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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Area 51 Declassified - National Geographic Documentary Video

National Geographic Documentary: Area 51 Declassified (full episode 45minutes)

Video Link...

I Watched this Video and Really Enjoyed it. The Stories are told by men who actually worked at "Area 51", back in the "Cold War" Days. There's some more info from some Research that I did after watching the Video, Below...


Lockheed A-12

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An A-12 aircraft (serial number 06932)
Role High-altitude reconnaissance aircraft
Manufacturer Lockheed Corporation
First flight 26 April 1962
Introduction 1967
Retired 1968
Status Retired
Primary user Central Intelligence Agency
Number built A-12: 13; M-21: 2
Variants Lockheed YF-12
Developed into Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird

The Lockheed A-12 was a reconnaissance aircraft built for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) by Lockheed's famed Skunk Works, based on the designs of Clarence "Kelly" Johnson. The A-12 was produced from 1962 to 1964, and was in operation from 1963 until 1968. The single-seat design, which first flew in April 1962, was the precursor to both the twin-seat U.S. Air Force YF-12 prototype interceptor and the famous SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance aircraft. The aircraft's final mission was flown in May 1968, and the program and aircraft retired in June of that year. Officially secret for over forty years, the CIA began declassifying A-12 program details for release in 2007.[1]


Design and development

With the failure of the CIA's Project Rainbow to reduce the radar cross section of the U-2, preliminary work began inside Lockheed in late 1957 to develop a follow-on aircraft to overfly the Soviet Union. Under Project Gusto the designs were nicknamed "Archangel", after the U-2 program, which had been known as "Angel". As the aircraft designs evolved and configuration changes occurred, the internal Lockheed designation changed from Archangel-1 to Archangel-2, and so on. These nicknames for the evolving designs soon simply became known as "A-1", "A-2", etc.[2]

A-11 design (March 1959)

These designs had reached the A-11 stage when the program was reviewed. The A-11 was competing against a Convair proposal called Kingfish, of roughly similar performance. However, the Kingfish included a number of features that greatly reduced its radar cross section, which was seen as favorable to the board. Lockheed responded with a simple update of the A-11, adding twin canted fins instead of a single right-angle one, and adding a number of areas of non-metallic materials. This became the A-12 design. On 26 January 1960, the CIA ordered 12 A-12 aircraft.[citation needed] After selection by the CIA, further design and production of the A-12 took place under the code-name Oxcart.

A-12 during radar testing at Area 51 – mounted inverted.

After development and production at the Skunk Works, in Burbank, California, the first A-12 was transferred to Groom Lake test facility,[3] where on 26 April 1962, Lockheed test pilot Lou Schalk took the A-12 on its shakedown flight. Many internal documents and references to individual aircraft used Johnson's preferred designation, using the prefix, "the Article" for the specific examples. Thus on the A-12's first flight, the subject aircraft was identified as "Article 121". The first official flight occurred on 30 April.[4] On its first supersonic flight, in early May 1962, the A-12 reached speeds of Mach 1.1.[citation needed]

The first five A-12s, in 1962, were initially flown with Pratt & Whitney J75 engines capable of 17,000 lbf (76 kN) thrust each, enabling the J75-equipped A-12s to obtain speeds of approximately Mach 2.0. On 5 October 1962, with the newly developed J58 engines, the A-12 flew with one J75 engine, and one J58 engine. By early 1963, the A-12 was flying with J58 engines, and during 1963 these J58-equipped A-12s obtained speeds of Mach 3.2. Also, in 1963, the program experienced its first loss when, on 24 May, "Article 123"[5] piloted by Kenneth S. Collins crashed near Wendover, Utah.[citation needed]

The reaction to the crash illustrated the secrecy over, and importance of, the project. The CIA called the aircraft an F-105 as a cover story;[6] local law enforcement and a passing family were warned with "dire consequences" to keep quiet about the crash.[5] Each was also paid $25,000 in cash ($189,783 today[7]) to do so; the project often used such cash payments to avoid outside enquiries into its operations.[5] The project received ample funding; contracted security guards were paid $1,000 monthly ($7,591 today[7]) with free housing on base, and chefs from Las Vegas were available 24 hours a day for steak, Maine lobster, or other requests.[5]

In June 1964, the last A-12 was delivered to Groom Lake,[8] from where the fleet made a total of 2,850 test flights.[6] A total of 18 aircraft were built through the program's production run. Of these, 13 were A-12s, three were prototype YF-12A interceptors for the U.S. Air Force (not funded under the OXCART program), and two were M-21 reconnaissance drone carriers. One of the 13 A-12s was a dedicated trainer aircraft with a second seat, located behind the pilot and raised to permit the Instructor Pilot to see forward. The A-12 trainer "Titanium Goose", retained the J75 powerplants for its entire service life.[9]

Operational history

A-12 pilots and managers: (L to R) Ronald J. “Jack” Layton, Dennis B. Sullivan, Mele Vojvodich Jr, Barrett, Jack W. Weeks, Kenneth B. Collins, Ray, Brig Gen Ledford, Skliar, Perkins, Holbury, Kelly, and squadron commander Col Slater

Although originally designed to succeed the U-2 in overflights over the Soviet Union and Cuba, the A-12 was never used for either role. After a U-2 was shot down in May 1960, the Soviet Union was considered too dangerous to overfly except in an emergency (and overflights were no longer necessary[10] due to reconnaissance satellites) and, although crews trained for the role of flying over Cuba, U-2s continued to be adequate there.[11]

The Director of the C.I.A. decided to deploy some A-12s to Asia. The first A-12 arrived at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa on 22 May 1967. With the arrival of two more planes (on 24 May, and 27 May) this unit was declared to be operational on 30 May, and it began Operation Black Shield on 31 May.[12] Mel Vojvodich flew the first Black Shield operation, over North Vietnam, photographing surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites, flying at 80,000 ft (24,000 m), and at about Mach 3.1. During 1967 from the Kadena Air Base, the A-12s carried out 22 sorties in support of the War in Vietnam. Then during 1968, Black Shield conducted operations in Vietnam and it also carried out sorties during the Pueblo Crisis with North Korea.

