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Lockheed Blackbird Family

Unread postPosted: 06 Oct 2007, 22:17
by parrothead
Most of the people around here know about the A-12 AKA Project Oxcart. I suspect that not many have heard this story, however :wink: .

I got to videotape some of the old hands at the Road Runners reunion when they got up to speak about their time up at "The Ranch" and some of what happened up there. One of the speakers was Brigadier-General (Retired) Dennis Sullivan. Gen. Sullivan was one of the A-12 pilots who flew the jet out of Groom Lake as well as out of Kadena, Okinawa on operational missions. Gen. Sullivan's entire presentation (I got it all on tape) was great - especially hearing about the time he had six or seven SA-2 missiles launched at him over North Vietnam and how he was able to watch them push over at about 90,000 feet, go to pursuit, and detonate behind the jet before they could catch him. There was only one fragment of a missile found in the chine area which was about the size of a fingernail - and he still has it 8) .

One of the stories he told was about the world record that would never be broken - Mach 3.2 with the landing gear down :shock: ! No, he wasn't the pilot who did it, but it's one of the funniest things I've ever heard :lmao: !

Here's the video of Gen. Sullivan telling that story:

Click here to see the video

Enjoy :thumb: !

RE: A-12 Oxcart - Mach 3.2 and GEAR DOWN

Unread postPosted: 06 Oct 2007, 23:32
by flames
Is the A-12 AKA Project Oxcart like a SR-71 blackbird??

Unread postPosted: 07 Oct 2007, 05:39
by parrothead

Yep, the A-12 was the first of the family and looks very much like an SR-71 :wink: . The main differences were that the A-12 was a single seat jet with one big sensor bay (or "Q-bay") while the SR-71 carried a pilot and a reconnaisance systems officer (RSO) and had four Q-bays. The A-12 could fly higher and faster than the SR-71 but was judged to be less versatile. One other detail - the A-12 wasn't declassified until 1982 :shock: !

For a comparison of the A-12 and SR-71 by the CIA, click here.

Here's a picture of each aircraft. A couple of differences that aren't as visible are that the A-12 was a bit shorter, had a much shorter "tail stub" behind the line of the elevons. Also, there's a somewhat sharper taper of the chines from the sides of the aircraft to the tip of the nose on the A-12 than on the SR-71. Lots of good info over on :)

Unread postPosted: 11 Oct 2007, 03:55
by Scorpion1alpha
That's amazing! Wonder how the gears didn't rip off or how the aircraft still reach or attained that speed!?!

Unread postPosted: 11 Oct 2007, 14:38
by Guysmiley
The gear was fine because he was at a relatively low indicated airspeed. At high altitude the speed of sound is lower than at sea level. He was at Mach 3.2 but 300 knots indicated airspeed, the airstream "felt" like 300 knots at sea level. He said the pilot nosed up to slow a little, I don't know what the Vne is for the A-12 but the SR-71's nominal gear extension speed is 250 knots. Great story! :D

Unread postPosted: 12 Oct 2007, 05:13
by johnwill
Yes, the speed of sound is somewhat lower at altitude than at sea level, but that has little to do with the airstream "feeling" like 300 knots at sea level. 3.2 mach at sea level is 2117 kts true airspeed, while at 80,000 ft it is 1833 kt true airspeed. The reason it "feels" like 300 kt is the much lower density of air at higher altitudes (3% of sea level at 80,000 ft).

Dropping the gear at 3.2 mach, even if it was only 300 kt IAS, was a dangerous thing to do. The gear, especially the doors, was designed for 300 kt subsonic. 300 kt at 3.2 mach would have essentially the same air pressures on the doors, but the distribution of the pressures would be radically different and could have easily torn the doors off, rupturing skin panels, fuel tanks, hydraulics, and control surfaces on the way out. .

The pilot did not know it was dangerous because he followed the -1 limit, 300 kias. So whoever put the limit in the -1 was at fault. The F-16 -1 gear down limit is 300 kias / .65 mach.

Unread postPosted: 12 Oct 2007, 08:36
by parrothead

I think a bit of background might help :) . Many of the early A-12 flights took off from Groom and headed northeast over Mountain Home AFB before looping back down over the base. These missions were unrefueled and with the airplane light on fuel, the A-12 could be up around 90,000 feet and Mach 3.2 or higher during flight test. At that speed and altitude it took quite a while to slow down - usually going nearly down to Mexico. Another one of the pilots told me that the pilot who dropped the gear had pulled the nose up to see if he could get up around 100,000 feet, then thought he'd like to get down to the base quicker than taking the long slow down route. With no speedbrakes, he figured he'd use the landing gear to add some drag to the aircraft :wink: . So it wasn't about reaching or maintaining speed and altitude, but losing it instead.


