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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
26 July 1958: United States Air Force test pilot Captain Iven Carl Kincheloe, Jr., took off from Edwards Air Force Base in Lockheed F-104A-15-LO Starfighter 56-0772, acting as a chase plane for another F-104A which was flown by a Lockheed test pilot, Louis W. Schalk, Jr.
As the two supersonic interceptors began their climb out from the runway, a small control cable deep inside Kincheloe’s fighter failed, allowing the inlet guide vane of the F-104’s General Electric J79-GE-3 turbojet engine to close. With the suddenly decreased airflow the engine lost power and the airplane started to descend rapidly.
The early F-104 Starfighters had a Stanley Aviation Corporation Type B ejection seat that was catapulted or dropped by gravity from the bottom of the cockpit. 56-0772 was equipped with an improved Stanley Type C ejection seat. With the Starfighter well below 2,000 feet (610 meters), Kincheloe apparently thought that he needed to roll the airplane inverted before ejecting. This was actually not necessary and delayed his escape.
By the time he had separated from the seat and could open his parachute, he was below 500 feet (152 meters). The parachute did open, but too late. Iven Kincheloe was killed on impact. His airplane crashed into the desert floor just over 9 miles (14.5 kilometers) from the west end of Runway 22 and was totally destroyed. Today, a large crater scattered with fragments of Kincheloe’s F-104 is still clearly visible.
Iven Kincheloe was just 30 years old.
Iven Carl Kincheloe, Jr., was a legendary test pilot. He was born 2 July 1928 in Wayne County, Michigan, the son of Iven Carl Kincheloe, a farmer, and Francis Emma Wilde. He started flying lessons when he was 14 years old, and by the time he was legally allowed to solo—on his 16th birthday—he had already accumulated over 200 flight hours. He entered the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Program (ROTC) at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, where he was an engineering student. While there, he met Air Force test pilot Chuck Yeager and decided that test flying was the career area that he wanted to pursue.
At Purdue, Kincheloe was a member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon (ΣΦΕ) fraternity, played football and managed the track team. He was a member of a military honor society, the Scabbard and Blade, and the Gimlet Club, a booster organization supporting varsity sports at the university. Iven Kincheloe graduated in 1949 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant, United States Air Force Reserve, 17 June 1949.
On graduation, Kincheloe was sent to Arizona to begin his Air Force pilot training. After graduating, Second Lieutenant Kincheloe was sent to Edwards Air Force Base in southern California to work on the new North American Aviation F-86E Sabre.
Lieutenant Kincheloe deployed to Korea as a fighter pilot with the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing in August 1951, flying the F-86E Sabre as an escort for bomber formations. He was transferred to the 25th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 51st Fighter Interceptor Group, and immediately began to shoot down enemy Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 fighters. He was soon an “ace” with five confirmed kills.
After his combat tour (131 missions) in Korea, Iven Kincheloe was assigned as an exchange student to the Empire Test Pilots’ School at RAE Farnborough, England. After completing the ten-month British training program in 1955, Kincheloe was sent back to Edwards Air Force Base.
One of the most skilled test pilots at Edwards, Iven Kincheloe flew every type of fighter, as well as the Bell X-2 rocketplane, which he flew to 126,200 feet (38,465 meters), 7 September 1956. He was the first pilot to climb higher than 100,000 feet (30,480 meters) and was considered to be “the first man in space.” For this flight, Kincheloe was awarded the Mackay Trophy, “For outstanding contributions to the science of aviation by flying the Bell X-2 to an altitude considerably higher than had ever been reached before by a piloted aircraft.”
Kincheloe was scheduled to become the primary Air Force pilot on the upcoming North American Aviation X-15 Program. That would have been followed by the Man In Space Soonest project, which would have launched Kincheloe into orbit with an X-15B second stage launched by an Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile.
Captain Kincheloe married Miss Dorothy W. Heining at Monterey, California, 20 August 1955. They had two children, Iven Carl Kincheloe III and Jeanine Kincheloe, who was born several months after her father’s death.
Captain Iven Carl Kincheloe, Jr., was awarded the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit (posthumous), the Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters (three awards), and the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters (four awards), Presidential Unit Citation with oak leaf cluster (two awards), National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal with three service stars, Air Force Longevity Service Award, the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, United Nations Korean Service Medal, and the Republic of Korea Korean War Service Medal. In 1959, Kincheloe Air Force Base, Michigan, was named in his honor.
Captain Kincheloe is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.