Agency A-12 Operations

By late 1965, all of the Agency pilots were Mach 3 qualified and the A-12 was ready for operational testing. Despite this, political sensitivities surrounding the Gary Powers shoot-down five years earlier ensured that the aircraft would never carry out missions over the USSR. Where then should this multi-million dollar national security asset be deployed? The initial answer was Cuba. By early 1964, Project Headquarters, had already begun planning contingency overflights under a programme code-name ‘Skylark’. On 5 August 1965, the Director of
the National Security Agency (NSA), Gen Marshall S Carter, directed that “Skylark achieve emergency opera­tional readiness by 5 November”; this was indeed achieved, but there was never a deployment. Instead Cygnus, as Agency pilots referred to the A-12, would receive its baptism of fire in the skies over South East Asia. Moves to this end had begun on 22 March 1965 when, following a meeting with Brig Gen Jack Ledford (the CIA/USAF liaison officer), Secretary of Defence (Sec Def) Cyrus Vance, granted S3.7 million to provide support facilities at Kadcna AB, Okinawa for a planned deployment of Cygnus aircraft under a project code­named Blackshield. On 3 June, secretary McNamara consulted the under Secretary of the Air Force about the build-up of SA-2s around Hanoi and the possibility of substituting the more vulnerable U-2s with A-12s to conduct recce flights over the North Vietnamese capital. He was informed that once adequate aircraft performance was validated, Blackshield could be cleared to go.

Four aircraft were selected for Blackshield operations,
Kelly Johnson taking personal responsibility for ensuring

Left To allow engine access for maintenance, the entire outer
wing section is hinged along the top nacelle. (Paul Crickmore)

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Agency A-12 Operations

Be/ow At the heart of the SR-71’s propulsion is a complex Air Inlet Control System (AICS), utilising a combination of bypass doors, territory doors, the centre spike and suck in doors, to regulate and balance total airflow in order to reach the aircraft’s designated sustained cruise speed of Mach 3.2. (Pau! Crickmore Collection)

Подпись:they were completely ‘squawk-free’. On 20 November 1965 an A-12 completed a maximum endurance flight of six hours twenty minutes, during which it reached speeds above Mach 3.2 and altitudes approaching 90,000ft. On 2 December, the highly secretive ‘303 Committee’ received the first of many proposals to deploy Oxcart to the Far East. However, the proposal, together with several subse­quent submissions made throughout 1966, was rejected. On 5 January 1967, another tragedy hit the programme when A-12 60-6928 crashed some 70 miles short of Groom Dry Lake. Its pilot Walt Ray ejected but was killed when he was unable to gain seat separation.

In early May 1967, the National Security Council was briefed that North Vietnam was about to receive surface- to-surface ballistic missiles. Such a serious escalation of the conflict would certainly need to be substantiated with hard evidence, consequently President Johnson was briefed. Richard Helms of the CIA proposed that the 303 committee authorise deployment of Oxcart, on the basis of the A-12s having a superior camera to that used by U-2s or pilotless drones and being ‘invulnerable to shoot- downs’. President Johnson approved the plan and in mid-May an airlift was begun to establish Blackshield at Kadena AB, on Okinawa, Japan.

At 0800 on 22 May 1967 Mele Vojvodich deployed A-12 60-6937 from Area 51 to Okinawa during a flight which lasted six hours, six minutes and included three air refuellings. Two days later Jack Layton joined Mele in 60-6930 and 60-6932 flown by Jack Weeks arrived on Okinawa on the 27th, having been forced to divert into Wake Island for a day, following INS and radio problems. The detachment was declared ready for operations on 29 May and following weather reconnaissance flights of the 30th, it was determined that conditions were ideal for
an A-12 camera run over North Vietnam. Project Headquarters in Washington placed Blackshield on alert for its first operational mission. Avionics specialists checked various systems and sensors, and at 1600hrs Mele Vojvodich and back-up pilot Jack Layton attended a mission alert briefing. At 2200hrs (12 hours before planned take-of time) a review of the weather confirmed

Agency A-12 Operations

Above A wide variety of specialist support equipment was need­ed; shown here are liquid oxygen trailers. (Paul Crickmore)

Right The SR-71’s cockpit certainly reflects its age – no multi­functional displays here! (Paul Crickmore)

Below The Reconnaissance Systems Officer’s position is by comparison a little more user-friendly, as seen in this shot of the simulator at Edwards. (Paul Crickmore)

Agency A-12 Operations

Agency A-12 Operations

Agency A-12 Operations


the mission was still on, so the pilots went to bed to ensure they got a full eight hours of crew rest.

They awoke on the morning of the 31st to torrential rain – a new phenomenon to desert-dwelling A-12s. However met conditions over ‘the collection area’ were good and at 0800 Kadena received a final ‘go’ from Washington. On cue, Mele engaged both afterburners and made the first instrument-guided take-off of an A-12. A few minutes later he burst through cloud and flew 60­6937 up to 25,000ft, topped-off the tanks from a KC-135, then accelerated and climbed to operational speed and altitude. With all systems up and running, he informed Kadena (‘home-plate’), that the backup sendees of Jack Layton wouldn’t be required. Mele penetrated hostile airspace at Mach 3.2 and 80,000ft over Haiphong, before overflying Hanoi and exiting North Vietnam near Dien Bien Phu. A second air refuelling took place over Thailand, followed by another climb to altitude and a second penetration of North Vietnamese airspace made near the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), after which he recovered the aircraft, after three instrument approaches in driving rain, back at Kadena. In all the flight had lasted three hours and 40 minutes. Several SA-2s were fired at the aircraft but all detonated above and well behind their target. The ‘photo-take’ was downloaded and sent by a special courier aircraft to the Eastman Kodak plant in Rochester, New York, for processing. ‘937’s high resolution Type IV camera developed by Hycon had successfully photographed ten priority target categories, including 70 of the 190 known SAM sites. By mid-July, A-12 overflights had determined with a high degree of confidence that there were no surface-to-surface missiles in North Vietnam.

During a sortie Down by Denny Sullivan on 28 October 1967, he had indications on his Radar Homing Warning Receiver (RHWR), of almost continuous radar activity focused on his A-12, whilst both inbound and outbound over North Vietnam, which also included the launch of a single SA-2. Two days later he was again flying high over North Vietnam when two SAM sites tracked him on his first pass. On his second pass, approaching Hanoi from the East, he again noted he was being tracked on radar, Over the next few minutes he counted no less than eight SA-2 detonations in ‘the general area, though none were particularly close’. After recovering the aircraft back at Kadena without further incident, a post-flight inspection revealed that a tiny piece of shrapnel had penetrated the lower wing fillet of his aircraft and become lodged against the support structure of the wing tank – this would prove to be the only occasion that a ‘Blackbird’ took ‘a hit’.

Back at Area 51 the year ended with the loss of another A-12 when, on 28 December 1967, Mele Vojvodich took aircraft 60-6929 for a functional check flight (FCF) following a period of deep maintenance.

On applying back pressure to the stick for rotation to lift-off, the aircraft’s nose yawed viciously to one side. Mele attempted to correct the yaw with rudder, but this caused ‘929’s nose to pitch-up. The rush of instinctive responses which followed resulted in a series of counter movements, completely opposite to those a pilot would expect to occur. Despite all the odds, Mele managed to get the aircraft to about 100ft, where he ejected after just

Agency A-12 Operations

Above Evolution of the pressure suit continued throughout the Senior Crown programme. Here crew members undergoing water survival training are wearing chocolate brown S901 suits, with which some were equipped during the early 1970s. (Paul Crickmore)

Below Major Brian Shul gets suited up in his S1030 ‘gold suit’.

(Paul Crickmore)

Agency A-12 Operations

Agency A-12 Operations

Above Pilot Maj Rich Judson and RSO Maj Frank Kelly are driven out to their waiting aircraft in the PSD van. (Pau Crickmore)

Be/owThe SI030 suits cost $30,000 each, last between 10 and 12 years, undergo a complete overhaul every five years and a thorough inspection every 90 days or 150 hours. (Paul


Agency A-12 Operations

six seconds of flight. Incredibly, he too survived and escaped serious injury. An accident investigation discovered that when the unit was re-installed following maintenance, the pitch Stability Augmentation System (SAS), had been connected to the yaw SAS actuators and vice-versa. Thereafter, the SAS connectors were changed to ensure incorrect wiring was impossible.

