The first A-12, 60-6924, dumping fuel during an early test flight - photo courtesy of Tony Landis|
The first blackbird wasn't even black.
Most people who know about the blackbird, or at least don't mistake it for "the stealth," are familiar with the SR-71. What many don't realize is that the SR-71 was the last in a series of aircraft based on the same airframe concept. The first in that series was the A-12 (not to be confused with the US Navy's A-12 Avenger, otherwise known as the Flying Dorito). Lockheed's A-12 was an internal designation that was never adopted by the Air Force, primarily because it was built for the CIA.
The A-12 was built under the codename Archangel, since it was a follow-on to the U-2 which had been built under the codename Angel. The first concept in the Archangel program was called the A-1, the next A-2, and so on. Those who hold the opinion that everything Kelly Johnson and his Skunkworks team touched turned to gold, might be disillusioned to know that the aircraft didn't start to resemble the final configuration until about the 7th design. The original concept more closely resembled a grossly oversized F-104, and would have been fueled by liquid hydrogen.
Another fuel dump from the same flight; this photo is unusual in that it shows an F-101 flying chase -- in most pics, if a chase plane is shown at all, it's usually an F-104 - photo courtesy of Tony Landis|
The first flight of an A-12 took place on April 26, 1962, less than 30 months after the CIA gave Lockheed the go-ahead on the project. Considering that everything on the airplane, including the engines, airframe materials, fuels, lubricants, fluids, tires, and navigation systems, had to be designed from scratch, then considering that there was no "prototype," the A-12 will probably remain for all time as the single greatest leap in aviation technology, ever.
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