Tag Archives: Skunk Works

18 June 1981

Lockheed Full Scale Development YF-117A, 79-10780, in light, three-tone desert camouflage. (Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed Full Scale Development YF-117A, 79-10780, in three-tone desert camouflage. (Lockheed Martin)

18 June 1981: At 6:05 a.m., Pacific Daylight Time (1305 UTC), the first Full Scale Development Lockheed YF-117A Nighthawk, 79-10780, made its first flight at Groom Lake, Nevada with Skunk Works test pilot Harold “Hal” Farley, Jr. at the controls. The super-secret airplane was made of materials that absorbed radar waves, and built with the surfaces angled so that radar signals are deflected away from the source.

Harold "Hal" Farley, Jr., with a Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk.
Harold “Hal” Farley, Jr., with a Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk. (Lockheed Martin)

Hal Farley is a former U.S. Naval Aviator, who spent eight years testing F-14 Tomcat fighters for Grumman before going to work at Lockheed’s “Skunk Works” on the Have Blue proof-of-concept prototype and the Senior Trend F-117 program. When he retired from Lockheed, he had more that 600 flight hours in the F-117s. His call sign is “Bandit 117.”

Commonly called the “Stealth Fighter,” the Nighthawk is actually a tactical bomber. Five developmental aircraft and 59 operational F-117As were built. They were in service from 1983 until 2008, when the Lockheed F-22 Raptor was planned to assume their mission. They are mothballed and could be returned to service if needed.

A Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk takes off from Groom Lake, Nevada.
A Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk takes off from Nellis Air Force, Base, Nevada. (Lockheed Martin)

The Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk is a single-seat, twin-engine tactical bomber with swept wings and tail surfaces. It is 65 feet, 11 inches (20.091 meters) long with a wingspan of 43 feet, 4 inches (13.208 meters) and height of 12 feet, 9½ inches (3.899 meters). It has an empty weight of 29,500 pounds (13,380.9 kilograms) and a loaded weight of 52,500 pounds (23,813.6 kilograms).

The F-117 is powered by two General Electric F404-F1D2 turbofan engines which produce 10,600 pounds of thrust, each. These give it a maximum speed of 0.92 Mach (617 miles per hour, 993 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 45,000 feet (13,716 meters) and range is 930 nautical miles (1,070.2 miles, 1,722.4 kilometers), though inflight refueling capability gives it world-wide range.

F-117A drops GBU-28
A Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk drops a 2,000-pounds GBU-27 Paveway III laser-guided bomb. (U.S. Air Force)

The Nighthawk has no defensive armament. It can carry two 2,000 pound (907.2 kilogram) bombs in an internal bomb bay.

Scorpion One, 79-10780, is now mounted on a pylon as a “gate guard” at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk in flight. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 May 1965

Lockheed YF-12A 60-6936, flies test mission near Edwards Air Force Base, Califrnia. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed YF-12A 60-6936, flies test mission near Edwards Air Force Base, Califrnia. (U.S. Air Force)

1 May 1965: Lockheed YF-12A 60-6936 established five Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Speed: 3,351.507 kilometers per hour (2,070.102 m.p.h.) over a 15/25 Kilometer Straight Course; 2,644.22 kilometers per hour (1,643.04 miles per hour) over a 500 Kilometer Closed Circuit; and 2,718.01 kilometers per hour (1,688.89 miles per hour) over a 1,000 Kilometer Closed Circuit. On the same day, 6936 set an FAI World Record for Altitude in Horizontal Flight of 24,463 meters (80,259 feet).

The World Record-setting flight crews, from left to right, Captain James P. Cooney, Major Walter F. Daniel, Colonel Robert L. Stephens, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Andre and Major Neil T. Warner. (U.S. Air Force)
The World Record-setting flight crews, from left to right, Captain James P. Cooney, Major Walter F. Daniel, Colonel Robert L. Stephens, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Andre and Major Neil T. Warner. (U.S. Air Force)

The YF-12A interceptor prototype was flown by pilots Major Walter F. Daniel and Colonel Robert L. Stephens, with fire control officers Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Andre, Major Neil T. Warner and Captain James P. Cooney. Colonel Stephens and Lieutenant Colonel Andre were awarded the Thompson Trophy for the “J” Division, 1965. Their trophy is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Lockheed YF-12A 60-6936 during speed record trials. The white cross on the aircraft's belly was to assist timers and observers. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed YF-12A 60-6936 taking off from Edwards Air Force Base during the speed record trials, 1 May 1965. The white cross on the aircraft’s belly was to assist timers and observers. (U.S. Air Force)

FAI Record File Num #3972 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Speed over a closed circuit of 1 000 km with 1 000 kg payload
Performance: 2 718.01 km/h
Date: 1965-05-01
Course/Location: Edwards AFB, CA (USA)
Claimant Walter F. Daniel (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed YF-12A (06936)
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney J-58/JTD11D-20A

FAI Record File Num #3973 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Speed over a closed circuit of 1 000 km with 2 000 kg payload
Performance: 2 718.01 km/h
Date: 1965-05-01
Course/Location: Edwards AFB, CA (USA)
Claimant Walter F. Daniel (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed YF-12A (06936)
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney J-58/JTD11D-20A

FAI Record File Num #8534 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Altitude in horizontal flight
Performance: 24 463 m
Date: 1965-05-01
Course/Location: Edwards AFB, CA (USA)
Claimant R.L. Stephens (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed YF-12A
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney J-58/JTD11D-20A