During 1967, a total of 41 A-12 missions were alerted, of which 22 were actually granted approval for flight. Between 1 January and 31 March 1968, 15 missions were alerted, of which only six were flown, four over North Vietnam and two over North Korea. The latter two came about as a result of the USS Pueblo – a US Navy Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) vessel being seized by North Korea during the night of 23 January. The first sortie was attempted by Jack Weeks on 25 January, but a malfunc­tion on the A-12 resulted in an abort shortly after take off. The next day Frank Murray completed the task: “I left Kadena, topped-off, then entered northern airspace over the Sea of Japan via the Korean Straits. My first pass started off near Vladivostok, then with the camera on I flew down the east coast of North Korea where we thought the boat was. As I approached Wonsan I could see the Pueblo through my view sight. The harbour was all iced up except at the very entrance and there she was, sitting off to the right of the main entrance. I continued to the border with South Korea, completed a 180-degree turn and flew back over North Korea. I made four passes photographing the whole of North Korea from the DMZ to the Yalu border. As far as I know, I was undetected throughout the flight, but when I got back to Kadena some folks told me that the Chinese had detected me and told the North Koreans, but they never reacted.” Back at Kadena ‘the take’ was immediately flown to Yakota AB, Japan where the 67th Reconnaissance Technical Squadron had been activated to enable the more timely exploitation of such data by theatre commanders.


Agency A-12 Operations

On 8 May 1968, Jack Layton successfully completed the A-12’s second mission over North Korea; it was to prove the final operational flight of an A-12. A long standing debate concerning whether the A-12 or a programme known as Senior Crown should carry forward the strategic reconnaissance baton, had, after three years, been resolved. Oxcart was vanquished. In early March 1968, SR-71s began arriving at Kadena to take over the Blackshield commitment. Those A-12s back at ‘the Area’ were flown to Palmdale and placed in storage by 7 June. At Kadena, the three aircraft that had performed all the Blackshield missions were also readied for a return transpacific ferry flight. On 2 June 1968 however, tragedy hit the Oxcart program a final blow’, when Jack Weeks was killed during an FCF in 60-6932. The aircraft and its pilot were lost without trace in the Pacific Ocean. The two remaining A-12s on Okinawa, 60-6930 and 60-6937, were ferried back to Area 51, before being flown to Palmdale, the last (light being made by Frank Murray on 21 June 1968 in aircraft ‘937.

Desert Storm

At about 2am (Baghdad time) on 1/2 August 1990, three Iraqi Republican Guard divisions invaded Kuwait. In just four days Iraq secured the annexation of Kuwait and were massed menacingly along the Kuwaiti-Saudi border. A further push into Saudi Arabia would not only estab­lish Iraq as the secular leader of the Arab world, but would result in their controlling 45% of the world’s oil.

W ithin two days, F-15C Eagles, KC-10 tankers, E-3 AW’ACS and C-5 Galaxy transporters – carry ing advanced elements of the 82nd Airborne Division – had arrived in Saudi Arabia to draw “a line in the sand”, Operation Desert Shield had begun.

On 19 August 1990,22 F-117s from the 415 TFS staged through Langley AFB en route to King Khalid Air Base, Saudi Arabia.


Eighteen F-117s from the 415 TFS, led by Et Col Greg Feest arrived at King Khalid AB, at around noon, local time on Tuesday 21 August. Soon nicknamed Tonopah East, the facilities offered at the airbase were second to none and lay well beyond the range of Iraqi Scud-B missiles; however, on the down side, the return distance from the base to Baghdad necessitated the need for three ARs per sortie, with a typical mission lasting five hours.

The air armada ranged against Saddam Hussein contin­ued to build, as did the planning on how to deploy such an awesome force to maximum effect. General Chuck Horner, commander of Joint Air Forces (CENTAF) selected a white haired North Carolinan to develop the air campaign, one, Brig Gen Buster Glosson.

An F-4 jock in Vietnam, Glosson’s background had a profound impact on the management of Senior Trend during the war planning process. His most memorable experience of the F-117 occurred in 1987, while as commander of the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing, he recalls,

“1 had spent enough time in the F-15 trying to success­fully intercept the F-117, that I was a believer!… The initial twenty four hours of the Gulf War was meticulous­ly planned. I directed the planners to ask themselves three questions about every target they considered, what system had the highest probability of destroying it; what system had the highest probability of its pilot coming back alive, and what system had the highest probability of no civilian casualties. As you may expect, 99% of the

time, the answer to these questions was F-117. We did not have enough F – 117s to attack every target. So, 1 directed the F-117 to be used against the most critical, the most highly defended and diflicult-to-hit targets.

That gave us the greatest probability of accomplishing our strategic objectives and creating the utmost confusion and disruption. 1 used all the other systems, he they cruise missiles, fighters or bombers, as fillers.”

On 4 December, twenty F-117s from the 416th, ‘Ghost Riders’, deployed safely to King Khalid, and on the night of the 16/17 January 1991, offensive air operations against Iraq began.

Col Greg Feest recalls the night that validated stealth technology: “The entire first wave of F-117As launched w ithout radio communications, we didn’t want the Iraqis to get a ‘heads-up’ as to our plan. My callsign was Thunder 36 and my wingman, Captain Dave ‘Dogman’ Francis was Thunder 37. We took off and flew to the tanker without saying a word to each other. My radio was on but remained silent. Since the F-117A is a single-seat fighter, there was no copilot to talk to and the next sever­al hours would be extremely quiet. Having rendezvoused with the KC-135 tankers, we air refuelled and headed North, towards Iraq, while flying on each w ing of the tanker. The night was extremely dark and I was thankful, since 1 did not want the moon to silhouette my jet as 1 flew into Iraq.

‘At approximately 2:30 am, I topped off with fuel, ‘stealthed-up’ my aircraft and departed the tanker. In 20

Above General Buster Glosson was architect of the Gulf War air campaign. (Buster Glosson)

Right Facilities awaiting the F-1 17s at King Khalid were second to none. (USAF)

Below This aircraft, in one of the ‘canyons’ at King Khalid, has a segmented ladder unique to the F-117 operation placed on the aircraft for cockpit access. (USAF)

Below right Aircraft ‘818, pictured in its Hardened Aircraft Shelter (HAS) at King Khalid completed 38 operational missions during Desert Storm. (USAF)

Right This warning leaflet, featuring the F-l 17,was dispersed over several Iraqi air bases and reads, "This location is subject to bombardment! Escape now and save yourselves". (USAF)

Below Hal Farley participates in a fly-by in aircraft 831 on 6 December 1990 in preparation for Ben Rich’s retirement.

(Paul Cnckmone)

minutes I would drop the first bomb of Operation Desert Storm. Crossing the Iraqi border, 1 was nervous as I armed my weapons. My target was an IOC [Intercept Operations Centre] located in an underground bunker, southwest of Baghdad, near Nukhavb. This IOC was a key link between border radar sites and the air defense headquarters in Baghdad. Destroying it would allow other non-stcalthy aircraft to enter Iraq undetected.

‘Approaching the target I was apprehensive. Two thoughts crossed my mind. First, would I be able to iden­tify the target? Second, did the Air Force really want me to drop this bomb? These thoughts only lasted several seconds.

T had practised for three years and I could find and destroy any target within one second of my scheduled time-over-target (TOT). Having trained for so long, nothing was going to stop me from dropping my bombs. All I had to do was play, what 1 called, a highly sophisti­cated video game, and in 30 minutes I would be back in Saudi Arabia.

‘As 1 approached the target area, my adrenaline was up and instincts took over. My bomb was armed and my systems checked good. I found the target on my infrared (IR) display and concentrated on tracking the target by slewing the cross hairs over the aimpoint. The target had been easier to find than I envisioned. I was able to take time to glance outside the cockpit. Everything was dark except for a few lights in the town. It appeared that no one knew I was in the sky. Looking back at my display, my laser began to fire as I tracked the target. I waited for the display to tell me I was ‘in range’ and I depressed the ‘pickle’ button. Several seconds later the weapons bay door snapped open and I felt the 2,000 pound bomb depart the aircraft. The bay door slammed closed as I watched the IR display while continuing to keep the cross hairs on the target. The bomb appeared at the bottom of the display just before it hit. At exactly 2:51 am, I saw the bomb go through the cross hairs and penetrate the bunker. The explosion came out of the hole the bomb had made and blew out the doors of the bunker. I knew I

This page, all GBU-27s were particularly effective against Iraqi HASs. (USAF)

had knocked out the target. The video game was over.

‘Having destroyed the target, I turned my aircraft 210 degrees left to head for my second target. While in the turn, 1 decided to try and see my wingman’s bomb hit, since his was due one minute after mine. As I looked back I saw something completely unfamiliar. It looked like fireworks, big bursts of red and orange, Hying at me and lighting up the sky. After being stunned for several seconds, I realised it was tracers from triple A. During all my peacetime training missions flying exercises like Red Flag, I had never anticipated what actual triple A would look like. After all it cannot be simulated. 1 snapped my head forward and pushed the throttles up as far as they would go. I wanted out of the target area as fast as I could.