During its deployment on Okinawa, the A-12s (and later the SR-71) and by extension their pilots, were nicknamed Habu after a cobra-like Okinawan pit viper that the local people thought the plane resembled.[citation needed]


A-12s in storage
Head-on view of an A-12 on the deck of the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, illustrating the chines

The A-12 program was ended on 28 December 1966[13] — even before Black Shield began in 1967 — due to budget concerns[14] and because of the forthcoming twin-seated SR-71 that began to arrive at Kadena during March 1968.

Ronald L. Layton flew the 29th and final A-12 mission on 8 May 1968, over North Korea. On 4 June 1968, just 2½ weeks before the retirement of the entire A-12 fleet, an A-12 out of Kadena, piloted by Jack Weeks, was lost over the Pacific Ocean near the Philippines while conducting a functional check flight after the replacement of one of its engines.[14][15] Francis J. Murray took the final A-12 flight on 21 June 1968, to Palmdale, California.[citation needed]

On 26 June 1968, Vice Admiral Rufus L. Taylor, the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, presented the CIA Intelligence Star for valor to Weeks' widow and pilots Collins, Layton, Murray, Vojvodich, and Dennis B. Sullivan for participation in Black Shield.[14][16][17]

The deployed A-12s and the eight non-deployed aircraft were placed in storage at Palmdale. All surviving aircraft remained there for nearly 20 years before being sent to museums around the United States. On 20 January 2007, despite protests by Minnesota's legislature and volunteers who had maintained it in display condition, the A-12 preserved in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was dismantled to ship to CIA Headquarters to be displayed there.[18]


The following timeline describes the overlap of the development and operation of the A-12, and the evolution of its successor, the SR-71.

  • 16 August 1956: Following Soviet protest of U-2 overflights, Richard M. Bissell, Jr. conducts the first meeting on reducing the radar cross section of the U-2. This evolves into Project Rainbow.
  • December 1957: Lockheed begins designing subsonic stealthy aircraft under what will become Project Gusto.
  • 24 December 1957: First J-58 engine run.
  • 21 April 1958: Kelly Johnson makes first notes on a Mach 3 aircraft, initially called the U-3, but eventually evolving into Archangel I.
  • November 1958: The Land panel provisionally selects Convair Fish (B-58-launched parasite) over Lockheed's A-3.
  • June 1959: The Land panel provisionally selects Lockheed A-11 over Convair Fish. Both companies instructed to re-design their aircraft.
  • 14 September 1959: CIA awards antiradar study, aerodynamic structural tests, and engineering designs, selecting Lockheed's A-12 over rival Convair's Kingfish. Project Oxcart established.
  • 26 January 1960: CIA orders 12 A-12 aircraft.
  • 1 May 1960: Francis Gary Powers is shot down in a U-2 over the Soviet Union.
  • 26 April 1962: First flight of A-12 with Lockheed test pilot Louis Schalk at Groom Lake.
  • 13 June 1962: SR-71 mock-up reviewed by USAF.
  • 30 July 1962: J58 engine completes pre-flight testing.
  • October 1962: A-12s first flown with J58 engines
  • 28 December 1962: Lockheed signs contract to build six SR-71 aircraft.
  • January 1963: A-12 fleet operating with J58 engines
  • 24 May 1963: Loss of first A-12 (#60–6926)
  • 20 July 1963: First mach 3 flight
  • 7 August 1963: First flight of the YF-12A with Lockheed test pilot James Eastham at Groom Lake.
  • June 1964: Last production A-12 delivered to Groom Lake.
  • 25 July 1964: President Johnson makes public announcement of SR-71.
  • 29 October 1964: SR-71 prototype (#61-7950) delivered to Palmdale.
  • 22 December 1964: First flight of the SR-71 with Lockheed test pilot Bob Gilliland at AF Plant #42. First mated flight of the MD-21 with Lockheed test pilot Bill Park at Groom Lake.
  • 28 December 1966: Decision to terminate A-12 program by June 1968.
  • 31 May 1967: A-12s conduct Black Shield operations out of Kadena
  • 3 November 1967: A-12 and SR-71 conduct a reconnaissance fly-off. Results were questionable.
  • 26 January 1968: North Korea A-12 overflight by Jack Weeks photo-locates the captured USS Pueblo in Changjahwan Bay harbor.[19]
  • 5 February 1968: Lockheed ordered to destroy A-12, YF-12 and SR-71 tooling.
  • 8 March 1968: First SR-71A (#61-7978) arrives at Kadena AB (OL 8) to replace A-12s.
  • 21 March 1968: First SR-71 (#61-7976) operational mission flown from Kadena AB over Vietnam.
  • 8 May 1968: Jack Layton flies last operational A-12 sortie, over North Korea.
  • 5 June 1968: Loss of last A-12 (#60–6932)
  • 21 June 1968: Final A-12 flight to Palmdale, California.

For the continuation of the Oxcart timeline, covering the duration of operational life for the SR-71, see SR-71 timeline.


Training variant

The only two-seat trainer A-12 built was nicknamed "Titanium Goose". It is on display at the California Science Center.

