In 1959, the Central Intelligence Agency established project OXCART to develop and field an operational high-speed, high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft as a successor to the U-2. The result was the Lockheed A-12, a titanium and composite aircraft capable of cruising at Mach 3.2 and attaining altitudes up to 90,000 feet. By September 1961, it was evident the Pratt & Whitney J58 engines would not be available for initial flights. Johnson proposed installing less powerful J75 engines in the first five airframes to allow completion of initial airworthiness tests until the J58 became available.
The first A-12, known as Article 121, was trucked to the test site and reassembled following its arrival there on 27 February 1962. It was a designated primary testbed for airworthiness and handling qualities, envelope expansion, airframe/powerplant integration, subsystems, and propulsion. Throughout its service life, Article 121 served as resident test article, bailed to the contractor.
The A-12 had three first flights. On 25 April 1962, during a high-speed taxi run, Lockheed test pilot Louis W. Schalk got Article 121 airborne for the first time, flying for about a mile and a half at an altitude of around 20 feet. Lockheed’s first planned flight took place the next day. Schalk flew again on 30 April for the customer’s official first flight, attaining a top speed of 340 knots and a peak altitude of 30,000 feet.
During the next flight, on 4 May 1962, Schalk took the A-12 supersonic for the first time. The aircraft performed beautifully in the transonic range and attained a speed of Mach 1.1 at 40,000 feet altitude. Article 121 made its maiden flight with two J75 engines, since Pratt & Whitney did not have the powerful J58’s completed in early 1962. It had one J58 engine installed, and flew with one J58 and one J75 engine on 5 October 1962, and then it finally flew with two J58s on 9 March 1963.
In January 1964, Lockheed test pilot James Eastham took Article 121 to a maximum Mach number of 3.3, with 15 minutes cruise time above Mach 3.2.
Following the successful completion of 322 flights (418.2 hrs.), Article 121 (Air Force s/n 60-6924) was stored at Lockheed’s facility at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, on 6 June 1968. It was placed on permanent display at Blackbird Airpark in September 1991.
Timeline and Summary of Significant Events:
- 1960 – Twelve A-12 ordered by CIA on 26 January
- 1962 – First A-12 (Article 121) built and transported by truck, in pieces, from Burbank to Groom Lake test facility. Originally had a bare titanium finish, rather than black paint
- 1962 – “Unofficial” first flight, which was a result of an unintended lift-off during a high-speed taxi, flown by Lou Schalk on 25 April with two J75 P&W engines.
- 1962 – Official first flight flown on 30 April, a year later than planned. A number of senior Air Force officers and CIA executives witnessed the long-awaited event. Flight lasted 59 minutes and reached 30,000 ft
- 1962 – First supersonic flight flown on 4 May 1962, reaching Mach 1.1 at 40,000 feet, with Lou Schalk at the controls
- 1964 –Lockheed Test Pilot James Eastham flew Article 121 up to Mach 3.3, its maximum speed, January
- Accumulated 418.2 flight hours on 322 missions, before its removal from service
- 1968 – Stored at Lockheed’s facility at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, on 6 June, along with the other surviving A-12’s
- 1991 – Placed on permanent display at Blackbird Airpark in September