‘As I headed towards my second target, an Iraqi SOC [Sector Operations Centre] at the H-3 airfield in western Iraq, I looked out in front of my aircraft. 1 now saw what everybody at home sav on television. Tracers, flashes, and flak were all over the place. The w hole country had come alive with more triple A than I could ever imagine.

I watched several SAMs launch into the sky and fly through my altitude both in front and behind me. But none of them appeared to be guided. Stealth technology really seemed to work! Even if the AAA and SAMs were not guided, the intense ‘barrage fire’ in my target area was scary. All it would take was a lucky hit.

‘I decided to ignore what was happening outside my jet. I lowered my seat and concentrated on my displays. After all, w hat 1 couldn’t see couldn’t hurt me! I dropped my second bomb and turned as fast as I could back towards Saudi Arabia. I don’t think I ever manoeuvred the F-l 17A as aggressively as I did coming off my second target. For a second time in less than 30 minutes, I want­ed out of the target area as fast as possible.

for my 2-ship, 1 headed for the rejoin point. At a predesignated time, I called Dogntan on the radio to see if he was ready to rejoin. I prayed I would hear a response. I didn’t hear an answer, so I waited several seconds and tried again. This time I heard him answer. He said he had my aircraft in sight and was ready to rejoin. Now the question was, how many other Stealth Fighters would make it home?”

Today of course we know that all F-l 17s made it home, not just that night, but every night of the 43-day campaign. On 24 February at 03:00 hours (local), the coalition ground assault began. In true blitzkrieg fashion, it was all over in just three days. On 27 February, Kuwait City was liberated and a ceasefire declared.

Tagboard & Senior Bowl

On 10 October 1962, Kelly Johnson received authoriza­tion from the CIA to carry out study work on a drone that would be mated with an A-12. At the root of such a request was the US Government’s decision to discontinue overflight, following political fall-out after the Gary Powers shoot-down. Fourteen days later, Kelly, Ben Rich and Russ Daniell met representatives from Marquardt to discuss ramjet propulsion system options. Progress was rapid, on 7 December a full-scale mock-up of the craft was completed which was referred to within the Skunk Works as the Q-12. Still to receive mission specifications from the Agency, Kelly worked on producing a vehicle with a 3,000 n miles range hauling a Hycon camera system weighing 425 lbs and capable of a photographic

Tagboard &amp;amp; Senior Bowl

Top and Above To improve mission flexibility, the SR-71’s nose section is detachable, enabling the aircraft to be fitted with a ground mapping radar unit or a 30 inch Optical Bar Camera (OBC) for horizon-to-horizon panoramic scanning. (Paul Crickmore).

Opposite, top The original nose radar unit, carried by the SR-71, housed a Goodyear PIP which was later replaced by the Loral CAPRE. This was finally replaced by the high resolution Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar System (ASARSI), built again by Loral. This shot depicts the antenna belonging to the CAPRE system. (Lockheed Martin)

RightThe right aft mission bay compartments Q andT revealed, into which a palletised ‘close-look’ or Technical Objective, TEOC camera can be loaded. (Paul Crickmore)

Tagboard &amp;amp; Senior Bowl

resolution of 6 inches from operating altitude. The engine to be used was the Marquardt RJ43 – MA-3 Bomarc, and by October 1963, the overall configuration for the QM2 and its launch platforms – two purpose-built, modified A – 12s – were nearing completion. Code-named ‘Tagboard,’ the designation of both elements was also changed, the carrier vehicle became the ‘M’ – standing for “Mother” – 21 and the 12 became the ‘D – for “Daughter” – 21.

The 11,0001b D-21 was supported on the M-21 by a single, dorsallv mounted pylon. Upon reaching launch point, the mothership’s pilot maintained Mach 3.12 and initiated a 0.9 g push-over. Once released by the Launch Control Officer (LCO), sitting in what was, on other A-12 aircraft, the bay, the D-21 flew its sortie inde­pendently. Equipped with a Minneapolis-Honeywcll. inertial navigation system (INS), the D-21 would fly a pre-programmed flight profile, execute turns and camera

Tagboard &amp;amp; Senior Bowl

on/off points to produce the perfect photo-recce sortie. Having completed its camera run, the drone’s INS system then sent signals to the auto-pilot system to descend to a predetermined ‘feet wet’ film collection point. The entire palletised unit containing INS, camera and film was then ejected at 60,000 ft and Mach 1.67 and parachuted towards the ocean. As the drone continued its descent it was blown apart by a barometrically activated explosive charge. Meanwhile the air retrieval was executed by a JC -130B Hercules. On 12 August 1964, the first M-21 was dispatched to Groom Lake and on 22 December the first D-21/M-21 combination flight took place with Bill Park at the controls. Troubles however dogged Tagboard and it wasn’t until 5 March that the first successful D-21 launch was accomplished. The second launch on 27 April saw the drone reach Mach 3.3, 90,000ft and fly for 1,200 n miles, holding course within half a mile throughout. The

Tagboard &amp;amp; Senior BowlTagboard &amp;amp; Senior Bowl
Above A ‘first generation’ example of an enlarged OBC shot, taken by an SR-71 during a state-side training sortie whilst flying at Mach 3 and 80.000ft. Note the white lines delineating car parking spaces. (USAF)

Left An SR-7l’sTEOC, on its pallet, receives some maintenance – the shot was taken through a U-2’s drift-sight. (USAF)

flight came to an end after a hydraulic pump burned out and the D-21 fell out of the sky.

The Air Force remained interested in the drone and on

29 April 1966, a second batch of D-21s were ordered. On 16 June a third successful launch was made and the D-21 flew 1,600 miles, completing all tasks on the flight card except ejecting the all important camera pallet. The fourth and final D-21 sortie from the M-21 occurred on

30 July 1966 and ended in disaster when the drone collided with ‘941 moments after achieving launch separa­tion. The impact caused the mother craft to pitch up so violently that the fuselage forebody broke off. Both Bill Park and his LCO Ray Torick successfully ejected and made a ‘feet wet’ landing, but unfortunately Torick’s pressure suit filled with water and he drowned before he could be rescued. Bill Park spent an hour in the ocean before he was brought aboard a US Navy vessel.

The D-21 was grounded for a year whilst a new launch system was developed. This new operation, code-named Senior Bowl, involved the drone being launched from the
underwing pylons of two modified B-52Hs of the 4200th Test Wing based at Beale AFB. Upon launch the D-21B was accelerated to Mach 3.3 and 80,000ft by a solid propellant rocket developed by Lockheed Propulsion Company of Redlands, California. On achieving cruise speed and altitude the booster was jettisoned and the drone’s flight continued as described earlier. The first launch attempt from a BUFF was made on 6 November 1967; this proved unsuccessful, as did three other attempts. Success was finally achieved on 16 June 1968. Between 9 November 1969 and 20 March 1971, a total of four operational flights over China were attempted. To maintain tight security the B-52, hauling its unique payload, departed Beale at night and lumbered westwards to the Pacific Island of Guam. Just before dawn the next day the flight resumed, the bomber departing Guam and heading for the launch point. Upon vehicle separation, the Buff made its way back to Guam, while the D-21 embarked upon its pre-programmed day-time reconnais­sance run. Achieving only limited success, Senior Bowl was cancelled on 15 July 1971.

Senior Crown

Подпись: U-MS 3H1Whilst working on Oxcart back in the early spring of 1962, Kelly had mentioned the possibility of producing a reconnaissancc/strikc variant for the Air Force. Lockheed was duly issued with a 90-dav study contract, wherein the various Air Force mission options were identified and defined in terms of the A-12 platform. By the end of April 1962, two different mock-ups were under construc­tion referred to as the R-12 and RS-12. On 18 February

Tagboard &amp;amp; Senior Bowl

Tagboard &amp;amp; Senior Bowl

Below SR-71A 17964 undertook its first flight on I I May 1966 with Lockheed test pilot Bill Weaver at the controls and Steve Belgau in the back seat. (Lockheed Martin)

Bottom The second 9th SRW aircraft to be lost was 17965, which crashed on 25 October 1967, Pilot, Maj Roy St Martin and his RSO Capt John Carnochan ejected safely. (Lockheed Martin)

Подпись:1963, Lockheed received pre-contractual authority to build six aircraft, with the understanding that 25 aircraft would be ordered by 1 July. Col Leo Geary had been the RS-12’s Weapon System Program Officer, but after protracted debate, it was decided that the A-12 project group under Col. Templeton, would inherit the R-12, which became designated SR-71 by the Air Force. The RS-12 and later the B-12/B71 proposals for a strike – version of the aircraft would fail to win production contracts, despite Kelly having demonstrated to the Air Force the unique capabilities of such a platform. This was largely due to the far greater lobbying powers of the XB-70 anil later the l’B-111 fraternity. During a speech made on 24 July 1964, President Johnson revealed to the world the existence of the SR-71.