The A-12 training variant (60-692 "Titanium Goose") was a two-seat model with two cockpits in tandem with the rear cockpit raised and slightly offset. In case of emergency, the trainer was designed to allow the flight instructor to take control. Other than the modifications required to accommodate the dual controls and new cockpit configuration, the trainer was very similar to A-12 in terms of appearance and performance.[citation needed]


The YF-12 program was a limited production variant of the A-12. Lockheed convinced the U.S. Air Force that an aircraft based on the A-12 would provide a less costly alternative to the recently canceled North American Aviation XF-108, since much of the design and development work on the YF-12 had already been done and paid for. Thus, in 1960 the Air Force agreed to take the seventh through ninth slots on the A-12 production line and have them completed in the YF-12A interceptor configuration.[20]

The main changes involved modifying the aircraft's nose to accommodate the Hughes AN/ASG-18 fire-control radar originally developed for the XF-108, and the addition of a second cockpit for a crew member to operate the fire control radar. The nose modifications changed the aircraft's aerodynamics enough to require ventral fins to be mounted under the fuselage and engine nacelles to maintain stability. Finally, bays previously used to house the A-12's reconnaissance equipment were converted to carry missiles.[citation needed]


M-21 carrying D-21 in flight

One notable variant of the basic A-12 design was the M-21, used to carry and launch the Lockheed D-21, an unmanned, faster and higher-flying reconnaissance drone. The M-21 was a modified version of the A-12 with a second cockpit for a Launch Control Operator/Officer (LCO) in the place of the A-12's Q bay; the M-21 also included a pylon on its back for mounting the drone.[21] The D-21 was completely autonomous; after being launched it would overfly the target, travel to a predetermined rendezvous point and eject its data package. The package would be recovered in midair by a C-130 Hercules and the drone would self-destruct.[22]

The program to develop this system was canceled in 1966 after a drone collided with the mother ship at launch, destroying the M-21. The crew survived the midair collision but the LCO drowned when he landed in the ocean and his flight suit filled with water.[23] The modified D-21B drone was carried on a pylon under the wing of the B-52 bomber. The drone performed operational missions over China from 1969 to 1971.[24]

A-12 aircraft production and disposition

List of A-12s
Serial number Model Location or fate
60-6924 A-12 Air Force Flight Test Center Museum Annex, Blackbird Airpark, at Plant 42, Palmdale, California. 606924 was the first A-12 to fly.
60-6925 A-12 Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, parked on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid, New York City
60-6926 A-12 Lost, 24 May 1963
60-6927 A-12 California Science Center in Los Angeles, California (Two-canopied trainer model, "Titanium Goose")
60-6928 A-12 Lost, 5 January 1967
60-6929 A-12 Lost, 28 December 1967
60-6930 A-12 U.S. Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, Alabama
60-6931 A-12 CIA Headquarters, Langley, Virginia[N 1]
60-6932 A-12 Lost, 4 June 1968
60-6933 A-12 San Diego Aerospace Museum, Balboa Park, San Diego, California
60-6937 A-12 Southern Museum of Flight, Birmingham, Alabama
60-6938 A-12 Battleship Memorial Park (USS Alabama), Mobile, Alabama
60-6939 A-12 Lost, 9 July 1964
60-6940 M-21 Museum of Flight, Seattle, Washington
60-6941 M-21 Lost, 30 July 1966

Specifications (A-12)

Data from A-12 Utility Flight Manual,[25] Pace[26]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1 (2 for trainer variant)
  • Length: 101.6 ft (30.97 m)
  • Wingspan: 55.62 ft (16.95 m)
  • Height: 18.45 ft (5.62 m)
  • Wing area: 1,795 ft² (170 m²)
  • Empty weight: 54,600 lb (24,800 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 124,600 lb (56,500 kg)
  • Powerplant: 2 × Pratt & Whitney J58-1 continuous bleed-afterburning turbojets, 32,500 lbf (144 kN) each
  • Payload: 2,500 lb (1,100 kg) of reconnaissance sensors


See also

Related development
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
Related lists


