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"Many years ago, as a teen, I noticed a magazine on a barbershop table with an incredible black airplane on the cover.  Huge engines on each side of a delta wing and a long thin fuselage with a cockpit near the front.  I never forgot that airplane, it was an SR-71 Blackbird.  Now, 55 years later, I'm writing a brief article about the first Blackbird -- the A-12.  It's the fastest and highest flying jet airplane that was ever built.

Everything about the A-12 was incredible.  Imagine this.  A requirement is developed to:  make an airplane so fast that nothing can catch it, make it fly so high that nothing can reach it, and make it nearly invisible.  Add to that the fact that no one knew how to do it, the materials didn't exist, and it had to be done quickly.  How about a few names for good measure:  Groom Lake, Area 51, Kelly Johnson and his Skunk Works . . .  That's the story of how the A-12 was conceived, finally built, and then flown.  Before I write about the A-12, I need to provide some perspective on the times in which it was born."

I added the above article on the A-12.  I've worked on it-off and on- for over the last 18 months and its time to publish it.  It is     

Faster Than A Speeding Bullet, Three Times Higher Than The Tallest Mountain.  I've added a number of links in the article and at the end of the article.  To access a link, you have to put your cursor on the link, click the ctrl key on your keyboard and click the link.  Its easier that it sounds.

The A-12 first flew in 1962.  However, a few of the pilots are still alive.  The first flight of the A-12 is on YouTube and the link is at the end of the article.

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Wow!  What a great article.  Thanks for writing and publishing.  Until now, I never understood the connection between the A-12 and SR-51.  Now I know plus lots more after reading your article.  The videos are amazing too.  I especially liked one comment that the plane was built 58 years after the Wright Brothers flight.  The same time later, we still don’t have a plane that matches it.

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The history of the A-12 has so many potential diversions that it was difficult to focus on the main story.  For example, the Soviet Union and the U. S. were competing about everything.  When Johnson found out about the A-12 in 1964, he wanted to let the Soviet Union know that we had the fastest airplane.  So on February 29, 1964 he had a press conference to announce our achievement.  He used design A-11 in his press release instead of design A-12 so not to technically violate its secrecy.  Then he mentioned that the A-11 was being tested at Edwards Air Force Base instead of Groom Lake--or Area 51--where the A-12s were.  He did mention the fabrication of the airplane using titatnium which was germane to my article so I used that and skipped the funny part of the story.  The funny part was that there was no A-11 being tested at Edwards so when the press would show up to see it or talk about it, it wasn't there.  There was a YF-12A interceptor at Groom Lake along with several A-12s.  I'm quite sure there was only one YF-12A that could fly at that time.

As cover for Johnson's statement, there were 2 or 3 A-12s at Groom Lake and the one YF-12A available for a quick trip to Edwards.  So, the airplanes took off for Edwards and flew directly into a hangar at Edwards.  They were so hot when they were in the hangar that they set off the sprinkler system in the hangar.  Now, the A-12s were classified so they couldn't admit what they were and I cannot explain why the YF-12A was or wasn't.  However, they used the name YF-12A while at Edwards as cover for the secret A-12s that flew from Groom Lake.  It doesn't end there.

The Soviet Union wasn't going to take news of an A-11 without a response.  So, they flew one of their MIGs in a speed contest set up by some international organization.  The MIG's speed was about 1,600 mph, if I remember correctly and the MIG's speed was made public.  President Johnson didn't want to be shown up when he knew that he had a 2,100 mph cruiser at Groom Lake.  There are about 2 or 3 unclassified memos at the CIA site that discuss the U. S. concerns about entering a YF-12A in the contest.  They were worried about the secrecy issue and finally Lyndon Johnson was convinced not to enter the YF-12A in the test.  Since the YF-12A was a derivative of the A-12, it was only a little bit slower than the A-12.

What really set the A-12 apart from everything else was its J-58 engine which could fly continuously with the afterburners engaged.  Then the real power was developed by the spikes in front of the nacelles.  When functioning as designed, they allowed the exact air pressure to enter the J-58 at its peak of performance.

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That is a good story.  They say competition makes for better outcomes.  In this specific instance of the Cold War, it did even though we might be the only ones that knew.

I had no idea about the J-58 engine and afterburners.  I assumed afterburners are used just for bursts before overheating the engine.  


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  • 9 months later...
  • 2 weeks later...
On 9/14/2020 at 2:58 AM, bob7947 said:

I'm writing a brief article about the first Blackbird -- the A-12.  It's the fastest and highest flying jet airplane that was ever built.

For a long time the fastest manned aircraft was the North American X-15. (I think it still is), but it was a rocket plane, not a jet plane.

There is a lot of good free stuff online about the X-15 Program and the rocket plane programs, and some good books. See The X-15 Hypersonic Flight Research Program, https://history.nasa.gov/SP-4219/Chapter6.html and X-15 Frontiers of Flight, https://www.nasa.gov/pdf/470842main_X_15_Frontier_of_Flight.pdf.

I like books that focus on the aircraft, but there are a couple that focus on the pilots, like Scott Crossfield, Robert White, and Neil Armstrong. Two interesting such books are: Petty, Beyond Blue Skies: The Rocket Plane Programs That Led to the Space Age and Evans, The X-15 Rocket Plane: Flying the First Wings into Space. They focus on the pilots and the flights.


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