A-12 OXCART Blackbird - Termination
On 29 December 1966 a decision was made by Higher Authority to terminate the OXCART program effective 31 December 1967. The CIA continued to argue that the A-12 was the superior aircraft because it flew higher and faster and had better cameras. The Air Force contended that its two-seat SR-71 had a superior suite of sensors, with three different cameras (search, high-resolution, and mapping), side-looking radar, and ELINT collection gear. An orderly phase-down plan for termination was implemented in the Spring of 1967. This termination was final and irrevocable because of long lead time spares procurement and engine over-haul cessation taking place.
There had been four accidents since the flight program began in April 1962. As of 30 June 1967 this reflected an accident reliability of 99.83%. All of these accidents were attributed to traditional problems inherent in any aircraft and did not involve the high Mach number or high altitude regime of flight. The escape system successfully ejected the pilot in each case. However, in the last accident the pilot was killed on impact with the ground because of a malfunction precluding man-seat separation after ejection from the aircraft.
There were five camera systems left in the operational inventory built by Perkin Elmer. One was lost in an aircraft crash and two had been stored in accordance with the OXCART phase—down. Two cameras built by Eastman Kodak were placed in storage in accordance with OXCART phase—down. Generally, the Perkin Elmer cameras had a ground resolution of one foot while the Eastman Kodak cameras had a ground resolution of 1.5 feet. Acceptable and reliable performance had been demonstrated by both configurations; In addition, two camera systems manufactured by Hycon were in the flight validation phase, and a third is in repair. These are longer focal length cameras with aground resolution of one foot.
Ground support equipment and flight hardware for three APQ—93 Side Looking Radar systems were placed in storage in accordance with the program phase-down. One aircraft was configured for flight test of the system. Two infra—red sensors were also placed in storage for the same reason.
All electronic counter—measures equipments scheduled for current use in the A—12 were on hand and operationally ready. These systems repeatedly had been flown and operated successfully in A-12 aircraft. This demonstrated capability in combination with the operational speed and altitude of the aircraft and the unique anti-radar plastic panels on the airframe, gave the A—12 an acceptable level of invulnerability to unfriendly environments.
In September 1966 a committee made up of Carl Duckett of CIA, Fidsche of the Bureau of the Budget, Bennington of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and John Parngosky. This group was investigating the overall program; as well as the interaction of the SR-71, as completely as they could. THis procduced what was known as the Fischer-Bennington Report, recommending that the Oxcart airplanes be stored and Area 51 closed. By the end of calendar 1967, the SR-71s under the Strategfc Air Command were to be assigned the basic mission of manned aircraft reconnaisance for the US.
During the month of January 1967, in a desperate effort to save the Oxcart program, Kelly JOhnson proposed that half the SR-71s be converted to bombers. This would then result in not having a surplus of reconnaissance aircraft, as claimed by Fischer and Bennington.
Because of its track record and continued delays with the SR-71, the A-12 won a temporary reprieve in late November 1967 when the Johnson administration decided to keep both fleets temporarily. On 16 May 1968, however, the new secretary of defense, Clark Clifford, reaffirmed the original decision to end the A-12 program and mothball the aircraft. The last flight of the A-12 was flown 21 June 1971 from the test site to the storage facility in California.
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