  1. ^ "Article 128", unveiled on Wednesday, 19 September 2007, at CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virgina. On hand was Ken Collins, a retired Air Force Colonel, one of only six pilots to fly the A-12s.
  1. ^ Jacobsen, Annie (5 April 2009). "The Road to Area 51". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 10 September 2011.
  2. ^ "The U-2's Intended Successor: Project Oxcart 1956–1968". Central Intelligence Agency, approved for release by the CIA in October 1994. Retrieved: 26 January 2007.
  3. ^ Jacobson 2011, p. 51.
  4. ^ "A-12 First Flight." Lockheed Martin. Retrieved: 13 October 2010.
  5. ^ a b c d Lacitis, Erik. "Area 51 vets break silence: Sorry, but no space aliens or UFOs." The Seattle Times, 27 March 2010.
  6. ^ a b Jacobsen, Annie. "The Road to Area 51." Los Angeles Times, 5 April 2009.
  7. ^ a b Staff. Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–2012. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved February 22, 2012.
  8. ^ "SR-71 Blackbird." Lockheed Martin. Retrieved: 13 October 2010.
  9. ^ Landis and Jenkins 2005, p. 16.
  10. ^ McIninch 1996, p. 19.
  11. ^ McIninch 1996, p. 20.
  12. ^ McIninch 1996, pp. 25–27.
  13. ^ McIninch 1996, p. 31.
  14. ^ a b c Robarge, David. "A Futile Fight for Survival. Archangel: CIA's Supersonic A-12 Reconnaissance Aircraft." U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Center for the Study of Intelligence, CSI Publications, 27 June 2007. Retrieved: 13 April 2009.
  15. ^ McIninch 1996, p. 33.
  16. ^ McIninch 1996, p. 34.
  17. ^ Hayden, General Michael V. "General Hayden's Remarks at A-12 Presentation Ceremony." Central Intelligence Agency, Remarks of Director of the Central Intelligence Agency at the A-12 Presentation Ceremony, 19 September 2007. Retrieved: 10 April 2009.
  18. ^ Karp, Jonathan. "Stealthy Maneuver: The CIA Captures An A-12 Blackbird". The Wall Street Journal, A1, 26 January 2007. Retrieved: 10 April 2009.
  19. ^ Jacobson 2011, p. 273.
  20. ^ Landis and Jenkins 2005, pp. 40–41.
  21. ^ Landis and Jenkins 2005, pp. 22–24.
  22. ^ Donald 2003, pp. 154–155.
  23. ^ "MD-21 crash footage." YouTube. Retrieved: 13 October 2010.
  24. ^ Donald 2003, pp. 155–156.
  25. ^ "A-12 Utility Flight Manual (Copy 15, Version 15 September 1968)." CIA, 15 June 1968. Retrieved: 5 April 2010.
  26. ^ Pace 2004, pp. 105, 110.
  • Donald, David, ed. "Lockheed's Blackbirds: A-12, YF-12 and SR-71". Black Jets. Norwalk, Connecticut: AIRtime, 2003. ISBN 1-880588-67-6.
  • Jacobson, Annie.Area 51. London: Orion Publishing, 2011. ISBN 978-1-4091-4113-6.
  • Landis, Tony R. and Dennis R. Jenkins. Lockheed Blackbirds. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Specialty Press, revised edition, 2005. ISBN 1-58007-086-8.
  • McIninch, Thomas. "The Oxcart Story." Center for the Study of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, 2 July 1996. Retrieved: 10 April 2009.
  • Pace, Steve. Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. Swindon, UK: The Crowood Press, 2004. ISBN 1-86126-697-9.
Additional sources
  • Graham, Richard H. SR-71 Revealed: The Inside Story. St. Paul, Minnesota: MBI Publishing Company, 1996. ISBN 978-0-7603-0122-7.
  • Jenkins, Dennis R. Lockheed Secret Projects: Inside the Skunk Works. St. Paul, Minnesota: MBI Publishing Company, 2001. ISBN 978-0-7603-0914-8.
  • Johnson, C.L. Kelly: More Than My Share of it All. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 1985. ISBN 0-87474-491-1.
  • Lovick, Edward, Jr. Radar Man: A Personal History of Stealth. Bloomington, Indiana: iUniverse, 2010. ISBN 978-1-4502-4802-0.
  • Merlin, Peter W. From Archangel to Senior Crown: Design and Development of the Blackbird (Library of Flight Series). Reston, Virginia: American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), 2008. ISBN 978-1-56347-933-5.
  • Pedlow, Gregory W. and Donald E. Welzenbach. The Central Intelligence Agency and Overhead Reconnaissance: The U-2 and OXCART Programs, 1954–1974. Washington, D.C.: Central Intelligence Agency, 1992. ISBN 0-7881-8326-5.
  • Rich, Ben R. and Leo Janos. Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My years at Lockheed. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1994. ISBN 0-316-7433.
  • Shul, Brian and Sheila Kathleen O'Grady. Sled Driver: Flying the World's Fastest Jet. Marysville, California: Gallery One, 1994. ISBN 0-929823-08-7.
  • Suhler, Paul A. From RAINBOW to GUSTO: Stealth and the Design of the Lockheed Blackbird (Library of Flight Series). Reston, Virginia: American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), 2009. ISBN 978-1-60086-712-5.

External links

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Lockheed YF-12

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
YF-12A undergoing flight testing.
Role Interceptor aircraft
Manufacturer Lockheed Corporation
Designer Clarence "Kelly" Johnson
First flight 7 August 1963
Status Canceled
Primary user United States Air Force
Number built 3
Unit cost US$15–18 million (projected)[1]
Developed from Lockheed A-12

The Lockheed YF-12 was an American prototype interceptor aircraft, which the United States Air Force evaluated as a development of the highly-secret Lockheed A-12 that also spawned the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.


Design and development

In the late 1950s the United States Air Force (USAF) sought a replacement for its F-106 Delta Dart interceptor. As part of the Long Range Interceptor Experimental (LRI,X) program, the North American XF-108 Rapier, an interceptor with Mach 3 speed, was selected. However, the F-108 program was canceled by the Department of Defense in September 1959.[2] During this time Lockheed's Skunk Works was developing the A-12 reconnaissance aircraft for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) under the Oxcart program. Kelly Johnson, the head of Skunk Works, proposed to build a version of the A-12 named AF-12 by the company; the USAF ordered three AF-12s in mid-1960.[3]

The AF-12s took the seventh through ninth slots on the A-12 assembly line; these were designated as YF-12A interceptors.[4] The main changes involved modifying the A-12's nose to accommodate the Hughes AN/ASG-18 fire-control radar originally developed for the XF-108, and the addition of the second cockpit for a crew member to operate the fire control radar for the air-to-air missile system. The modifications changed the aircraft's aerodynamics enough to require ventral fins to be mounted under the fuselage and engine nacelles to maintain stability. The four bays previously used to house the A-12's reconnaissance equipment were converted to carry Hughes AIM-47 Falcon (GAR-9) missiles.[5] One bay was used for fire control equipment.[6]

The first YF-12A flew on 7 August 1963.[5] President Lyndon B. Johnson announced the existence of the aircraft[7][8] on 24 February 1964.[9][10] The YF-12A was announced in part to continue hiding the A-12, its still-secret ancestor; any sightings of CIA/Air Force A-12s based at Area 51 in Nevada could be attributed to the well-publicized Air Force YF-12As based at Edwards Air Force Base in California.[8]

On 14 May 1965 the Air Force placed a production order for 93 F-12Bs for its Air Defense Command (ADC).[11] However, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara would not release the funding for three consecutive years due to Vietnam War costs.[11] Updated intelligence placed a lower priority on defense of the continental US, so the F-12B was deemed no longer needed. Then in January 1968, the F-12B program was officially ended.[12]

Operational history

Air Force testing


During flight tests the YF-12As set a speed record of 2,070.101 mph (3,331.505 km/h) and altitude record of 80,257.86 ft (24,462.6 m), both on 1 May 1965,[9] and demonstrated promising results with their unique weapon system. Six successful firings of the AIM-47 missiles were completed. The last one launched from the YF-12 at Mach 3.2 at an altitude of 74,000 ft (22,677 m) to a JQB-47E target drone 500 ft (152 m) off the ground.[13] One of the Air Force test pilots, Jim Irwin would go on to become a NASA astronaut and walk on the Moon.

