is not cost or time, but poor leadership by the curator attitude, lack of knowledge and weakness in management of the team leader.
The main objectives in restoration is to return the object to earlier appearance or working conditions Restoration and conservation are not but not necessarily the same. Restoration treatment presents a greater risk to the integrity of an object than conservation does. In restoration it is often desirable to replace damaged parts, refine entire surfaces or eliminate later modifications. Restoration treatments are more extensive and intrusive. Risks include misinterpretation of physical evidence and removal of historically significant modifications or materials.
Corrosion control: Cleaning agents, preservatives such as coating, electrolytic phase inhibitors and waxes can be used and decisions on how to best use them are important to the process.
C. Restoration Techniques:
In aircraft restoration the intent should be preserve originality regardless of the amount or operational wear that show on the aircraft. It takes more time to repair a damaged part than to replace it. Signs of active corrosion, albeit slow, must be addressed during the aircraft restoration. Every process must be done to make the aircraft last indefinitely not just for normal manufacturer lifetime. As technicians are working on these aircraft, it must be emphasized that there should be a bond between the tech and his work, and not just treating it like another job. This can't be stressed enough.
D. Different Categories of Collection and Restoration Decisions:
Category I: Aircraft which are historically significant, by virtue of taking part in some historic event are in Category I. Aircraft in this category will be restored to represent the event for which they are most famous. Category II: Aircraft which are technologically significant due to a feature or advance development. Aircraft in this category will be restored to represent the event for which it became famous. Technically significant aircraft produced for experimental flight, cabin pressure etc can be classified in this category. Category III: Aircraft not significant in their own right but which represent their most widely known operational role. Marking and configuration historically known to be on the aircraft are preferred.
Another issue to be raised for action by curator's staff is choice of military markings for a CAT III aircraft in the collection as representative types, not in themselves historical aircraft. In the case of military markings it is necessary to select a set of markings which designate the theater of operations in which the aircraft was used. The main objective should be to display the aircraft in markings which represent its major role. It is best NOT to use markings of famous individuals on a general aircraft but to make a more general identification. Careful research must be done to assure authenticity of markings chosen.
Developing Restoration Configuration Plans:
1. The full history and significance of the aircraft must be documented and understood beyond hearsay and legend that may affect the work plan.
2. What secrets might this structure hold that should be looked into?
3. What maintenance problems will this aircraft encounter for safe guarding this aircraft after being restored e.g. Scuff marks, Tire inflation, and paint corrosion.
4. What effect if any does restoration have upon enhancing or degrading the aircraft's historical or technological significance?
5. Will the aircraft be at some time the primary subject of an exhibit or will it support an element that relates to a group of aircraft.
6. What time period will it represent?
7. Do the original and quite mundane markings on the aircraft permit the museum to explain or interpret a facet of its mission which would not otherwise be possible?
8. In what way does the artifact add educational value or strength to the collection? What technical details need special attention for this function? I.e. cutaways, exhibit graphics.
E. Four levels of Exhibit and Preservation: Level I; an aircraft including the engine is considered in "pristine condition" and ready for exhibit if it is stable condition (no deterioration) since it is new or has gone through a complete restoration with preservation safe guards.
Level II: A well cared for aircraft is suitable for exhibit but needing some cleaning, markings changed to return it to its significant role.
Level III: A deteriorated or unstable condition: These aircraft are not suitable for exhibit without a complete or near complete restoration. The condition may have resulted from heavy usage, or poor care. This condition is often influenced by neglect and even abuse within the museum itself. These aircraft are seldom in stable condition and are fragile, brittle, torn and incomplete. The reason the aircraft was given to the museum is because it was no longer serviceable.
Level IV: The aircraft was derelict or destroyed. It may be possible to conserve them in present condition. Some museums have used them in dioramas to show how the aircraft was discovered. In the four levels of conditions it is obvious that there is a wide range in appearance as well as preservation or stability of museum aircraft between the two and three levels. i.e. Those in good condition as opposed to those deteriorated or destroyed.
If an aircraft is in a pre-failure state and placed in a museum, without preservation or maintenance it will begin to deteriorate to Level III (failure and heavy restoration needed). There is a wide variation of "restoration" of an aircraft really means: All necessary action to preserve structure indefinitely, not only the exterior but the interior and to preserve the technology of the design.
