(B)OXCART: The Secret Life of the A-12 Spy Plane

a 12 box  (B)OXCART: The Secret Life of the A-12 Spy Plane(Image: via Gizmodo)

When the Lockheed Skunk Works developed the top secret A-12 “OXCART” spy plane for the CIA, moving it 350 miles from Burbank, California to the Groom Lake test facility was an enormous task.  Secrecy precluded the use of Burbank’s runway, so the solution was sought in these massive wooden boxes.  Balanced on the back of trucks, the most technologically advanced and secret aircraft of the day made its way to Nevada by road, while frustrated motorists could never have imagined what was causing the traffic jam.

a 12 groom lake  (B)OXCART: The Secret Life of the A-12 Spy Plane(Image: james.gordon6108, cc-3.0)

After safely arriving at Groom Lake – known popularly as Area 51 – in 1962, the first aircraft was assembled and a rigorous flight test programme got underway.  If one crashed, the secrecy was unprecedented.  In May 1967, the CIA deployed several A-12s to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa as part of Operation Black Shield, despite the programme’s official cancellation the previous year.

a 12 storage  (B)OXCART: The Secret Life of the A-12 Spy Plane(Image: CIA, public domain)

The A-12 was finally retired in 1968 due to the arrival of its more famous successor, the SR-71 Blackbird, operated by the U.S. Air Force.  The shadowy spy plane exited service in the same clandestine manner that it entered, spending the next 20 years in storage at Palmdale.  Even then, only those with clearance knew of its existence – until the day came (around 1990) when the airframes were dusted off and sent to museums.

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