Glad you liked it :thumb: ! I would've been worried about thermal effects on the gear as well - it wasn't designed for direct aerodynamic heating.


Thanks for stepping up and explaining the differences 8) ! Your thoughts about ripping the skin and tanks go together especially closely with the A-12, YF-12, M-21, and SR-71 because most of the fuel tanks use the outer skin of the aircraft as the outer wall of the fuel tank! Rip that open and you'd better get ready to eject.

Glad y'all liked it :thumb: !

Unread postPosted: 03 Dec 2007, 03:00
by FlightDreamz
As far as differences between the YF-12 and the SR-71 go, didn't the YF-12 have an infrared sensor and a LLTV in the
leading edge of the fuselage chines (which where cutback on the YF-12)?

Unread postPosted: 03 Dec 2007, 08:09
by parrothead

Close on the YF-12 :wink: . The shortened chines on both sides had IR sensors. I didn't know how they were supposed to function at those speeds and temps until I asked Jim Eastham who flew some of the missile launch missions and also flew the YB-58 outfitted with them and the missiles for flight test. It turns out that they were cooled by liquid argon :shock: !

Another big difference in the YF-12 vs. SR-71 was the radar up front and the shape of the nose to house that antenna. Of course, there were also the missile bays etc.

Unread postPosted: 05 Dec 2007, 05:44
by habu2



Unread postPosted: 05 Dec 2007, 08:24
by parrothead
Thanks for the great pics Habu2 :thumb: !

A-12 Oxcart secret missions- declassified.

Unread postPosted: 12 Dec 2007, 20:13
by snypa777
If anyone is interested, the A-12 "Blackshield" missions of the 60`s have been recently declassified. One part that piqued my interest was one mission in 1967 where SA-2`s were launched at an A-12. Fragments of one missile were found lodged in a fuel tank but the pilot got her home.

I long held the belief that not one A-12 or Blackbird took a scratch even though hundreds of missiles were fired at them. I think only the fine men flying those aircraft and the incredible technology prevented disaster at times, with a little luck. Missiles certainly got very close on occasion and caused damage.

Good stuff here from a historical perspective too. One part describes seeing missiles flying almost alongside the airplane!

Actual mission analysis, in detail with maps and diagrams I am told, just starting to read now.... ... Order=DESC

RE: A-12 Oxcart secret missions- declassified.

Unread postPosted: 12 Dec 2007, 21:07
by snypa777
Guys, more good info` on the CIA site!! Some very good comparisons between the SR-71 and the A-12.... Here are a few excerpts.

"The radar cross section of the two aircraft in a clean configuration is relatively low for both the SR-71 and the A-12. The SR-71 in its full sensor configuration is somewhat higher due to its larger size and appreciably larger with the side looking radar antenna installed, but this will not increase vulnerability to the S-band, SA-2 significantly, providing installed ECM systems are utilized."

This is my favourite line..."the probability of kill in North Vietnam is nil for either aircraft with presently utilized configurations and flight profiles, as long as the ECM techniques used remain viable."

This a pilot account of a Black shield mission BX 6734...

"The missiles were in a steep climb through the aircraft altitude of approximately 83,500 feet, then they made a sharp push over to a moderate dive angle,leveled out at my altitude and guided towards detonation. The missiles varied slightly in azimuth compared to my line of flight in their climb, but all corrected in azimuth to a dead astern position during push over. (Missile altitude) estimated 90,000 feet is probably quite close, but could vary a few thousand feet either way. It was not possible to view the entire contrail until down track a few miles due to narrow angle view in rear periscope." (The pilot was referring to 3 missiles.)

"Additionally, the pilot reported observing a missile approximately 100 to 200 yards to the right of the aircraft ahead of the cockpit. .......In his summary the pilot felt that he saw at least SIX missiles contrails and three detonations all to the rear of the aircraft."

"At least six and possibly as many as nine surface to air missiles were launched at the mission aircraft....System V1 analysis indicates the Electronic Warfare Systems performed as designed in jamming a multi signal environment"

Wow, NINE missiles fired at him! It was also reported that the North Vietnamese had moved additional SAM sites into the Hanoi area just to get them some Oxcart Azz! I think the report relays that as many as half a dozen SAM/radar locations lit up the aircraft.