To add "MAKE UP" to an aircraft destroys a museum's integrity and confuses the observer as to what is authentic about the aircraft and what is cosmetic. "Holly wooding" is ok for aircraft flown or used for movie purposes but not for an authentic museum artifact.
F. Funding a restoration project: The meat and potatoes of any restoration enterprise are the funding for the project. As already discussed, if you don't have the bucks, you shouldn't take the aircraft. There has to be a sufficient amount of funds set aside after the escrow payment, if You are taking an aircraft from a museum like the National Museum of the USAF, That will support the restoration after the aircraft comes home. This also requires A place that the aircraft can be worked on in comfort for both you and the aircraft, preferably indoors. The amounts can vary from a small restoration fund of $25,000 to a larger one of $100,000. This is all contingent on the project that is being brought home. Many times when an aircraft is brought in, it is cleaned up and put on the exhibit floor and not thought about again until the first few nuts and bolts fall off. Finding out why those nuts and bolts fell off usually leads to a more extensive problem and before you know it, the aircraft isn't looking quite as well as the day it arrived. It pays to have funds and a maintenance schedule on hand from the onset to make sure for every eventuality. G. Do No Harm: Physical Restoration of an A-12, a delicate process. As with any artifact the first rule is to do no harm. If there is no guide line or basic plan, research it till something is found. Curatorial guidelines should be followed and are the logical place to start: The Curatorial Guidelines document becomes the baseline of reference that all work on the project must adhere to. It explains objectives to be gotten when the work is complete.
a. Identification: should list the name of the aircraft, its identification number or in the case of the A-12, its article number. It should also contain the Museum accession number and the catalog number.
b. Significance of the type of aircraft; magnitude of the overall use of the aircraft and its primary purpose.
c. Background of the specific airframe: date of manufacture. In the case of the A-12 that can sometimes be found on interior longerons or parts. Where the aircraft is manufactured. Again, in the case of the A-12 you will not see Lockheed stamped anywhere on the aircraft. Research will give you that answer. Donor of the aircraft to the Museum. In the case of the A-12, the National Museum of the USAF. Date the aircraft was received. Total flying hours which can be found in books on the program for that particular Article number. Hopefully a summary of previous restorations, preservations, treatments and storage conditions.
d. Current condition: In the case of the A-12 the final configuration is the only configuration. Fuselage: with the A-12 this needs to be gone over inch by inch due to the problems the A-12 can manifest. Cockpit: with the A-12 is sometimes in good condition if it hasn't been vandalized. On most A-12s there may be a couple of gauges missing. Wings and Landing Gear: In the case of the A-12 the tires should not be flat. If not new, they may be painted silver after being blown up with foam so they don't flatten. Engine: No A-12 comes with engines. Colors and markings: The USAF museum has the markings for the A-12 and the standard color is black although there are other configurations like black and silver.
e. Concluding comments: this allows for notes regarding the A-12's history, also there are any dings, broken parts etc. H. Titanium issues: As discussed the A-12 is 93% titanium alloy. When cared for properly and treated with the correct materials, the A-12 skin should have no real issues. However, when the skin is exposed to hostile conditions, acid rain, snow, ice, cold, heat, humidity and left unprotected outside to face the elements, the skin will not fair well. Considering the relative age of the A-12 to be at least 40 + years old that may not seem like much in aircraft years. However, with a titanium alloy skin that is treated harshly many things can occur:
a. Crazing. On A-12 skin crazing occurs when the metal is starting to fail. It presents at the rivet hole where you can see fine lines around the flush cherry rivets. This usually means that the titanium is brittle. If it spreads, you will see it in the titanium plates.
b. Kadena Krud: This is a bright neon green krud that forms at the edges of the skin and at rivet holes. It is caused by high humidity. It was first found when the aircraft was stationed in Okinawa, where the krud got its name. It can be treated by washing with distilled water and rubbing Vaseline around the infected areas.
c. Saw tooth panels: The saw tooth panels in the wings of the A-12 were used to deflect radar. They are coated in side with radar deflecting material and a sealant compound called RTV. They are also loaded with asbestos. In the case of #122, these panels have been removed cleaned and replaced with new panels and sealed with new RTV to prevent any allergic reaction to aluminum.
d. In the case of tools; NO CADMIUM PLATED TOOLS CAN BE USED ON THE A-12. The aircraft skin is highly allergic to it and can cause severe damage to the skin.
e. The rudders on some A-12 are made of composite material not metal. In the case of 122 on the Intrepid, the rudders were sanded. The rudders on 122 are made of composite material. When the crew on Intrepid realized this it was too late, the damage was done.
f. Painting the A-12: the best way to approach painting the A-12 would be to chemically remove the paint. There is a company by the name of NUTEK that specializes in this process. It is done safely and within OSHA and EPA regulations. Latex paint is the safest. There is a list available of all the materials safe to use on the A-12 airframe.
