The SR-71 Blackbird

The CIA A-12 Blackbird Program

 

The A-12 started out as an USAF interceptor to replace the cancelled F-108A Rapier. In October 1962, CIA authorized the Skunk Works to study the feasibility of modifying the A-12 to carry and deploy a reconnaissance drone for unmanned overflight of denied areas. The project was codenamed TAGBOARD.

A-12 Blackbird: Breaking Through Techological Barriers

A-12 Blackbird: Breaking Through Techological Barriers

Completion of the first A-12 was delayed several times because the performance specifications it had to meet put Johnson and the Skunk Works in uncharted territory. The aircraft, over 101 feet long and weighing up to 62 tons fully loaded, had to fly at Mach 3.2, or 2,150 miles per hour—as fast as a rifle bullet—at a mid-range altitude of 91,000 feet. The A-12 was expected to be over four times faster than the U-2 and go almost three miles higher.

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