Tag Archives: Skunk Works

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 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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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.”

Clarence L. (“Kelly”) Johnson, Director of Lockheed’s Advanced Development Projects (“the Skunk Works”) with the first YF-12A interceptor, 60-6934. (Lockheed Martin)

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).

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.

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 YF-12A interceptor is very similar to its A-12 Oxcart and SR-71A Blackbird stablemates. It a large twin-engine delta wing aircraft, flown by a pilot and weapons system operator. Because of the altitudes that the F-12 operates, the crew wears S901F full-pressure suits produced by the David Clark Company. The A-12 is 101.6 feet (30.97 meters) long with a wingspan of 55.62 feet (16.953 meters) and overall height of 18.45 feet (5.624 meters). It has a zero fuel weight of 54,600 pounds (24,766 kilograms) and a maximum ramp weight of 124,600 pounds (56,518 kilograms). ¹

Lockheed YF-12A three-view illustration. (NASA)

The YF-12A is powered by two Pratt & Whitney J58 (JT11D-20A) engines. These are single rotor bleed-bypass turbojets with a 9-stage compressor section and 2-stage turbine. They have a static thrust rating of 31,500 pounds (140.118 kilonewtons), each, at Sea Level with afterburning. The J58s use a unique 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). The A-12 has a normal operating cruise speed of Mach 3.1. Its maximum operating altitude is 85,000 feet (25,908 meters) and it has a range of 3,000 miles (4,828 kilometers). Unlike most fighters, the A-12 has a maximum load factor of 2.5 gs. Its maximum bank angle when above Mach 2.5 is 30°.

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)

¹ The Lockheed SR-71A has a length of 107.4 feet (32.74 meters). Wingspan and height are the same. Its zero fuel weight varied from 56,500–60,000+ pounds (25,628–27,216+ kilograms) and the gross weight had a range of approximately 135,000–140,000+ pounds (61,235–63,503+ kilograms).

© 2021, Bryan R. Swopes

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9 October 1999

9 October 1999: At a Saturday air show at Edwards Air Force Base, California, NASA Research Pilot Rogers E. Smith and Flight Test Engineer Robert R. Meyer, Jr., flew Lockheed SR-71A-LO 61-7980, NASA 844, on what would be the very last flight of a Blackbird. Although it was scheduled to fly again for the Sunday air show, a serious fuel leak prevented that flight.

61-7980 (Lockheed serial number 2031) was the final SR-71A to be built.

NASA 844 was retired after the final flight and placed in flyable storage, but in 2002, it was placed on static display at the Dryden Flight Research Center,¹ Edwards Air Force Base, California.EC92-02273 

¹ In 2014, DFRC was renamed the NASA Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center (AFRC).

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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