In August, Kelly phoned Bob Murphy and asked him if he wanted to work on the SR-71 programme. At the time, Murphy was a superintendent in charge of D-21 drone production. Drone number one was undergoing final check-out while nine others were at various stages of assembly. Bob accepted the offer and was immediately briefed by Kelly: “I want you to go to Palmdale and get site 2 away from Rockwell”. This achieved, the prototype SR-71A, serial 64-17950 (article number 2001), was deliv­ered from Burbank to Site 2, Air Force Plant 42,

Building 210, at Palmdale for final assembly on 29 October, by two large trailers specifically designed for the task. Earlier that y ear, Kelly had promoted the charismat­
ic Robert I Gilliland to the position of chief project pilot for the SR-71, a post for which Bob was admirably quali­fied, having gained a great deal of experience as a member of the F-104 and A-12 test teams.

With two )-58s installed, ‘950 conducted its first engine test run on 18 December 1964. Three days later, a ‘non­flight’ was completed, where Gilliland accelerated the aircraft to 120kts before snapping the throttles back to idle and deploying the large 40-feet drag chute. On 22 December 1964, Gilliland, using his personal callsign ‘Dutch 51’ successfully completed the first flight of an SR-71A in prototy pe 64-17950 – Article 2001 (the signifi­cance of this number being that it was the date Kelly

Tagboard &amp;amp; Senior Bowl

Tagboard &amp;amp; Senior Bowl

Below SR-71 17955 was operated extensively by Air Force Logistics Command from Plant 42. Palmdale and was dedicated SR-71 test aircraft. It is seen here in company with a U-2R.

(Lockheed Martin)

Above To celebrate America’s Bi-Centennial, several record breaking flights were made by SR-7ls which had a large white cross applied to their underside to assist ground based track­ing cameras. Here 17958 returns to earth. (Lockheed Martin)

believed would be reached before the aircraft became vulnerable to interception).

Aircraft 951 and 952 were added to the test fleet for contractor development of payload systems and tech­niques and shortly after the phase II, Developmental Test Programme was started, four other Lockheed test pilots were brought into the project: Jim Eastham, Bill Weaver, Art Peterson and Darrell Greenamyer.

Developmental efforts within Lockheed were matched b Air Force Systems Command (AFSC) where Col Ben Beilis had been appointed the SR-71 System Programme Officer (SPO). His task was to structure a ‘Development and Evaluation Programme’ that would evaluate the new aircraft for the Air Force, a program undertaken by the SR-71/YF12 Test Force, located at the Air Force Flight Test Centre, Edwards AFB. Both Phase 1 ‘Experimental’ and phase II ‘Development’ test flying had moved to Edwards where SR-71As 953, 954, and 955 were to be used by the ‘blue suiters’. However, the SR-71s were plagued by problems associated with the electrical system, tank sealing and difficulties in obtaining design range.

Whilst these problems were being worked at, Beale AFB, chosen home for the newcomer, had been undergo­ing an S8.4 million construction program which included the installation of an army of specialised technical support facilities. The 4200th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing was activated at Beale on 1 January 1965 and three months later, four support squadrons were formed. In Januarx 1966, Col Doug Nelson was appointed commander of the new x ing – a job for which he was eminently qualified, having been the Director of Operations for the Oxcart project. Doug began by selecting a small group of highly competent sub-commanders and Strategic Air Command (SAC) fliers to form the initial cadre of the SR-71 unit.

Bottom Due to high airframe temperatures when cruising at Mach 3.2, a special flash resistant fuel was developed. Known as JP-7, normal fuel igniters are unable to generate the heat required to set fuel burning during start-up or when engaging the afterburners. A chemical ignition system (CIS) was there­fore developed using Triethylborane (TEB), which ignites with a green flash. (Paul Crickmore)

Below With both ‘burners’ engaged, SR-71 A serial 17960, call­sign TRULY55 starts to roll down RAF Mildenhall’s runway.

Tagboard &amp;amp; Senior Bowl

(Paul Crickmore)

Tagboard &amp;amp; Senior Bowl


Tagboard &amp;amp; Senior Bowl

Tagboard &amp;amp; Senior BowlAbove Standard operating procedures call for the SR-71 to get airborne with a light fuel load, enabling it to land back immedi­ately should a problem develop. Once airborne, the first order of business is to ‘hook-up’ with the tanker and top-off with fuel.

(Paul Crickmore)

Right Prior to boom conect, the aircraft establishes itself in the pre-contact position. (Paul Crickmore)

Col Bill Hayes became the deputy commander lor main­tenance, Lt Col Ray Haupt, Chief Instructor Pilot, Col Walt W right commanded the Medical Group, Col Clyde Deaniston supervised all category III flight test planning and the flight crews were recruited from the best SAC bomber pilots and navigators in the service.

The first two of eight Northrop T-38 Talons arrived at Beale on 7 July 1965, to be used as ‘companion trainers’ to maintain overall flying proficiency for the SR-71 crew at a fraction of the cost of flying the main aircraft.

On 7 January 1966, Col Doug Nelson and his Chief Instructor, Lt Col Ray Haupt delivered the first SR-7 IB to Beale AFB. Five months later, on 14 April, Nelson and Maj A1 Pennington took delivery of Beale’s first SR – 71A, serial 64-17958. On 25 June 1966, the 4200th was redesignated the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing (SRW) its component flying squadrons being the 1st and 99th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadrons (SRS). Crew training and Category III Operational Testing then proceeded in earnest.

After the Storm

Back at Tonopah, arrangements were finalised to relocate the 37th Wing to Holloman AFB, New Mexico (NM). The first aircraft to be delivered was ’791, which arrived from Tonopah on 7 January 1992, for maintenance famil­iarisation. The move officially got underway however on 8 May, when aircraft ’814, flown by Lt Col ‘Moose’

Merritt of the 416th TFS touched down. On 8 July 1992, the 37th FW at Tonopah Test Range took part in an stand down ceremony, and at the same time the 37FW was deactivated and its assets transferred across to the 49FW. Similarly, command of the F-117A wing was also transferred from Col A1 Whitley to Brig Gen Lloyd ‘Fig’ Newton. Unusually however, the squadron designations of the F-117A units remained initially unchanged. The move at last reunited families, enabling them to join their loved ones in living quarters on or close to the base. It also eradicated the need for Key Airlines to shuttle over 2,500 personnel on 75 weekly flights to and from their place of work – a change that would, in itself save millions of dollars a year.

On Tuesday 4 August 1992, the first Holloman based F-117A was lost in an accident. Capt John В Mills of the 416th FS, was forced to eject from Aircraft ’801 (not ’810 or ’802 as reported elsewhere), after it entered an uncom­manded roll and caught fire. The crash occurred just eight miles northwest of Holloman; a crash investigation identified the cause as an improperly reinstalled bleed air duct, which led to a hydraulic line malfunction to flight controls and a fire.

Above Col Greg ‘Beast’ Feest was the first pilot to ever drop a weapon in anger from an F-117. This occurred during Operation Just Cause over Panama. In addition he also released the first bomb to mark the beginning of Operation Desert Storm; by a strange twist of fate, he happened to be flying the same aircraft on both occasions, F-117A. ‘816. (Col Greg Feest)

Below left Gen Norman Schwarzkopf receives a briefing from Lt Col Ralph Getchell on some of the F-117’s intricacies. (USAF)

Below Having been retired from flight test on 11 April 1985, Aircraft ‘780, the F-l I7A prototype, became a gate-guard during a ceremony at Nellis AFB on 16 May 1992. (USAF)

The move to Holloman also signalled a steady integra­tion of the F-117A into theatre operational planning, enabling it to become a true ‘force multiplier’, something impossible to achieve during its years in the black. Accordingly, the 416th participated in Exercise Team Spirit, a short deployment to South Korea. And in June 1993, eight F-117As from the 415th deployed briefly to Gilze-Rijen, in the Netherlands, for Exercise Central Enterprise.

The 49th lost its second F-117A from Holloman, (the fifth to date) on 10 May 1995, at 22:25 hours. Aircraft ’822 was being flown by Capt Ken Levens of the 9th Fighter Squadron on a night training flight when contact was lost. The aircraft crashed on Red Mesa, at the Zuri Indian Reservation; the pilot hadn’t attempted to eject prior to the crash, and ’822 gouged out a 20-foot deep crater upon impact. Having received his bandit number (Bandit 461), on 16 December 1994, Capt Levens had accumulated just 70 hours on the aircraft prior to the incident. An accident investigation team established that there were no signs of mechanical or electrical failure prior to impact and that pilot disorientation seemed, yet again, to be the most likely cause of the tragedy.

