Model Airplane News
September, 1964

Model Airplane News Cover for September, 1964 by Jo Kotula Lockheed Mach 3 A-12 Cobra

Lockheed Mach 3 A-12 "Cobra"
Model Airplane News Cover Art for September, 1964
by Jo Kotula
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The Lockheed A-12 was a reconnaissance aircraft built for the Central Intelligence Agency by Lockheed's famed Skunk Works, based on the designs of Clarence "Kelly" Johnson. The A-12 was produced from 1962 through 1964, and was in operation from 1963 until 1968. The single-seat design, which first flew in April 1962, was the precursor to both the U.S. Air Force YF-12 interceptor and the famous SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance aircraft. The final A-12 mission was flown in May 1968

 The Lockheed Mach 3 A-12 Cobra    The Lockheed Mach 3 A-12 Cobra      The Lockheed Mach 3 A-12 Cobra

Lockheed Mach 3 A-12 "Cobra"
Click to Enlarge

With the failure of the CIA's Project RAINBOW to reduce the radar cross section of the U-2, preliminary work began inside Lockheed in late 1957 to develop a follow-on aircraft to overfly the Soviet Union. The designs were nicknamed "Archangel", after the U-2 program, which had been known as "Angel". As the aircraft designs evolved and configuration changes occurred, the internal Lockheed designation changed from Archangel-1 to Archangel-2, and so on. These nicknames for the evolving designs soon simply became known as "A-1", "A-2", etc. The A-12 was Lockheed's 12th design in this development of the U-2 successor. Many internal documents and references to individual aircraft used Johnson's preferred designation, using the prefix, "the Article" for the specific examples. Thus on the A-12's first flight, the subject aircraft was identified as "Article 121".

In 1959 the CIA selected Lockheed's A-12 over a Convair proposal called KINGFISH. On 26 January 1960, the CIA ordered 12 A-12 aircraft. After selection by the CIA, further design and production of the A-12 took place under the code-name OXCART. A total of 18 aircraft were built through the A-12 program production run. Of these, 13 were A-12s, three were prototype YF-12A interceptors for the Air Force (not funded under the OXCART program), and two were M-21 reconnaissance drone carriers. One of the 13 A-12s was a dedicated trainer aircraft with a second seat, located behind the pilot and raised to permit the Instructor Pilot to see forward. (The A-12 trainer was called the "Titanium Goose.")

Although originally designed to succeed the U-2 in overflights over the Soviet Union and Cuba, the A-12 was never used for either role. After a U-2 was shot down in May 1960, the Soviet Union was considered too dangerous except in an emergency (and overflights were no longer necessary due to satellites) and although crews trained for the role, U-2s remained adequate for Cuba. After lengthy debate, the CIA decided to deploy the A-12s to Asia. The first A-12 arrived at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan, on 22 May 1967. The unit began Operation BLACK SHIELD photographing Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) sites over North Vietnam,, flying at 80,000 ft and at Mach 3.1. From Kadena, during 1967, the A-12s conducted 22 operations in support of the Vietnam War. During 1968, BLACK SHIELD conducted operations in Vietnam and also supported the Pueblo Crisis with North Korea. The operational use of the A-12 was nearly a decade after the original conception of the OXCART program. The A-12 program was officially canceled in 1966 due to budget concerns and the forthcoming SR-71

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