Tag Archives: Article 121

30 April 1962

"Article 121" takes off on its first flight at Groom Lake, Nevada, 30 April 1962. (Lockheed Martin)
“Article 121” takes off on its first flight at Groom Lake, Nevada, 30 April 1962. (Lockheed Martin)

30 April 1962: Though it had been airborne briefly just a few days earlier, “Article 121”, the first Lockheed A-12, serial number 60-6924, took off from a Top Secret facility at Groom Lake, Nevada, on its “official” first flight. Lockheed test pilot Louis Wellington (“Lou”) Schalk, Jr. was in the cockpit.

The 72,000-pound (32,659 kilogram) airplane lifted off the 8,000-foot (2,438 meters) runway at 170 knots (196 miles per hour, 315 kilometers per hour).

Lockheed test pilot Louis W. Schalk, Jr. (Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed test pilot Louis W. Schalk, Jr. (Lockheed Martin)

During the 59-minute test flight, Schalk kept the airspeed to just 340 knots (391 miles per hour, 630 kilometers per hour), but climbed to 30,000 feet (9.144 meters) while he tested systems and handling characteristics. He described the airplane as very stable and extremely responsive.

The A-12 was a top secret reconnaissance airplane built for the Central Intelligence Agency under the code name “Oxcart.” It was the replacement for the Agency’s high-flying but subsonic U-2 spy plane which had become vulnerable to radar-guided surface-to-air missiles. (A U-2 piloted by Francis Gary Powers had been shot down with an SA-2 Guideline missile while over Russia exactly one year before.)

The A-12 could fly faster than Mach 3 and higher than 80,000 feet—so fast and so high that no missile could reach it. By the time missile site radar locked on to an A-12 and a missile was prepared to fire, the Oxcart had already flown beyond the missile’s range.

Lockheed A-12 60-6924 (Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed A-12 60-6924 (Lockheed Martin)

The Lockheed A-12 was a single-place, twin-engine hypersonic reconnaisance aircraft. It was 101.6 feet (30.97 meters) long, with a wingspan of 55.62 feet (16.95 meters) and overall height of 18.45 feet (5.62 meters). It had an empty weight of 54,600 pounds (24,766 kilograms) and maximum gross weight of 124,600 pounds (57,878 kilograms).

The A-12 was powered by two Pratt & Whitney JT11D-20 (J58-P-4) turbo-ramjet engines, rated at 25,000 pounds of thrust (111.21 kilonewtons) and 34,000 pounds of thrust (151.24 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The exhaust gas temperature is approximately 3,400 °F. (1,870 °C.). The J58 is a single-spool, axial-flow engine which uses a 9-stage compressor section and 2-stage turbine. The J58 is 17 feet, 10 inches (7.436 meters) long and 4 feet, 9 inches (1.448 meters) in diameter. It weighs approximately 6,000 pounds (2,722 kilograms).

The A-12’s speed was Mach 3.2 (2,125 miles per hour/3,118 kilometers per hour) at 75,000 feet(22,860 meters). Its cruise altitude was 84,500–97,600 feet (25,756–29,748 meters). The range was 4,210 nautical miles (4,845 miles/7,797 kilometers)

Article 121 was the first of thirteen A-12s built by Lockheed’s “Skunk Works.” They were operational from 1964–1968, when they were phased out in favor of the U.S. Air Force two-man SR-71A “Blackbird.”

Today, the first Lockheed A-12 is on display at Blackbird Airpark, an annex of the Air Force Flight Test Museum, Edwards Air Force Base, California. It has made 322 flight and accumulated a total of 418.2 flight hours.

Lockheed A-12 60-6924 lands at Groom Lake, Nevada, after its first flight, 30 April 1962. (Lockheed Martin)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 April 1962

Lockheed test pilot Louis W. Schalk, Jr. (Lockheed)
Lockheed test pilot Louis W. Schalk, Jr. (Lockheed Martin)

26 April 1962: At a non-existent location in the Mojave Desert of Nevada, Lockheed Chief Test Pilot Louis Wellington (“Lou”) Schalk, Jr., was scheduled to take the first Oxcart for a high-speed taxi test on the specially constructed 8,000-foot (2.44 kilometer) runway. However, he had received secret, specific instructions from designer Kelly Johnson to take the craft, known as “Article 121,” airborne.

Lou Schalk roared down the runway and lifted off. He flew at about 20 feet for two miles. The super-secret aircraft was oscillating badly so he set it down straight ahead on the dry lake bed and disappeared into a cloud of dust and flying sand. Johnson said that it “was horrible to watch.” A few minutes later, the needle nose of Article 121 appeared out of the dust as Schalk taxied back to the runway. It turned out that some equipment had been hooked up backwards. Subsequent flights were made without difficulty.

This was the actual first flight of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Top Secret A-12 reconnaissance aircraft. The “official” first flight would come several days later.

Lockheed A-12 60-6924 lands at Groom Lake, NV, after its first flight, 30 April 1962. (Lockheed)
Lockheed A-12 60-6924 lands at Groom Lake, NV, after its first flight, 30 April 1962. (Lockheed Martin)

Designed as the successor to the Agency’s subsonic U-2 spy plane, the twin-engine  jet was capable of flying more than Mach 3 (over 2,000 miles per hour/3,218.7 kilometers per hour) and higher than 80,000 feet (24,384 meters). Built by Lockheed’s “Skunk Works,” the new airplane wasn’t “state of the art,” it was well beyond the state of the art. New materials were developed. New equipment designed and built. New manufacturing processes were invented.

The A-12, developed under the code name “Oxcart,” was unlike anything anyone had ever seen. The first A-12 was referred to as Article 121. “A” = “Article.” “12-” is for A-12. “-1” is for the first production aircraft. So you get “Article 121.” What could be simpler?

The A-12 was so fast and could fly so high that it was invulnerable to any defense. No missile or aircraft or gun could reach it.

Lockheed A-12 Oxcarts and YF-12As at Groom Lake, Nevada. (Central Intelligence Agency)
Lockheed A-12 Oxcarts and YF-12As at Groom Lake, Nevada. (Central Intelligence Agency)

Thirteen A-12s were built for the CIA.  Two M-21 variants, built to carry the Mach 4 D-21 drone, were also produced. An interceptor version was developed for the Air Force as the YF-12A.

Ninety-three Lockheed F-12B interceptors were ordered though Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara  refused to release the funding for production. After three years, the order was cancelled. The Air Force liked the A-12, however, and ordered 32 of the more widely known two-place SR-71A “Blackbird” reconnaissance ships.

Today, Article 121 is on display at the Blackbird Airpark, an annex of the Air Force Flight Test Museum, Edwards Air Force Base, California.

Lockheed A-12 60-6924 at the Blackbird Airpark, Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California. (© 2012, Bryan R. Swopes)
Lockheed A-12 60-6924 at the Blackbird Airpark, Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California. (© 2012, Bryan R. Swopes)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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