I. More Restoration Issues:
A. Indoor and outdoor exhibit: the best and safest place for an A-12 would be an indoor exhibit, climate controlled and away from the elements. Outdoors is also applicable if the aircraft has been restored and prepared to be able to stand the outdoor elements. That consists of the aircraft having open panels to be sealed as in the case of 122. The aircraft would need to be cleaned regularly with distilled water and mild soap at least every 3-4 months.
B. Weather issues: Any aircraft that is left outside will be made to endure tough conditions like snow, rain, winds, hurricanes etc. the aircraft outside would have to be prepared for that and positioned safely to withstand it.
C. #132 and Hurricane Katrina: even in the best conditions inside, nothing can withstand a hurricane like Katrina. It was only because of the dedication of the Battleship Alabama Museum staff that this aircraft was not totaled and trashed.
D. 122 and the flight deck on Intrepid: This issue has been raised throughout this directive. In closing, if there ever was a worse place to put and aircraft of 122's stature, we haven't found it yet. This placement was due to political pressure put on both the pentagon and the USAF Museum. In this case, money spoke louder than common sense and principle. It should never be allowed to happen again.
E. 127 and the Deterioration in Alabama: Because of the lack of USAF Museum control, the Alabama museum has been allowed to continue to disguise its a-12 as a SR-71 dressed in NASA colors. Nothing has been done about it.
PART IV: Politics and the Museum system:
A. What to avoid: If looking for an aircraft to add to a collection make sure that you have the money, materials, manpower and storage space available. If possible keep open lines of communication between you and your lender museum. Always be prepared to show the aircraft no matter when or how. IN essence, keep the aircraft in as best condition as possible. Avoid taking an aircraft for the sake of prestige. If you can't support it, leave it alone. Avoid getting into any political struggles to make sure you do get the aircraft. Follow the Lender Museums criteria and don't be afraid to ask for support.
B. Protection of Artifacts: Artifacts whether they are guns, uniforms of aircraft are precious pieces of history. They are entrusted into the museum system to make sure they are safe and that their historical value as a part of era is preserved intact. They are not meant to be bartered, bought or politically influenced for the sake of prestige.
C. Maintaining the very secret History of the A-12 OXCART program: It has taken years to bring the OXCART program to light. The depth of this program is still finding its place in Cold War history. It can't be subjected to political pressures of museums whose only claim to fame is to use the A-12 as a meal ticket for their monetary benefit. It behooves the remaining members/retirees of the OXCART program to continue to uphold the prestige of the OXCART program and to keep the flame of OXCART true and bright for generations to follow and know the truth.
D. Long term commitment of having an A-12 as a museum exhibit: While it will take money and great support of a curatorial and restoration staff, having the A-12 as a museum exhibit has to be one of the most exciting and truly historical assets to any museum. The great rarity of the A-12 and the marvelous OXCART program history to support it will make a great and honorable exhibit to commemorate the work and sacrifice of the Roadrunners and Program OXCART.
Part V: Oxcart's History-- a sacred trust: The legacy of the roadrunners and the OXCART program. Much has been said about the A-12 as an artifact. What needs to be added to that statement is the real reason for the A-12, the OXCART program. The OXCART program was run in the deepest of CIA black programs. OXCART also revolutionized high speed aviation and high altitude reconnaissance with Mach III speed. The odd part about all of this is no one knew anything about it, which is How well kept a secret it was. Now, that the aircraft has surfaced and been placed on exhibition, it deserves to have its place in United States Cold War history and to have that history displayed correctly. This can be accomplished by the vigilance of the retirees of the program and the fact that by their very presence as living history, they can demand that the museums involved treat their history with the respect that it deserves. If there was ever a time to speak to the generations to come, it is now to make sure that the work and sacrifice that the A-12 Blackbird expresses demands the respect that the OXCART program deserves.