The sixth accidental loss of an F-117A occurred publicly and in spectacular fashion. On 14 September 1997, Maj Bryan Knight, an instructor with the 7th FS, flying Aircraft ’793, was coming to the end of his expert­ly choreographed display routine during an airshow at Chesapeake Bay, near Baltimore, Md.. Flying at 380kts and at a height of between 600 and 700 ft, he entered a 15 degree climb when the left outboard clevon made at least four rapid oscillations, causing a 2.5ft section of the inboard elevon to become detached. The aircraft then
rolled rapidly left (90 degrees within 0.8 seconds) and pitched sharply up into a high angle of attack. Bryan ejected safely and during the subsequent accident investi­gation it was determined that the incident had occurred because four Hi-Lok fasteners used to secure the elevon hydraulic actuator to a spanwisc, ‘Brooklyn Bridge’ 1- beam, had not been re-installed, following maintenance conducted at Holloman in January 1996.


Progress came at a heavy price. The first SR-71 loss occurred on 25 January 1966, when Bill Weaver and his test engineer Jim /.waver took off from Edwards in SR – 71 A ‘952. After in-flight refuelling, ‘Dutch 64’ climbed back to cruising altitude. While in a 15-degree right back turn, manually controlling the right forward bypass doors at Mach 3.17 and between 77-78,000ft, Weaver experi­
enced a right inlet unstart. Bank angle immediately increased from 35 to 60 degrees and the aircraft entered a pitch-up that exceeded the restorative authority of the flight controls and SAS. The aircraft disintegrated, but miraculously Weaver survived; unfortunately Jim Zwayer was killed in the incident.

The SR-71 prototype was written off on 10 January 1967, during an anti-skid brake system evaluation at Edwards AFB, the Lockheed test pilot Art Peterson escaped with a cracked disc in his back. Three months later, on 13 April, Beale lost SR-71A ‘966 flown by Capts Earle Boone and RSO Butch Sheffield follow ing a stall and pitch-up. Both men safely ejected as ‘966 made its

Above Once on the boom, the pilot formates with the tanker, whilst the boom operator maintains contact and the tanker’s co-pilot supervises the fuel off-load. (Paul Crickmore)

Top SR-7ls refuelled from both КС-135 and КС-10 Tankers.

(Lockheed Martin)

Above right Once disconnected from the boom, the SR-71 side­slips clear of the tanker, engages both ‘burners’ and accelerates away. (Paul Crickmore)

grave not far from that of Bill Weaver’s aircraft, in Northern New Mexico.

On the night of 25 October 1967, Maj Roy St Martin and Capt John Carnochan were living a night sortie in aircraft ‘965. As Roy cased the aircraft into the descent profile over Nevada, the gyro-stabilised reference platform for the ANS drifted without a failure warning. With no visual horizon for external reference, the aircraft rolled over, the nose fell far below a safe descent angle and plunged through 60,000ft. Sensing something was wrong, Roy glanced at the standby artificial horizon and was alarmed to sec it indicate a ‘screaming dive and roll-over toward inverted flight’. He attempted a ‘recovery from



LossesLossesAbove Depending upon time and fuel remaining, a returning aircraft might shoot a few approaches before recovery. Here ex-Thunderbirds pilot Maj Jim Jiggens demonstrates the more nimble side of 17960. (Paul Crickmore)

unusual positions manoeuvre’, and managed to roll the wings level, hut roaring through 40,000ft, well above the speed from which level flight could be achieved, both men ejected. The RSO went first, and as Roy ejected he heard the warning horn that signalled that the aircraft had descended below 10,000ft! Aircraft 965 plunged into the ground near Lovelock, Nevada like a meteorite. Luckily both men survived without permanent injuries and following an accident board of investigation several instrumentation changes were implemented on the fleet, together with an amended training program containing less night flying until crews had accumulated more daytime experience in the SR-71.

As mentioned earlier, with both the Air Force and Agency operating similar aircraft in the same role, a Bureau of the Budget (BoB) memo, dated November 1965, questioned such a requirement. Since the SR-71 was not scheduled to become operational until September 1968, the SECDEF rightly declined to consider any cut­backs. In July 1966, BoB officials proposed that a tri-agency study be set up again to establish ways of reducing the cost of both programs. After the study was completed, a meeting was convened on 12 December 1966 and a vote taken on available options. Three out of four votes cast were in favour of the recommendation to ‘terminate the Oxcart fleet in January 1968 (assuming an operational readiness date of September 1967 for the SR – 71) and assign all missions to the SR-71 fleet’. The BoB memorandum was transmitted to President Johnson on 16 December, despite protestations from the CIA’s Richard I lelms, who was the sole dissenting voice in the t ote. Twelve days later, Johnson accepted the BoB’s recom­mendations and directed that the Oxcart programme be terminated by 1 January 1968. In the event, the Oxcart run-down lagged, but the original decision to terminate

Middle and above Normal approach speed (dependent upon weight, ambient air temperature etc) is 175 kts with ten degrees of nose up pitch. Final flare further increases alpha – nose up pitch and speed reduces to 155 kts for touch down. A strong ground effect, produced by the delta wing, cushions landings. (Paul Crickmore)

the program was reaffirmed on 16 May 1968 and the first Kadena-based A-12 began its flight back to the States on 7 June.

Flight Test

25 March 1991 saw the completion of a move for F-117 flight test operations from Area 51 to Palmdale. Activity from the new base continued at a brisk pace with Aircraft ’831, flown by Lt Col Chris Seat, completing Det. S’s first flight from Palmdale the day before. However, the first Senior Trend test sortie from Palmdale was a weapons evaluations flight, flown in Aircraft ’784 by Jim Thomas on 23 April 1992.

On the 23 October 1991, a low observability communi­cations study was authorised to identify methods of maintaining communications with an F-117 once it had ‘stealthed-up’ and retracted all its antennas. The study was completed in February 1992, and on 31 August that same year, Jim Thomas flew Aircraft ’783 on its first low observability antenna evaluation sortie. The test program lasted for two months, during which rime the ‘stealthy antenna’, located on the aircraft’s underside, was thoroughly evaluated. Following submission of a final report on 13 November 1992, the go-ahead for full scale development of the system was received on 12 May 1993; work commenced four months later, on 16 September, to upgrade the fleet.

Above left On 8 July 1992, Tonopah was deactivated and the 37th moved its F-l 17s to Holloman AFB, New Mexico. (USAF)

Above With the move from Tonopah to Holloman, came a redesignation and the 37th FW became the 49th FW. Aircraft ‘816 of the 7th FS is seen overflying the F-117 barns at Holloman. (USAF)

Below Members of the 9th FS, together with their 18 F-l 17s, form-up behind their boss at that time, Lt Col Greg Feest. (Col Greg Feest)

On 10 October 1994, The Ring Laser Gyro Navigation Improvement Program (RNIP), commenced. Initially designed to evaluate the proposed replacement of SPN – GEANS by the Honeywell H-423 Ring Laser Gyro, the program was subsequently broadened (based on earlier successes achieved by the low observability communica­tion antenna program), to include the addition of a Global Positioning System (GPS). A ‘dry bay’ was creat­ed, by forming a recess in the fuselage fuel tank, on the upper surface of Aircraft ‘784. Into this was located a stealthy antenna, capable of receiving the relevant satellite generated data. The first RNIP flight occurred on 12 December 1994, and the enhanced accuracy was immedi­ately apparent. This improvement package was incorporated into the entire F-l 17 fleet. Other benefits offered by the antenna were also exploited, giving rise, in December 1997, to the IRRCA, or Integrated real-time information into the cockpit/Real-time information out of the cockpit, for Combat Aircraft flight test project. Now there’s an acronym to test your friends with! By 30 June 1998, the first phase of the program, "real-time informa­tion into the cockpit’ had been successfully demonstrated. Phase two, ‘real-time information out of the cockpit’ began in 1999.

At the heart of IRRCA is the integration of a real-time symmetric multiprocesser, facilitating 1.2 billion instruc­tions per second. As the F-117A receives threat updates from satellite broadcasts, a moving map displays new threats and the processor automatically evaluates the situ­ation. Should analysis of the threat determine that the aircraft is in jeopardy, the processor re-plans the route and display’s the option on a new colour liquid crystal diode multi-function display. Decision criteria used in the

Above Another mission begins as this extraordinary geometric study prepares to taxi from its barn. (USAF)

Right An AT-38B of the 7th FS on business at Palmdale. Note the three F-117s on the tail-band. (Paul Crickmore)

Below right F-l 17 test pilot Jim ‘JB’ Brown of the 410th Flight Test Squadron, based at Palmdale, readies 784 for another IRRCA test flight. (Paul Crickmore)

proposed re-route includes threat exposure, flying time and landing fuel. The pilot can then accept or reject the proposed option. In addition to mission information, text and images also update the pilot on key events and weather. Evaluations carried out by the 410 Test Squadron at Palmdale indicate that the F-117A is capable of reacting to mission updates or target changes and pop­up threats while still remaining in a stealth configuration.