The program was abandoned following the cancellation of the production F-12B, but the YF-12s continued flying for many years with the USAF and with NASA as research aircraft.

NASA testing

Lockheed YF-12A 60-6934 in Air Defense Command markings 1963. The only YF-12A in ADC markings. It was damaged beyond repair by fire during a landing mishap at Edwards AFB on 14 August 1966; its rear half was salvaged and combined with the front half of a Lockheed static test airframe to create the only SR-71C 64-17981.

The initial phase of this program included test objectives aimed at answering some questions about implementation of the B-1. Air Force objectives included exploration of its use in a tactical environment, and how AWACS would control supersonic aircraft. The Air Force portion was budgeted at US$4 million. The NASA tests would answer questions such as how engine inlet performance affected airframe and propulsion interaction, boundary layer noise, heat transfer under high Mach conditions, and altitude hold at supersonic speeds. The NASA budget for the 2.5-year program was US$14 million.[14]

Of the three YF-12As, #60-6934 was damaged beyond repair by fire at Edwards during a landing mishap on 14 August 1966; its rear half was salvaged and combined with the front half of a Lockheed static test airframe to create the only SR-71C.[15][16]

YF-12A #60-6936 was lost on 24 June 1971 due to an in-flight fire caused by a failed fuel line; both pilots ejected safely just north of Edwards AFB. YF-12A #60-06935 is the only surviving YF-12A; it was recalled from storage in 1969 for a joint USAF/NASA investigation of supersonic cruise technology, and then flown to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio on 17 November 1979.[9]

A fourth YF-12 aircraft, the "YF-12C", was actually the second SR-71A (61–7951). This SR-71A was re-designated as a YF-12C and given a fictitious serial number 60-6937 from an A-12 to maintain SR-71 secrecy. The YF-12C was loaned to NASA for propulsion testing after the loss of YF-12A (60–6936) in 1971. The YF-12C was operated by NASA until September 1978, when it was returned to the Air Force.[17]

The YF-12 had a real-field sonic-boom overpressure value between 33.5 to 52.7 N/m2 (0.7 to 1.1 lb/ft2) - below 48 was considered "low".[18]


Pre-production version. Three were built.[19]
Production version of the YF-12A; canceled before production could begin.[20]
Fictitious designation for an SR-71 provided to NASA for flight testing. The YF-12 designation to keep SR-71 information out of the public domain.[21]


 United States

Specifications (YF-12A)

Data from Lockheed's SR-71 'Blackbird' Family[22]

General characteristics




  • Hughes AN/ASG-18 look-down/shoot-down fire control radar

Aircraft disposition

YF-12A #60-06935 in the National Museum of the USAF
List of YF-12s
Serial number Model Location or fate
60-6934 YF-12A Transformed into SR-71C 61-7981 after fire damage in 1966,
on display at Hill Aerospace Museum, Hill AFB, UT
60-6935 YF-12A National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, OH
60-6936 YF-12A Lost, 24 June 1971

The sole remaining YF-12A is located at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio.[9] This aircraft has small patches in its skin, on the starboard side below the cockpit. The patches cover holes caused by the "spurs" of a crewman who had to evacuate the plane after an emergency landing. The "YF-12C" (actually SR-71A, serial 61-7951) is on display at the Pima Air Museum in Tucson, AZ as of 2005.[17]

See also

Related development
Related lists


  1. ^ Knaack, 1978.
  2. ^ Pace 2004, pp. 45–46.
  3. ^ Pace 2004, pp. 46–47.
  4. ^ Landis and Jenkins 2005, pp. 40–41.
  5. ^ a b c d Green and Swanborough, 1988, p. 350.
  6. ^ Hughes AIM-47 Falcon
  7. ^ Johnson's speech named the plane A-11, the name for the two-seat design.
  8. ^ a b McIninch 1996, p. 15.
  9. ^ a b c d Air Force Museum Foundation, 1983, p. 133.
  10. ^ McIninch 1996, p. 14.
  11. ^ a b Pace 2004, p. 53.
  12. ^ Donald 2003, pp. 148, 150.
  13. ^ Landis and Jenkins 2005, p. 44.
  14. ^ Drendel 1982, p. 6.
  15. ^ Landis and Jenkins 2005, pp. 62, 75.
  16. ^ Pace 2004, pp. 109–110.
  17. ^ a b Landis and Jenkins 2005, pp. 49–55.
  18. ^ Dugan, James F. Jr. Preliminary study of supersonic-transport configurations with low values of sonic boom p18. NASA Lewis Research Center, March 1973. Accessed: March 2012.
  19. ^ Landis and Jenkins 2005, p. 40.
  20. ^ Landis and Jenkins 2005, p. 46.
  21. ^ Landis and Jenkins 2005, pp. 49–50.
  22. ^ Goodall and Miller, 2002.
  • Air Force Museum Foundation Inc. US Air Force Museum. Dayton, Ohio: Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, 1983.
  • Donald, David, ed. "Lockheed's Blackbirds: A-12, YF-12 and SR-71". Black Jets. AIRtime, 2003. ISBN 1-880588-67-6.
  • Drendel, Lou. SR-71 Blackbird in Action. Carrollton, Texas: Squadron/Signal Publications, 1982, ISBN 0-89747-136-9.
  • Goodall, James and Jay Miller. Lockheed's SR-71 'Blackbird' Family. Hinchley, England: Midland Publishing, 2002. ISBN 1-85780-138-5.
  • Green, William and Gordon Swanborough. The Complete Book of Fighters. New York: Barnes & Noble Inc., 1988. ISBN 0-7607-0904-1.
  • Jenkins, Dennis R. Lockheed Secret Projects: Inside the Skunk Works. St. Paul, Minnesota: MBI Publishing Company, 2001. ISBN 978-0-7603-0914-8.
  • Jenkins, Dennis R. and Tony R. Landis. Experimental & Prototype U.S. Air Force Jet Fighters. Minnesota, US:Specialty Press, 2008. ISBN 978-1-58007-111-6.
  • Knaack, Marcelle Size. Encyclopedia of US Air Force Aircraft and Missile Systems: Volume 1 Post-World War II Fighters 1945–1973. Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History, 1978. ISBN 0-912799-59-5.
  • Landis, Tony R. and Dennis R. Jenkins. Lockheed Blackbirds. North Branch, Minnesota: Specialty Press, revised edition, 2005. ISBN 1-58007-086-8.
  • McIninch, Thomas. "THE OXCART STORY". Center for the Study of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, 2 July 1996. Retrieved 10 April 2009.
  • Pace, Steve. Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. Swindon: Crowood Press, 2004. ISBN 1-86126-697-9.