FAI Record File Num #8855 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Speed over a closed circuit of 500 km without payload
Performance: 2 644.22 km/h
Date: 1965-05-01
Course/Location: Edwards AFB, CA (USA)
Claimant Walter F. Daniel (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed YF-12A
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney J-58/JTD11D-20A

FAI Record File Num #8926 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Speed over a closed circuit of 1 000 km without payload
Performance: 2 718.006 km/h
Date: 1965-05-01
Course/Location: Edwards AFB, CA (USA)
Claimant Walter F. Daniel (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed YF-12A
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney J-58/JTD11D-20A

FAI Record File Num #9059 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Speed over a straight 15/25 km course
Performance: 3 331.507 km/h
Date: 1965-05-01
Course/Location: Edwards AFB, CA (USA)
Claimant R.L. Stephens (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed YF-12A
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney J-58/JTD11D-20A

World Speed Record holders and Thompson Trophy winners, Colonel Robert F. Stephens and Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Andre. (U.S. Air force)
World Speed Record holders and Thompson Trophy winners, Colonel Robert L. Stephens and Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Andre. (U.S. Air Force)

60-6936 was one of three Mach 3 YF-12A interceptors designed and built by Kelly Johnson’s “Skunk Works”. It was developed from the CIA’s Top Secret A-12 Oxcart reconnaissance airplane. The YF-12A was briefly known as the A-11, which was a cover story to hide the existence of the A-12. Only three were built. The Air Force ordered 93 F-12B interceptors into production as a replacement for the Convair F-106A Delta Dart, but for three straight years Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara refused to release the funds that had been appropriated. In 1968, the F-12B project was cancelled.

On 24 June 1971, 60-6936 suffered an in-flight fire while on approach to Edwards Air Force Base. The crew successfully ejected and the airplane crashed a few miles to the north of EDW. It was totally destroyed.

The only surviving example of a YF-12A, 60-6935, is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

The 1965 Thompson Trophy on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
The 1965 Thompson Trophy on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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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 prepared a missile 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)

© 2017, 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 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). Designed 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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29 February 1964

Lockheed YF-12A 60-6934, the first of three prototype Mach 3+ interceptors. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed YF-12A 60-6934, the first of three prototype Mach 3+ interceptors. (U.S. Air Force)

29 February 1964: President Lyndon B. Johnson publicly revealed the existence of the Top Secret Lockheed YF-12A, a Mach 3+ interceptor designed and built by Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson’s “Skunk Works.” President Johnson referred to the interceptor as the “A-11.”

Intended as a replacement for Convair’s F-106 Delta Dart, three pre-production YF-12As were built for testing. On 1 May 1965, a YF-12A set a speed record of 2,070.103 miles per hour (3,331.507 kilometers per hour) and reached an altitude of 80,259 ft (24,463 meters).

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)

The reason for President Johnson’s announcement of the existence of the YF-12A prototypes was to conceal the existence of the Central Intelligence Agency’s fleet of Lockheed A-12 Oxcart reconnaissance aircraft based at Groom Lake, Nevada. Any sightings of these aircraft could be attributed to test flights of the YF-12As based at Edwards Air Force Base, 160 miles (258 kilometers) to the southwest.

The YF-12A interceptor is very similar to its A-12 Oxcart and SR-71A Blackbird stablemates. It was flown by a pilot and a Weapons System Officer. The airplane is 101 feet, 8 inches (30.988 meters) long with a wingspan of 55 feet, 7 inches (16.942 meters) and overall height of 18 feet, 6 inches (5.639 meters). It has an empty weight of 60,730 pounds (27,547 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 140,000 pounds (63,503 kilograms).

The YF-12A is powered by two Pratt & Whitney J58 (JT11D-20A) high-bypass turbojets which produce 34,000 pounds of thrust (151,240 Newtons), each, with afterburner, burning JP-7 fuel.

Pratt & Whitney J58 test. (Central Intelligence Agency)
Pratt & Whitney J58 test. (Central Intelligence Agency)

The YF-12A has a maximum speed of Mach 3.35 (2,232 miles per hour/3,342 kilometers per hour) at 80,000 feet (24,384 meters). Its service ceiling is 90,000 feet (27,432 meters) and it has a range of 3,000 miles (4,828 kilometers).

The United States Air Force ordered 93 production F-12B aircraft, which would have been armed with three Hughes AIM-47A Falcon air-to-air missiles in enclosed bays in the bottom of the fuselage. However, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara refused to release the funds for the purchase for three consecutive years and eventually the project was cancelled.

AIM-47A missile ready for loading into the weapons bay of a Lockheed YF-12A. (U.S. Air Force)
Hughes AIM-47A guided missile ready for loading into the weapons bay of a Lockheed YF-12A. (U.S. Air Force)

The first YF-12A, 60-6934, seen in the top photograph, was extensively damaged by a brake system fire on landing at Edwards AFB, 14 August 1966. It was salvaged and rebuilt as SR-71C 61-7981. The third YF-12A, shown in the photograph below, was lost due to an inflight fire 24 June 1971. The crew safely ejected.

The only existing YF-12A, 60-6935, is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Lockheed YF-12A 60-6936, holder of three World Absolute Speed Records and the World Absolute Altitude Record. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed YF-12A 60-6936, holder of three World Absolute Speed Records and the World Absolute Altitude Record, at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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