In early July 1998, Jim ‘JB’ Brown, lead IRRCA test pilot, flew a simulated combat mission in the dedicated testbed, aircraft ’784. During the course of the sortie, a geostationary satellite transmitted a series of encrypted messages to the aircraft via its low-observable communi­cations antenna. These messages included threat updates, mission updates, text information and alternative target imagery. Mission changes provided information for the real-time symmetric multi-processor to re-plan the mission to an alternative target. This was followed by a text message and photos of the alternative target, which enabled ‘JB’ to verify the processor’s planning results and study target details prior to acquisition and attack.

Other Evaluations

Over the years other parties have evaluated the F-117A’s capabilities. The first of these being the United States Navy. Two Navy pilots flew the aircraft on eight occa­sions, during each flight they were chased by an instructor pilot in a T-38. Details of their flight log show that this was a serious evaluation:










1.3 hours





1.4 hours





1.6 hours





1.6 hours





1.3 hours





1.3 hours





1.5 hours





1.4 hours


11.4 hours

In conclusion of the trials, Lt Cmdr Kenny Linn recalls: “We conducted a thorough performance review, and eval­uated the F-117A for suitability in the carrier environment. Unremarkably, it was not suitable at that time for CV use, although it had quite nice handling characteristics in the pattern, landing speeds were too high, and the sink rate limitations were too low. The F – 117A had not been built as a CV aircraft, and was not going to turn into one overnight!”

Following the collapse of European Communism, few countries were better placed to successfully complete the transition into a free market economy and democracy than Yugoslavia. However, nationalism, spurred on by the Milosevic regime have conspired to drag the region into ‘a new dark age’. The planning and implementation by

Serbia of ‘Operation Horeshoe’ – the systematic ‘ethnic cleansing – deportation and genocide – of the Kosovar Albanians, haas once again taken ships and aircraft of NATO to war. At approximately 20:38 (local) on Saturday, 27 March 1999, F-117A, ‘806, of the 8th FS, flown by Major Dale Zclco, crashed forty miles from Belgrade whilst participating in Operation Allied Force. Although speculation surrounding the loss of this aircraft is rife, nothing has been officially released at the time of writing, other than the fact that Zelco was safely extract­ed from the area bv a combat rescue team.

below Stealth technology is not something reserved solely for military aircraft: witness the Skunk Work’s Sea Shadow.

(Lockheed Martin) ,

Above Years of stealth technology were designed into the low visibility of the Lockheed F-22 Raptor. Without black world, no F-22, or at least, many more years of R&D. (Lockheed Martin)

Preparations for Deployment

As the 9th SRW prepared to deploy overseas, much talk in the crew lounge was devoted to anti-SAM tactics. The plan was to penetrate enemy airspace at Mach 3; if fired upon, the pilot would accelerate to Mach 3.2 and climb, thereby forcing the missile’s guidance system to recalcu­late the intercept equation. One half-baked idea was to dump fuel at the same time, thereby becoming lighter and increasing the rate of climb. The debate was ended during a training sortie over Montana, when a crew dumped fuel for ten seconds to see if the afterburner would ignite the fuel trail. Instead it turned instantly into an ice cloud in the -55 degree stratosphere and left a five mile-long contrail – finger pointing directly to the aircraft. The pilot reported that he could see the trail for hundreds of miles after having turned back towards the west!

On 11 January 1968, during this work-up period, yet another incident befell the 9th SRW. Lt Col ‘Gray’ Sowers and ‘student’ Capt Dave Fuehauf – on his third training sortie – experienced a double generator failure in SR-71B ‘957, near Spokane, Washington. They immedi­ately switched off all non-essential electrically powered equipment to conserve batten’ power and despite repeated attempts they were unable to re-set both generators. With most of Washington State bases w eathered out, they had little option but to press on for Beale. Their long straight in approach looked good until the 175kts ‘final’ placed the aircraft in its natural ten degrees nose-up angle of attack. This allowed some dry-tank fuel inlet ports to ‘suck air’ which in turn interrupted the gravity How of fuel to the engine combustion chambers, because the fuel boost pumps were inoperative. This caused cavitation, both J58s flamed out and at 3,000ft Gray ordered bail­out. Both crew members survived as ‘957 ‘pancaked’ inverted, only seven miles north of Beale’s long runway.

Above On landing, a forty-foot diameter brake chute rapidly decelerates the aircraft. (Paul Crickmore)

Below Back in ‘the barn’ the crew disembark and are driven back to the Physiological Support Division (PSD) building where they shower and change before debriefing the mission.

(Paul Crickmore)

Preparations for Deployment


As the 1 SRS neared operational readiness, decisions were made by Col Bill Hayes (9th SRVV Commander) and Col Hal Confer (Director of Operations) as to which crews would be first to be deployed to Kadena AB, Okinawa. Three aircraft and four crews would be deployed and the crews themselves pulled straws to decide the ‘batting order’; the fourth crew would be standby for the three deploying aircraft and would arrive on Kadena, if their services weren’t needed, by KC-135Q tanker. Command of the Operating Location (OL-8) would alternate between the 9th SRW’s wing commander and vice commander (and later Deputy Chief of Operations). Two days before Glowing Heat, the codename for the deploy­ment, six KC-135Q. tankers were positioned at I lickam AFB, Hawaii. Emergency radio coverage was set up on Wake Island and on 8th March 1968, Majs Buddy Brown and his RSO Dave Jenson left Beale in ‘978 and became the first Senior Crown crew’ to deploy to Kadena. Two
days later Maj Jerry’ O’Malley and Capt Ed Payne deliv­ered ‘976 to the OL, to be follow’ed on the 13 March by Bob Spencer and Keith Branham in ‘974. Finally, three days later, in late evening rain Jim Watkins and Dave Dempster the back-up crew, were wearily disgorged from the ‘135. The crews and their mounts were ready for business.

Due to maintenance problems, Buddy Brown and Dave Jenson missed their chance of being the first crew to fly the SR-71 operationally; instead, that accolade went to Maj Jerry O’Malley and Capt Ed Payne in ‘976. The

Below Two SR-71В pilot trainers were built, serials 17956 and 17957. (USAF)

Preparations for Deployment
Bottom SR-7 IB. 17957 crashed on I I January 1968, both the IP Lt Col ‘Gray’ Sowers and the student Capt Dave Fruehauf ejected safely. (Appeal Democrat)

Preparations for Deployment

mission was flown on Thursday 21 March 1968 and their route Was similar to that flown by Mele Vojvodich in his A-12 ten months earlier. However, with its large, high definition camera in the bay, the A-12 was a photo­graphic platform only. For its first operational mission, the SR-71 carried both cameras and Goodyear Side­Looking Airborne Radar (SLAR) located in a detachable nose section, together with its associated AR-1700 radar recorder unit.

Having refuelled after their first run, Jerry’ climbed and accelerated on track for their final ‘take’ for the mission, which was to be flown over the DMZ. For this run, the primary sensor was the SLAR. On arrival back at Kadena Jerry and Ed were confronted with a base completely ‘fogged in’. Despite a good Ground Controlled Approach (GCA), Jerry never saw the runway and climbed back to contemplate further options. Low on fuel, another tanker was launched and 25,0001bs of fuel taken onboard. The crew then received a two-figure encoded number which told them to divert to Taiwan. In company with two • tankers and the SR-71 adopting a tanker call-sign for security reasons, the three ship formation made its slow, lumbering way to Ching Chuan Kang, Taiwan. On arrival the SR-71 was quickly hangared and the next day the ‘take’ was downloaded and despatched for processing – the film to the 67th RTS at Yokota AB, Japan and the SLAR imagery to the 9RTS at Beale AFB. After two nights at CCK, Jerry and Ed ferried ‘976 back to Kadena and a superb reception from their friends.

Post-mission intelligence results were stunning. The SLAR imagery had revealed the location of many artillery emplacements around Khe Sanh, and a huge truck park used for logistics support. These sites had eluded US sensors on other recce aircraft up to that point. Over the next few days air strikes were mounted against both targets, reducing their effectiveness dramatically. After a 77 day siege, Khe Sanh was at last relieved on 7 April 1968 (two weeks after ‘976’s discovery sortie). As a result of their highly successful mission both Maj Jerome F O’Malley and Capt Edward D Payne were each awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. On its very’ first operational mission the SR-71 had proved its value.