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Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird

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SR-71 "Blackbird"
An SR-71B trainer over the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California in 1994. The raised second cockpit is for the instructor.
Role Strategic reconnaissance aircraft
Manufacturer Lockheed Skunk Works
Designer Clarence "Kelly" Johnson
First flight 22 December 1964
Introduction 1966
Retired 1998
Status Retired
Primary users United States Air Force
Number built 32
Developed from Lockheed A-12

The Lockheed SR-71 "Blackbird" was an advanced, long-range, Mach 3+ strategic reconnaissance aircraft.[1] It was developed as a black project from the Lockheed A-12 reconnaissance aircraft in the 1960s by the Lockheed Skunk Works. Clarence "Kelly" Johnson was responsible for many of the design's innovative concepts. During reconnaissance missions the SR-71 operated at high speeds and altitudes to allow it to outrace threats. If a surface-to-air missile launch was detected, the standard evasive action was simply to accelerate and outrun the missile.[2]

The SR-71 served with the U.S. Air Force from 1964 to 1998. Of the 32 aircraft built, 12 were destroyed in accidents, and none were lost to enemy action.[3][4] The SR-71 has been given several nicknames, including Blackbird and Habu, the latter in reference to an Okinawan species of pit viper.[5] Since 1976, it has held the world record for the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft, a record previously held by the YF-12.[6][7][8]



Lockheed's previous reconnaissance aircraft was the U-2, which was designed for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). In 1960, while overflying the USSR, the U-2 flown by Francis Gary Powers was shot down by Soviet surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). This highlighted the U-2's vulnerability due to its relatively low speed, and paved the way for the Lockheed A-12, also designed for the CIA by Kelly Johnson at Lockheed's Skunk Works.[9] The A-12 was the precursor of the SR-71. The A-12's first flight took place at Groom Lake (Area 51), Nevada, on 25 April 1962. It was equipped with the less powerful Pratt & Whitney J75 engines due to protracted development of the intended Pratt & Whitney J58. The J58s were retrofitted as they became available, and became the standard powerplant for all subsequent aircraft in the series (A-12, YF-12, M-21) as well as the follow-on SR-71 aircraft.

Thirteen A-12s were built. Two A-12 variants were also developed, including three YF-12A interceptor prototypes, and two M-21 drone carrier variants. The cancellation of A-12 program was announced on 28 December 1966,[10] due to budget concerns,[11] and because of the forthcoming SR-71. The A-12 flew missions over Vietnam and North Korea before its retirement in 1968.


Early project logo HABU
"Snake & Nape"

The SR-71 designator is a continuation of the pre-1962 bomber series, which ended with the XB-70 Valkyrie. During the later period of its testing, the B-70 was proposed for a reconnaissance/strike role, with an RS-70 designation. When it was clear that the A-12 performance potential was much greater, the Air Force ordered a variant of the A-12 in December 1962.[12] Originally named R-12[N 1] by Lockheed, the Air Force version was longer and heavier than the A-12, with a longer fuselage to hold more fuel, two seats in the cockpit, and reshaped chines. Reconnaissance equipment included signals intelligence sensors, a side-looking radar and a photo camera.[12] The CIA's A-12 was a better photo reconnaissance platform than the Air Force's R-12, since the A-12 flew somewhat higher and faster,[11] and with only one pilot it had room to carry a superior camera[11] and more instruments.[13]

SR-71 assembly line at Skunk Works

During the 1964 campaign, Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater repeatedly criticized President Lyndon B. Johnson and his administration for falling behind the Soviet Union in developing new weapons. Johnson decided to counter this criticism by revealing the existence of the YF-12A Air Force interceptor, which also served as cover for the still-secret A-12,[14] and the Air Force reconnaissance model since July 1964. Air Force Chief of Staff General Curtis LeMay preferred the SR (Strategic Reconnaissance) designation and wanted the RS-71 to be named SR-71. Before the July speech, LeMay lobbied to modify Johnson's speech to read SR-71 instead of RS-71. The media transcript given to the press at the time still had the earlier RS-71 designation in places, creating the story that the president had misread the aircraft's designation.[15][N 2]

Production of the SR-71 totaled 32 aircraft with 29 SR-71As, 2 SR-71Bs, and the single SR-71C.[16]


The flight instrumentation of SR-71 Blackbird

The SR-71 was designed to minimize its radar cross-section, an early attempt at stealth design.[17]

The high temperatures generated by Mach 3 flight required its airframe to be made mostly of titanium. To control costs, Lockheed used a more easily worked alloy of titanium which softened at a lower temperature.[18]

Finished aircraft were painted a dark blue, almost black, to increase the emission of internal heat and to act as camouflage against the night sky. The dark color led to the aircraft's call sign "Blackbird".

