The A-12 Blackbird
A-12 and SR-71, a tale of two Blackbirds.
The A-12 and SR-71 Blackbirds are nearly identical in size, shape, and performance. The famous Lockheed Skunk Works designed both airplanes but they were operated by different agencies for different missions.
The CIA needed a spy plane to collect intelligence on military capabilities and maneuvers before the start of war. So the Skunk Works designed the A-12 Blackbird that flew with a single pilot who controlled the aircraft and also operated the surveillance sensors. The A-12 made its first official flight on April 30, 1962.
The US Air Force needed a spy plane to collect intelligence on damage levels and target destruction after the start of a war, so the Skunk Works created the SR-71 Blackbird from the A-12 by reducing the size of the A-12's camera, adding a second crewman to operate the sensors and making minor adjustments to the airframe.
Maintaining both the A-12 and SR-71 Blackbird fleets proved costly, so the A-12 was eventually retired in favor of the SR-71. The Air Force took over the aerial spy mission from the CIA.
Built for extreme performance.
The Skunk Works, a special classified projects group at the Lockheed Aircraft Company, made huge advances in aircraft technology to build the A-12. Since the A-12
was the first titanium aircraft, the project team discovered a lot about how to work with this challenging metal. The A-12 team developed new methods so fuels and oil could stand up to the extreme heat in the plane's engine. They also tested new ways to make aircraft less visible to radar.
The delta wing shape of the A-12 lets it fly at extreme speeds and high altitudes. Now look to your right at the F-104 Starfighter on the side of the SKETCH Foundation Gallery. What do the stubby wings tell you about how it flies?
Try your hand at designing different types of planes in the Air and Space Exhibits.
Did you know?
The A-12 trainer has two cockpits: one for an instructor and one for a pilot in training. Black paint on the plane's nose kept reflected sunlight from blinding the pilots.
A-12 trainer performance specs:
Length: 31.2 meters (102 feet 3 inches).
Wingspan: 16.9 meters (55 feet 7 inches).
Height: 5.6 meters (18 feet 6 inches).
Takeoff weight: 53,000 kg (117,000 pounds).
Landing weight: 23,600 kg (52,000 pounds).
Speed: Mach 2.0, twice the speed of sound.
Altitude: 18,000 meters (60,000 feet).
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney J-75 engines, each rated at 17,000 pounds of thrust.
First flight: January 1963.
Number of flights: 614.
Hours of flight: 1,076 hours.
This artifact is on loan from the U.S. Air Force Museum.