The Lockheed A-12 was basically reconnaissance aircraft built for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) by Lockheed’s famed Skunk Works, based on the designs of Clarence “Kelly” Johnson. It was produced from 1962 to 1964, and was in operation from 1963-1968. Continue reading for more.
The single-seat design, which first flew in April 1962, was the precursor to both the twin-seat U.S. Air Force YF-12 prototype interceptor and the famous SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance aircraft. The aircraft’s final mission was flown in May 1968, and the program and aircraft retired in June of that year.
In June 1964, the last A-12 was delivered to Groom Lake, from where the fleet made a total of 2,850 test flights. A total of 18 aircraft were built through the program’s production run. Of these, 13 were A-12s, three were prototype YF-12A interceptors for the U.S. Air Force, 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 “Titanium Goose”, retained the J75 powerplants for its entire service life. Officially secret for over 40 years, the A-12 program began to be declassified by the CIA in 2007.
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 to overfly except in an emergency (and overflights were no longer necessary due to reconnaissance satellites) and, although crews trained for the role of flying over Cuba, U-2s continued to be adequate there.