Air inlets

The air inlets had to be designed to allow for cruising at over Mach 3.2, yet keep air flowing into the engines at the initial subsonic speeds. At the front of each inlet was a sharply-pointed movable cone called a "spike" that was locked in its full forward position on the ground and during subsonic flight. As the aircraft accelerated past Mach 1.6, an internal jackscrew withdrew the spike as much as 26 inches (66 cm) inwards;[19] an analogue air inlet computer, based on pitot-static, pitch, roll, yaw, and angle-of-attack inputs, would determine how much movement was required. By moving, the spike tip would withdraw the shock wave, riding on it closer to the inlet cowling until it just touched slightly inside the cowling lip. In this position shock-wave spillage, causing turbulence over the outer nacelle and wing, was minimized while the spike shock-wave repeatedly reflected between the spike centerbody and the inlet inner cowl sides. In doing so, shock pressures were maintained while slowing the air until a Mach 1 shock wave formed in front of the engine compressor.[20]

Operation of the air inlets and air flow patterns through the J58

The backside of this "normal" shock wave was subsonic air for ingestion into the engine compressor. This capture of the Mach 1 shock wave within the inlet was called "Starting the Inlet". Tremendous pressures would be built up inside the inlet and in front of the compressor face. Bleed tubes and bypass doors were designed into the inlet and engine nacelles to handle some of this pressure and to position the final shock to allow the inlet to remain "started". Air that is compressed by the inlet/shockwave interaction is diverted directly into the afterburner to be mixed and burned. This configuration is essentially a ramjet and provides up to 70% of the aircraft's thrust at higher mach numbers.[citation needed] Ben Rich, the Skunkworks designer of the inlets, often referred to the engine compressors as "pumps to keep the inlets alive" and sized the inlets for Mach 3.2 cruise, the aircraft's most efficient speed.[21] The additional thrust refers to the reduction of engine power required to compress the airflow; the SR-71 was more fuel-efficient at higher speeds, in terms of pounds burned per nautical mile traveled. In one incident, SR-71 pilot Brian Shul conducted a mission where he had to maintain a higher than normal speed for some time in order to avoid multiple interception attempts; afterwards it was discovered that this had reduced their fuel consumption.[22]

In the early years of operation, the analog computers would not always keep up with rapidly changing flight environmental inputs. If internal pressures became too great and the spike was incorrectly positioned, the shock wave would suddenly blow out the front of the inlet, called an "Inlet Unstart." During an unstart, air flow through the engine compressor immediately stopped, thrust dropped, and exhaust gas temperatures rose. The remaining engine's asymmetrical thrust would cause the aircraft to yaw violently to one side during an unstart. SAS, autopilot, and manual control inputs would fight the yawing, but often the extreme off-angle would reduce airflow in the opposite engine and stimulate "sympathetic stalls". This generated a rapid counter-yawing, often coupled with loud "banging" noises and a rough ride, crews' helmets would sometimes strike their cockpit canopies until the violent motions subsided.[23] One practiced response to an inlet unstart was a pilot-commanded unstart of both inlets to prevent yawing, prior to the restart of both inlets.[24] Lockheed implemented an electronic control to detect unstart conditions and perform this reset action without pilot intervention.[25] Beginning in 1980, the analog inlet control system was replaced by a digital system, which prevented and reduced unstart instances.[26]


On most aircraft, use of titanium was limited by the costs involved in procurement and manufacture. It was generally used only in components exposed to the highest temperatures, such as exhaust fairings and the leading edges of wings. On the SR-71, titanium was used for 85% of the structure, with the rest of composite materials. As such, the SR-71 was a ground-breaking aircraft, and some of the fabrication methods employed by Lockheed have since been used in the manufacture of many jet fighters and other aircraft. Titanium requires distilled water to be used during welding, because the chlorine in tap water causes corrosion; similarly, the cadmium-plated tools used on other aircraft were also found to cause corrosion, and had to be replaced.[27] Metallurgical contamination was another problem; at one point, it caused the rejection of 80% of the titanium delivered for the project.[28][29]

A Lockheed M-21 with D-21 drone on top

The high temperatures generated during flight required special design and operating techniques. For example, major portions of the skin of the inboard wings were corrugated, not smooth. (Aerodynamicists initially opposed the concept and accused the design engineers of trying to make a Mach-3 variant of the 1920s-era Ford Trimotor, known for its corrugated aluminum skin.[21]) The heat of flight would have caused a smooth skin to split or curl, but the corrugated skin could expand vertically and horizontally. The corrugation also increased longitudinal strength. Similarly, the fuselage panels were manufactured to fit only loosely on the ground. Proper alignment was only achieved when the airframe heated up and expanded several inches. Because of this, and the lack of a fuel sealing system that could handle the thermal expansion of the airframe at extreme temperatures, the aircraft would leak JP-7 jet fuel on the runway. At the beginning of each mission, the aircraft would make a short sprint after takeoff to warm up the airframe, then refuel before heading off to its destination.

Cooling was carried out by cycling fuel behind the titanium surfaces in the chines. On landing, the canopy temperature was over 300 °C (572 °F).[21]

Studies of the aircraft's titanium skin revealed that the metal was actually growing stronger over time, because of intense heating caused by compression of the air at high speeds acting as a regular heat treatment.[citation needed]

The red stripes on some SR-71s are to prevent maintenance workers from damaging the skin. The curved skin near the fuselage's center is thin and delicate; there is no support underneath except for the widely spaced structural ribs.[citation needed] Non-fibrous asbestos with high heat tolerance was used in high-temperature areas.[citation needed]

Stealth and threat avoidance

The SR-71 was the first operational aircraft designed around a stealthy shape and materials. There were a number of features in the SR-71 that were designed to reduce its radar signature. The first studies in radar stealth technology seemed to indicate that a shape with flattened, tapering sides would reflect most radar energy away from the radar beams' place of origin. To this end, engineers suggested the addition of chines and an inward canting of the vertical control surfaces. Special radar-absorbing materials were incorporated into sawtooth shaped sections of the aircraft's skin, as well as cesium-based fuel additives to reduce the visibility of exhaust plumes to radar. However, the SR-71 was still easily detected on radar while traveling at speed due to its large high-temperature exhaust stream. The SR-71 had a radar cross section (RCS) of around 10 square meters,[30] much greater than the later Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk, which had an RCS equivalent in size to a ball bearing.[31]

Rich's team showed that the radar return was reduced, Kelly Johnson later conceded that Russian radar technology advanced faster than the "anti-radar" technology employed against it.[32] Although equipped with a suite of electronic countermeasures, the SR-71's greatest protection was its top speed, making it almost invulnerable to the era's weapons technologies. In its service life, no SR-71 was shot down, despite attempts to do so. It flew too fast and too high for surface-to-air missile systems and was faster than the Soviet Union's principal interceptor, the MiG-25.[33] Accelerating would typically be enough to evade a missile fired against an SR-71.[2]


Head-on view of an A-12 on the deck of the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum.

