It's 1962 and the Cold War is on everyone's mind. The United States needs to find out what the capabilities of the Soviets are, and in order to do that we needed a new stealth aircraft. Project OXCART is born! The government knew what it wanted and who could deliver - enter Kelly Johnson and the Lockheed "SkunkWorks" in Burbank, CA. But building a new aircraft would have a lot of challenges, particularly keeping the development of a new aircraft from the prying eyes of the Soviets.
The Lockheed A-12 Is Born Above is the original design of the aircraft to be made out of stealth material and to fly at 3X the speed of sound.
Transporting The A-12 To Area 51
One of the early problem's was how to get the aircraft from the Lockheed plant in Burbank to Area 51 where the test flights would take place. The distance is approximately 250 miles through some interesting terrain. But the challenge was how to get the aircraft there without anyone knowing what it was? The Soviets had satellites overhead and spies on the ground, so the aircraft had to be moved without revealing anything about it.
As mentioned earlier, the carriage trailers were under construction alongside the A-12 airplanes in the SkunkWorks. Two carriage boxes were built to carry the pre-built airplanes. The larger box would carry the main part of the airplane, while the smaller box was sized to carry the removable outer wing/nacelles pieces as well as the rudders, forward fuselage section and assorted small bits and pieces. Both boxes used a steel framework to mount the carriage wheels and tow system. The large box was 105 feet long with a width of 35 feet, truly a wide load by any standard. Both trailer boxes were designed to be towed by Lockheed furnished tractors. The large box featured steerable tail wheels by a local operator on either side of the carriage. Close-up detail photos show this unique feature, remotely similar to the rear wheel operation on a hook and ladder truck from your Fire Department this allowed maneuvering the carriage through difficult turning situations discovered while driving down the transport route of travel. The upper removable framework was constructed of 4" square aluminum tubing. This design allowed for loading the airplane unimpeded by a closed box frame. The airplane was carried riding on its landing gear, this allowed for use of the airplane structure to carry the load safely on road surfaces beyond the control of Lockheed. After the airplane was towed into position on the carriage, the removable cover framework would be assembled on the trailer, followed by the fabric covered sides and the solid material front shield. The road lighting system was installed last. The airplane carriage had the A-12 loaded for travel tail end forward. Several pictures show this detail. Tom Richey and Stan Grants drove the tractors on the first run to Area 51. The carriage boxes were designed to be disassembled for return to Burbank in a much narrower package. The design team that built the carriage system was led by Mr. Leon Gavett. Of course the SkunkWorks had a superb team of structures engineers to take on this monumental task.
On The Road
The Route: The A-12 Fuselage Container inside the Burbank Plant: The Article Convoy on the road: The Unveiling:
Stealth Aircraft Technology
One of the problems the U.S. Government had was in acquiring enough titanium to build these aircraft because the only place in the world to get titanium was from Russia in the Soviet Union. After arrival at Area 51 flight tests began including one accident which endangered the program. Add to that the Soviet spy satellites overhead and getting this stealth aircraft built, in the air and on missions without being detected was a major challenge. These 2 videos tell the story well:
Learn More About This Program
Get the Lockheed SR-71 / YF-12 Blackbirds book for more information on these fascinating aircraft. In the meantime keep your wings straight and level Hersch! Please share "World's First Stealth Aircraft" with your friends using the buttons below. Thanks! Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch! JetAviator7+ ps: Don't forget to sign up for updates via email for "All Things Aviation" here!