The first A-12, known as Article 121, was built and ground tested in Burbank during January and February 1962. Because the aircraft was too secret to fly to the test site and too large to carry on a cargo plane, it had to be trucked. During the night of 26 February, a specially designed trailer truck loaded with a huge crate (35 feet wide and 105 feet long) containing the disassembled aircraft’s fuselage left the Skunk Works for the two-day trip to the Nevada facility, escorted by the California and Nevada highway patrols and CIA security officers. The box was so wide that some road signs had to be removed, trees trimmed, and road banks leveled. The wings were shipped separately and attached on site.
The A-12’s first flight–unofficial and unannounced in keeping with a Lockheed tradition–took place on 25 (26?) April 1962 and almost caused the loss of the only OXCART aircraft built so far. Lockheed test pilot Lou Schalk flew the plane less than two miles, at an altitude of about 20 feet, because serious wobbling–Johnson described the movements as “lateral oscillations which were horrible to see”–caused by improper hookup of some navigational controls. Instead of circling around and landing, Schalk put it down in the lake bed beyond the end of the runway. When the A-12’s nose appeared out of a cloud of dust and dirt, Johnson’s angry voice erupted over the radio, “What in Hell, Lou?”
The next day, Schalk tried again, this time with the landing gear down, just in case. The flight lasted about 40 minutes. The takeoff was perfect, but after the A-12 got to about 300 feet it started shedding all the “pie slice” fillets of titanium on the left side of the aircraft and one fillet on the right. (On later aircraft, those pieces were paired with triangular inserts made of radar-absorbing composite material.) Technicians spent four days finding and reattaching the pieces. Nonetheless, the flight pleased Johnson. “We showed that the first flight troubles were not caused by basic aircraft [in]stability.”
Once the fillets were repaired, Article 121 was rolled out for its first official flight on 30 April, just under one year later than originally planned. A number of senior Air Force officers and CIA executives, including Deputy Director for Research Herbert Scoville and former project chief Bissell (who left the Agency in February 1962), witnessed the long-awaited event. Schalk again was the pilot. He took the aircraft up for 59 minutes and reached 30,000 feet and just under 400 mph; most of the flight was made at under 300 mph. He reported that the A-12 responded well and was extremely stable. Johnson said this was the smoothest official first flight of any aircraft he had designed or tested. On 4 May, with Schalk at the controls, Article 121 made its first supersonic flight, reaching Mach 1.1 at 40,000 feet. Problems were minimal. DCI John McCone, who had shown a keen interest in the OXCART program since becoming director in November 1961, sent Johnson a congratulatory telegram.
LOCATION & DIRECTIONS
Blackbird Airpark, an annex of the Air Force Flight Test (AFFT) Museum at Edwards AFB, was officially dedicated on September 27, 1991. It is the world’s only display of a Lockheed SR-71A together with its predecessor A-12, along with the once ultra-secret D-21 drone and the only remaining U-2 “D” model in the world.