Above The raised cockpit of SR-71В 17956 is immediately apparent as this aircraft taxies back – note brake chute doors open. (Paul Crickmore)

Mow To compensate for the loss of I7957.YF-I2A 60-6934 was taken from storage and its front forebody replaced by a static test specimen to create the so-called SR-71C, which was re-serialed 17981 and nicknamed The Bastard’. (USAF)

Preparations for Deployment

Early OL-8 operational sorties were typified by problems involving the SR-71’s generators, this often led to aircraft having to divert into one of the USAF bases in Thailand. Of the 168 SR-71 sorties flown by OL-8 throughout 1968, 67 were operational missions over North Vietnam, the remaining sorties being FCFs or for crew training. In addition the first of many aircraft change arounds took place when over a period of seven days in September, ‘970 and ‘962 took over from ‘978, ‘976 and ‘974. Crew rotation also took place with no less than 21 crews having taken the SR-71 into battle over the same period. It was while operating out of Kadena that the SR-71 received its nickname, Habu,

Подпись:after a poisonous pit viper found on the Ryuku Islands: though non aggressive, it can inflict a painful bite if provoked. Although resisted by officialdom, the name Habu proved to be ineradicable amongst all associated with Senior Crown.

OL-8 lost its first ‘Habu’ on 10 May 1970, shortly after Majs Willie Lawson and Gil Mortinez had air refuelled ‘969 near Korat RTAFB. Struggling to clear a saddle-back of cloud at 30,000ft, Lawson eased ‘969 into a slightly steeper climb. However, on entering turbulent cloud, both engines flamed out. The aircraft’s angle of attack increased, then suddenly the nose pitched-up and recovery was impossible. Both crew members ejected safely and landed, resplendent in their ‘silver moon suits’, near U Tapao.



ince the Skunk Works was founded in 1943, the world has witnessed extraordinary geopolitical changes. Does it therefore follow that the need for ‘Skunk Works’ type operations in today’s world is less now than it was nearly sixty years ago? The author would argue that the need is greater. Such an assertion is made not through some romantic attachment to the aviation pioneers of a bygone era – there is no room for sentiment in today’s business world – but rather, it is founded upon the Skunk Works’ ability to embrace an ethic of continual change, whether it be in the pursuit of new technologies or the application of operating structures, as set out by Kelly Johnson all those years ago (see below). In August 1992 the Lockheed Advanced Development Company released a summary document entitled ‘The Skunk Works’ Approach to Aircraft Development, Production and Support,’ some of which follows:-

‘Over the past few years, we have witnessed sweeping geopolitical changes and revolutionary events that are trig­gering major changes in our nation’s defence requirements. Clearly, in future years, the Defence Department and serv ices will be operating with much smaller force struc­tures and budgets. The resulting challenge will be to maintain a viable, responsive defence infrastructure in the face of budget reductions. To meet this challenge, both the Defence Secretary and Congress are proposing new approaches to DoD acquisition that emphasize research and advanced technologies: technology demonstrators and prototypes; selective upgrading of existing systems; and selective/low rate procurement of new systems.

But not only will we have to develop new technology and systems, we must implement acquisition strategics and management approaches that will enable development and fielding of new systems in a more timely and less costly manner. For the past half century, the lasckheed Skunk Works and its government customers have employed specialized management methods that have done just that…The Lockheed Skunk Works has demonstrated a unique ability to rapidly prototype, develop and produce a w ide range of highly advanced aircraft for the US armed forces and intelligence agencies. The P-80, U-2, F-104, SR-71 and, more recently, the F-117 are widely recognised as among the most significant achievements of the aero­space industry.

These and other Skunk Works aircraft have incorporat­ed breakthrough technology to achieve new thresholds in aircraft and systems performance. The common thread among these aircraft is that they were created by men and women working together employing a unique approach to aircraft development – the Skunk Works approach. This management approach, developed by the founder of the Skunk Works C. L. "Kelly" Johnson, fosters creativity and innovation, and has enabled prototyping and development of highly complex aircraft in relatively short time spans and at relatively low cost. It has also demonstrated effi­cient, economical production of complex systems in small quantities and at low production rates.’

This is of course the skunk standing up for itself, but it 112 is hard to argue with the logic, or the history.

Based on lessons learned from early Skunk W’orks programs, Kelly Johnson developed and wrote the Basic Operating Rules of the Skunk Works. These fourteen "rules" addressed program management, organization, contractor/customer relationships, documentation, customer reporting, specifications, engineering drawings, funding, cost control, subcontractor inspection, testing, security, and management compensation. Consider rules One to Four:

(1) The Skunk Works’ manager must be delegated prac­tically complete control of his program in all aspects. He should report to a division president or higher [In other words, it is essential that the program manager have authority to make decisions quickly regarding technical, finance, schedule, or operation matters.]

(2) Strong but small project offices must be provided both by the’customer and contractor [The customer program manager must have similar authority to that of the contractor. I

(3) The number of people having any connection with the project must be restricted in an almost vicious manner. Use of a small number of good people (10 to 25 per cent compared to the so-called normal systems). [Bureaucracy makes unnecessary work and must be controlled brutally.]

(4) A very simple drawing and drawing release system with great flexibility for making changes must be provid­ed. [This permits early work by manufacturing organizations, and schedule recovery if technical risks involve failures.]

All of these rides still make sense. That the Skunk Works has been staffed by the most innovative and talent­ed people in the aerospace industry is beyond dispute – Kelly once remarked to Bob Gilliland, (then Chief Test Pilot of the SR-71) "I’m a prima donna and I’m surrounded by prima donnas."

Latterly, Lockheed has performed well, buy ing up in the process Martin Marietta and General Dynamics. With a management hierarchy in all three companies, there is a clear need to consolidate. The new president of this empire is Dain Hancock, from Lhc General Dynamics Corporation’s F-16 Fighting Falcon program. When Jack Gordon, president of the Skunk Works suddenly announced that he was retiring, he was replaced by anoth­er ex-GD man, Robert T Klrod, who holds a master’s degree in business administration. Paul Martin, former Skunk Works executive vice president, has also gone. Gary Grigg, a company spokesman confirmed that: "There may not be as many skunk logos on the buildings when we repaint them".

When a new Chief Executive is appointed to any large corporation, they invariably come with their own agenda and ‘baggage’, gathered from past experiences. In the author’s opinion, it would be a disaster of terrible propor­tions, maybe for the company, maybe for the US, maybe for the world, if president Hancock’s agenda included dismantling the Skunk Works by stealth.

Other Sorties

Although the vast majority of early Habu flights from Kadena were in support operations in Vietnam, this was not exclusively the case. On the night of 27 September 1971, Majs Bob Spencer and ‘Butch’ Sheffield flew ‘980 on a northerly track. US Intelligence had obtained details of the largest ever Soviet naval exercise to be held off Vladivostok, in the Sea of Japan; and the Habu was an ideal vehicle for stirring up the Soviet fleet’s defence systems. National security officials were especially interested in obtaining signal details relating to the Soviets’ new SA-5 (Gammon) SAM system.

As ‘980 bore down on the target area, dozens of Soviet radars were switched on and just short of entering Soviet airspace, the Habu was rolled into a full 35 degree banked turn, remaining throughout in international airspace. However, on approach to the collection area, Bob noted the right engine’s oil pressure was dropping. Clearing the
area, Bob discovered the reading had fallen to zero. He shut down the engine and was forced to descend and decelerate to subsonic speeds. Having stirred up a hornets nest, they were now sitting ducks for any Soviet fast jets sent up to intercept the oil-starved Habu. Worse still, at lower altitude they were subjected to strong headwinds which rapidly depleted their fuel supply. Butch calculated that recovery back to Kadena was impossible – instead they’d have to divert into South Korea.

The OL commander had been monitoring ‘980’s slow progress and as the Habu neared Korea, US listening posts reported the launch of several MiGs from

Other Sorties

Other Sorties
Above and below Majs Jerry O’Malley and RSO Ed Payne flew the first operational SR-71 sortie over North Vietnam in 17976 on Thursday 21 March 1968. (USAF/Lindsay Peacock)

Other SortiesПодпись:Other SortiesPyongyang, North Korea. In response USAF F-102s were scrambled from a base near Hon Chew, South Korea and vectored into a position between the Habu and the MiGs. It was later established that the MiG launch was uncon­nected with the Habu’s descent and Bob recovered ‘980 into Taegu, South Korea, without further incident. In all their EMR ‘take’ had recorded emissions from 290 different radars, but the greatest prize was ‘capture’ of the much sought-after SA-5 signal characteristics.