This is an enormous effort taken to attempt a shoot down of a single aircraft. Thank God for ECM. Remember, this was 40 years ago. The Oxcart seemed to hold a speed and altitude advantage over the SR-71 in the early years (It was lighter after all). It certaunly raises the eyebrows to see speeds of Mach 3.3 mentioned and well above 80,000 feet. I think the cat is finally out of the bag, at least concerning some of the remarkable abilities of these aircraft.
Damn, incredible aircraft! I am going to be up half the night :lol:

RE: A-12 Oxcart secret missions- declassified.

Unread postPosted: 12 Dec 2007, 22:58
by ATFS_Crash
Great info and link. However I do have one small dispute with “recently classified” some if not all of this information has been publicly available for years. (I'm splitting hairs) ;)

For several years now there has been this quote available.

“On 31 Aug 1981 C. L. "Kelly" Johnson announced that the SR-71 *(class) has had over 1000 missiles launches against it, but none successful”


*note When I make this quote, I add the word "class" because I think Kelly Johnson was referencing the whole blackbird family and just generalized by saying the SR-71.

For several years this information has been publicly available.
“On 30 October 1967, at least six SA-2 SAMs were fired at an A-12 during its second pass on the outward leg, but all failed to guide although one did explode close enough to the jet to leave a small fragment of missile shrapnel embedded in the lower wing area which was discovered upon recovery at Kadena.”

Now is easy to take Kelly Johnson's quote as meaning that a blackbird never was hit. However I think he was very careful and accurate in how he phrased it. He could've meant that no SR-71 was hit, but what I really think he meant was that it couldn't be considered a success for the enemy to launch over a thousand missiles at the blackbirds and only get a fragment in one, that did not shoot the blackbird down. From what I understand the pilot didn't even realize the plane had been hit by a fragment until after he landed in the aircraft was inspected. I would hardly call it a success since, it didn't even compromise the mission or deter additional flights.

From what I understand, the enemy couldn't really track the blackbird itself on radar, however from hundreds of miles away they could detect and track the supersonic shock wave on radar or the exhaust plume.

The plane was stealthy for the most part; however once it became supersonic the shock wave and exhaust plume was pretty much a dead giveaway that it was in the general area.

The radar really wasn't tracking the blackbird itself, it was tracking the shock wave or and exhaust plume, as a result most of the missiles fell far short of their intended target. Most missiles went well behind the aircraft. Sometimes it was laughable, miles behind aircraft. The blackbird traveled so fast that all it had to do was to make a slight throttle change and turn and that could usually defeat most missile or aircraft intercepts because it would run them out of fuel/range.

However like I said they won't really detecting the aircraft, they were detecting the shock wave or a exhaust plume. As a result most of the missiles that they fired fell short. Apparently they anticipated this and fired the missiles in a way that would give the missiles lead on the shock wave/exhaust plume in an attempt to hit the blackbird.

Then he was successful in hitting the aircraft, however it still was a mission failure for the enemy. They gave the blackbird crews a souvenir and great story.

RE: A-12 Oxcart secret missions- declassified.

Unread postPosted: 13 Dec 2007, 00:15
by snypa777
`Crash, what I like about the links are the official stamp they carry. I am not naive enough to think that some information hasn`t been "massaged" a bit, maybe.
I have only seen suggestions that the A-12 and SR` reached significantly higher alts` and speeds than the usual glib 80,000 ft and M3. This CIA data just confirms it for me at least, and backs KJ`s previous "hints" or documented interviews.
These particular documents were de-classed this year I am led to believe. They add gloss to all of the stories at least. I have only skimmed so far, these are the most detailed documents I have seen although I am hardly the most read on the A-12/SR-71.

`Crash, I am not really convinced that the SR-71 or A-12 approached the same level of stealth as say, the F-117 and I know you aren`t saying it, but I think the inability of the Rooskies or anyone else for that matter to kill one, was more a testimony to careful planning, outright performance and excellent ECM, rather than inherrent Stealth characteristics, IMO. I know the A-12 employed some early stealth techniques but neither the A-12 or SR-71 were exactly invisible to radar. The fact that they had over a thousand missiles fired at them makes me think that.

I could be wrong here but doesn`t detecting wake turbulence require long wave radar? This type of radar isn`t used for locking a target? In the various mission descriptions, the ESM gear repeadtedly detected radar painting the aircraft, I have as yet seen no mention of detecting the A-12 via the methods you mentioned? Ok, this doesn`t mean it didn`t happen. if you find anything to back that up, please point me in the right direction, I would be grateful.:wink:

Either way, it makes great reading! Very interesting was the evolving battle between the ECM guys in the US and the Russian SAM developers, being played out in the skies above Vietnam, with the Fan Song operators trying to get the drop on the A-12 guys by varying their output and PRF to spoof the Mad Moth ECM in the A-12.