Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Putting the Oxcart Before the Bird

In 1959 the CIA decided that it needed a new means of spying on its opponents. The only practical answer at the time was a plane. Thus, the CIA approached Lockheed and asked them to produce something a bit special. The result of this was the A-12 Oxcart.
A Line of CIA Oxcart's. Note the paint scheme.
 At first glance one would think it looks like the SR-71 Blackbird, and you're right. The Blackbird was a follow on to the A-12, but we are getting ahead of ourselves. Oxcart was developed by Lockheed and became operational in November 1965. Oxcart's first deployment came some two years later in support of the Vietnam War. From May 1967 a fleet of three Oxcarts flew from Japan as part of the Black Shield missions. Over the next year they would fly twenty-nine sorties off south east Asia. The first such mission took off at 1100 on May the 31st. The Oxcart then climbed to meet a refuelling tanker, he climbed to 80,000ft, and set course for his planned route, at a speed of Mach 3.1. At the end of each run he would descend, meet another airborne tanker, refuel then climb back up to altitude. While cruising on operational sorties at high speed the plane would usually have its nose up at eight degrees and be rolled nine degrees to the left. This first Oxcart mission carried out four passes over Vietnam, which took it about three hours thirty-nine minutes. In total the onboard cameras, located in four bays on the underside of the plane, had used enough film, that if laid out end to end would be over a mile in length.
Oxcart and Blackbird parked together. Now the Oxcart is sporting the same black paint that gave the Blackbird its name.
Oddly, even before the Oxcart entered service, the USAF was showing an interest in a variant of the plane. In 1962 they approached Lockheed asking for a modified version, which had room for two people in it. This would become the RS-71 Blackbird, which was about 6ft longer than Oxcart.
Those of you who were paying attention will have noticed the designation above is given as RS instead of SR, which is the modern way of naming the Blackbird. There are two stories about how its name changed. The first is that when the US President Johnson announced the project, he juxtaposed the letters, and not wanting to correct the President, and embarrass him it was quickly changed. The other version is that the script of the speech has RS, however, the head of the USAF preferred the SR designation. The RS stood for Reconnaissance/Strike, but SR was Strategic Reconnaissance. Johnson changed his speech to match the new designation, however, the script of the speech issued to the press retained the RS version.
The initial order in December of 1962 was for just six SR-71's. A further order for twenty-five arrived in August 1963. The first flight was in December 1964 and the plane became operational in March 1968.
Another shot of both planes, here you can, just about, make out the differences between the two cockpits.
A final sub-type of the family was the YF-12. Which was a fighter version. Like the Blackbird it was a twin seat modification of the Oxcart. Three of the four bays usually used for reconnaissance gear became weapon bays, while the fourth held the fire control gear. Targeting and fire control radars were fitted. The weapon chosen was the AIM-47 Falcon, with one in each bay. This very short lived missile only had handful of firings, one of which failed due to a faulty giro. However, in one case the the YF-12 was flying at 74,000ft, and doing Mach 3.2 when it launched agaisnt its target.
YF-12 in flight.
The target was a drone, flying at just 500ft. The missile was fitted with an inert warhead, and struck the drone's tail tipping a big hole in it. The Falcon would be developed further before entering service as the AIM-54 Phoenix.
Close up of the YF-12's radar instillations, that is likely one of the easiest identifying features.
There were only three YF-12's built, and the project was cancelled fairly early on. However, the planes were publicly announced, so that any pictures or sightings of the Blackbird or Oxcart could be explained away as the YF-12 series. Two of the prototypes were lost in accidents involving fires, one while on the ground, the other while flying, but both crew members ejected. The last YF-12 was used by NASA, before being given to a museum.
The YF-12 in NASA service. It was used for experiments in high speed flight. Notice how the leading edges where the radar was installed has been flattened, and new surfaces isntalled.


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Image credits (This should wind up the conspiracy theorists):
www.cia.gov, www.nasa.gov and migflug.com