On 20 July 1972 while returning to Kadcna from an operational mission, Majs Denny Bush and Jimmy Fagg were caught shortly after touch down in ‘978 by excessive cross winds. Jettisoning the ’chute by the book, to prevent the aircraft from ‘weather-cocking’ sharply into wind, the extended roll-out caused the aircraft to roll off the end of the runway and in a twist of fate, they hit the concrete housing for emergency crash barriers. One of the main landing gear struts was badly damaged which in turn caused substantial additional damage. Both crew members were unhurt, but ‘978 was written off. The final SR-71 to be written off was lost on 21 April 1989. On that occa­sion one of the engine compressor discs disintegrated during Mach 3 flight, the debris severing one hydraulic system and damaging the other. Lt Col Dan House and Maj Blair Bozek decelerated and descended ‘974 down to 400kts and 10,000ft. When the remaining hydraulic system ran dry, both men safely ejected just a few hundred yards off the coast of Luzon and were picked up by Philippino fishermen. They were later collected by an HH-53 Super Jolly Green Giant and flown to Clark AFB.

OL-8 was redesignated OL RK on 30 October 1970, became OL KA on 26 October 1971 finally Detachment 1 or Det 1, of the 9th SRW in August 1974, a title it retained until deactivated in 1990. During 22 years of service, the unit flew missions to Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, North Korea, airspace off the USSR, China and four 11-hour return flights to the Persian Gulf, during the Iran/Iraq war.

Operations from the USA

Rolling down Beale’s runway 14, in ‘977, on October 1968, new pilot/RSO team Majs Abe Kardong and Jim Kogler were approaching VI when a wheel failed, throwing shrapnel into the fuel cells and causing a fuel fire. Abe aborted take-off at high speed, causing the remaining tyres on that leg to burst. The brake ’chute blossomed only to be consumed immediately by the fire. With one wing low and the aircraft off-centre to the runway, ’977’s sharp inlet spike knifed through the barrier cable at the end of the runway, rendering it useless. Now on the overrun, Jim ejected while Abe rode out the high­speed sleigh ride. When the dust settled, he was helped from the cockpit by the Mobile Control crew for that day, Willie Lawson and Gil Martinez. Despite four 9th SRW aircraft losses between 13 April 1967 and 10 October 1968, Category III ‘Operational’ Testing ended in December 1968 and the wing was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for meeting the challenges of bringing the most advanced reconnaissance system of its day to operational readiness.

Подпись: THE SR-7On 11 April 1969, Lt Col Bill Skliar and Maj Noel Warner lost SR-71A, 64-17953 on the Edwards runway

following an incident similar to the loss of ‘977. ‘Dutch 69’ had just rotated when one of the left main gear tyres blew. With the aircraft at max gross weight, the other two tyres on that leg also blew. Bill aborted the take-off, but red hot shrapnel from the disintegrating wheel hubs punctured the fuel tanks and triggered a fire which engulfed the entire aircraft. Once at a standstill Bill exited the aircraft to the right and assisted Noel from his rear cockpit. ‘953 never flew again and after this accident the Goodrich tyres were ‘beefed up’.

A third pitch-up accident happened on 18 December 1969, when Director of the Test Force, Lt Col Joe Rogers and RSO Lt Col Gary Heidelbaugh were acceler­ating and climbing ‘953. They heard a loud explosion which was accompanied by a loss of power and severe

Above Darrell Greenamyer and Steve Belgau first flew the ‘Big Tail’ conversion of 17959 on I I December 1975.The redesign increased reconnaissance gathering capacity but was not pursued on the operational fleet. (Paul Crickmore Collection)

Left The last operational SR-71 to be lost was 17974 on 21 April 1989. Pilot Maj Dan House and his RSO Capt Blair Bozek ejected safely. (Paul Crickmore Collection)

Right Detachment 4 (Det 4) of the 9th SRW was created at RAF Mildenhall on I April 1979. (Paul Crickmore)

Bottom right Another Det 4 sortie gets underway. (Paul Crickmore)

control difficulties. As the aircraft decelerated, its angle of attack continued to increase, despite Joe ‘firewalling’ the control stick. Realising they’d entered an irrecoverable corner of the flight envelope, ten seconds after the explo­sion, Joe ordered “Let’s get out Gary” and both men safely ejected; ‘953 crashed at the Southern end of Death Valley. The cause of the explosion remains unknown.

On 17 June 1970, the 9th lost another SR-71A, serial ‘970, following a mid-air collision with a KC-135Qshort­ly after taking aboard 35,000 lbs of fuel. The Habu hit clear air turbulence (CAT) and the entire nose of the aircraft smashed into the rear of the tanker. No one aboard the tanker was injured and Buddy Brown and Mort Jarvis were able to eject safely – although the former sustained two broken legs during the ejection.

At MOOhrs on 6 October 1973, Syrian and Egyptian artillery barrages on the state of Israel spelled the begin­ning of the Yom Kippur War. With Israel caught off guard, the Arabs made substantial gains both in the Sinai and the Golan Heights. In view of the grave situation faced by Israel, the US decided to step up intelligence efforts and used the SR-71 to provide a hot-spot recon­naissance capability. CINC SAC General John Meyer ordered Col Pat Halloran (9th SRW Commander) to prepare for missions that would be flown from Beale
across the war zone and recover into RAF Mildenhall, England. However, the Heath government denied the SR – 71’s use of Mildenhall in a move designed to safeguard the supply of Arab oil to the United Kingdom.

Instead, round-robin missions would be flown from GrifFiss AFB, New York; accordingly, two SR-71As, ‘979 and ‘964, were despatched to the east coast air base where they arrived on 12 October. At 0600 a secure teleprinter clattered out details of the first sortie which was to be flown just 22 hours later. The belligerent attitude of usually helpful allies necessitated that JP 7 fuel and tanker crews be re-positioned from Mildenhall and Turkey to Zargoza in Spain and emergency landing sites were proving all but impossible to find. Nevertheless, Jim Shelton cranked ’979’s engines on cue and lifted off from Griffiss and headed east at 0200hrs. Just off the east coast he made good the first of many ARCP’s (Air Refuelling Contact Points), he topped-off and continued east to the

Operations from the USA

next cell of tankers awaiting the thirsty Habu just beyond the Azores. Returning again to speed and altitude they made a high-Mach dash through the Straits of Gibraltar and let-down for a third air refuelling just east of the heel of Italy. Due to its proximity to the war zone and Libya, the US Navy provided a CAP (Combat Air Patrol), from carrier-based aircraft on station in the Mediterranean. They then climbed and accelerated to coast-in over Port Said. Gary Coleman, the RSO: “There was no indication that anything launched against us, but everyone was painting us on their radars as we made our turn inbound. The DEF panel lit up like a pin-ball machine and I said to Jim, ‘this should be interesting.’”

In all ‘979 spent 25 minutes over ‘denied territory’. Entering Egyptian airspace at 1103 GMT, they covered the Israeli battle fronts with both Egypt and Syria before coasting out and letting down towards their fourth ARCP, which was still being capped by the US Navy. Their next hot leg was punctuated by a fifth refuelling, again near the Azores, before a final high-speed run across the west­ern Atlantic towards New’ York. Mindful of his own fatigue, Gary was in awe of his pilot who completed a text book sixth air refuelling, before greasing ‘979 back down at Griffiss after a combat sortie lasting ten hours eighteen minutes (more than five hours of which was at Mach 3 or above) and involving eleven tanking operations from the ever dependable KC-135Qs Their reconnais­sance ‘take’ was of high quality and provided intelligence and defense analysts with much needed information concerning the deposition of Arab forces in the region, which was then made available to the Israelis.

Operations from the USA

Aircraft ‘979 paid a second successful visit to the Yom Kippur war zone on 25 October, this time being crewed by Majs Al Joerz and John Fuller. A third mission was chalked up by the same aircraft eight days later. Majs Jim Wilson and Bruce Douglas took’ 964 on its first sortie to the Mediterranean on 11 November. The ten hour 49-

Подпись:minute flight departed Griffiss and terminated as planned at Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina, where the detachment had migrated to avoid the New York winter weather.

Despite hostilities between the factions officially ending with a Soviet-backed motion in the United Nations on 24 October, fierce fire-fighting continue to break out at regu­lar intervals and it was to cover disengagement that the SR-71’s monitoring system continued to be called upon, with five further marathon flights being flown from Seymour Johnson AFB.

In total, these nine flights represent a pinnacle of oper­ational professionalism and serve as a tribute, not only to the dedication of the aircrews, but also to that of the staff planners, tanker crews and of course the unsung heroes, that small group of top ground technicians who main­tained the SR-71s away from home. The sorties also stand as a testament to the long-reach capability of the aircraft and its ability to operate, on short notice, with impunity in a high threat environment.