The SR-71 featured chines, a pair of sharp edges leading aft from either side of the nose along the fuselage. These were not a feature on the early A-3 design; Dr. Frank Rodgers, of the Scientific Engineering Institute (a CIA front company), had discovered that a cross-section of a sphere had a greatly reduced radar reflection, and adapted a cylindrical-shaped fuselage by stretching out the sides of the fuselage.[34] After the advisory panel provisionally selected Convair's FISH design over the A-3 on the basis of RCS, Lockheed adopted chines for its A-4 through A-6 designs.[35] When the Blackbird was being designed, no other airplane had featured chines, and Lockheed's engineers had to solve problems related to the differences in stability and balance caused by these unusual surfaces.[citation needed] Chines remain an important design feature of many of the newest stealth UAVs, such as the Dark Star, Bird of Prey, X-45 and X-47, since they allow for tail-less stability as well as for stealth.[citation needed]

Aerodynamicists discovered that the chines generated powerful vortices and created additional lift, leading to unexpected aerodynamic performance improvements.[36] The angle of incidence of the delta wings could then be reduced for greater stability and less drag at high speeds; more weight, such as fuel, could be carried to increase range. Landing speeds were also reduced, since the chines' vortices created turbulent flow over the wings at high angles of attack, making it harder for the wings to stall. High-alpha turns were limited by the capability of the engine inlets to ingest air, possibly resulting in flame out.[37] Pilots were thus warned not to pull more than 3 g and to avoid high angles of attack. The chines also acted like the leading edge extensions that increase the agility of modern fighters such as the F-5, F-16, F/A-18, MiG-29 and Su-27. The addition of chines also enabled the removal of the planned canard foreplanes.[N 3][38][39]


Water vapor is condensed by the low-pressure vortices generated by the chines outboard of each engine inlet.

Several exotic fuels were investigated for the Blackbird. Development began on a coal slurry powerplant, but Johnson determined that the coal particles damaged important engine components.[21] Research was conducted on a liquid hydrogen powerplant, however the tanks for storing cryogenic hydrogen were not of a suitable size or shape.[21] In practice, the Blackbird would burn somewhat conventional JP-7 jet fuel, however it was an unusual mixture composed primarily of hydrocarbons, also included alkanes, cycloalkanes, alkylbenzenes, indanes/tetralins, and naphthalenes.[citation needed] Fluorocarbons were present to increase its lubricity, an oxidizing agent to enable it to burn in the engines, and a cesium compound, A-50, to disguise the exhaust's radar signature.[citation needed]

The aircraft was prone to minor fuel leaks while on the ground. While slippery, it was not an urgent fire hazard as JP-7 had a relatively high flash point (140 °F, 60 °C). This also allowed its use as a coolant and hydraulic fluid in the SR-71.[citation needed] JP-7 was extremely difficult to light. To start the engines, triethylborane (TEB), which ignites on contact with air, was injected to produce temperatures high enough to ignite the JP-7. The TEB produced a characteristic green flame that can often be seen during engine ignition.[22] TEB was also used to ignite the afterburners. The aircraft carried 20 fluid ounces (600 ml) of TEB per engine, enough for at least 16 injections.[citation needed]

Life support

SR-71 full pressure flight suit, Hill Aerospace Museum

The cabin could be pressurized to an altitude of 10,000 ft (3,000 m) or 26,000 ft (7,900 m) during flight.[40] Crews flying a low-subsonic flight (such as a ferry mission) could wear standard USAF hard-hat helmets, pressure demand oxygen masks and Nomex flying suits.[citation needed]

But crews flying at 80,000 ft (24,000 m) could not use standard masks, which could not provide enough oxygen above 43,000 ft (13,000 m); moreover, the difference in air pressure between the cockpit and the space inside the mask would make exhalation extremely difficult. Furthermore, an emergency ejection at Mach 3.2 would subject crews to an instant heat rise of about 450 °F (230 °C).

To solve these problems, the David Clark Company produced protective pressurised suits for the A-12, YF-12, M-21 and SR-71 aircraft. Similar suits were used on the Space Shuttle.[citation needed] If a crew member had to bail out at high altitude, his suit's onboard oxygen supply would keep it pressurized. The crew member would freefall, allowing heat to bleed off, until the main parachute was opened at 15,000 ft (4,600 m). To test the suits, crew members would undergo explosive decompression in an altitude chamber at 78,000 ft (24,000 m) or higher while heaters would be turned on to 450 °F (230 °C), gradually decreasing at the expected rate in free-fall.[citation needed]

The cabin itself needed a heavy-duty cooling system, for cruising at Mach 3.2 would heat the aircraft's external surface well beyond 500 °F (260 °C)[41] and the inside of the windshield to 250 °F (120 °C). An air conditioner used a heat exchanger to dump heat from the cockpit into the fuel prior to the combustion.[citation needed]


SR-71 Blackbird engine on display at the Battleship Memorial Park.
Pratt & Whitney J58 engines beneath the SR-71 on display at the Imperial War Museum Duxford.

The Blackbird's Pratt & Whitney J58-P4 engines were innovative marvels that used the most extreme materials of their time. Each J58 could produce 32,500 lbf (145 kN) of static thrust.[42] The only American engines designed to operate continuously on afterburner, the J58 engines were most efficient around Mach 3.2,[43][44] and this was the Blackbird's typical cruising speed.

A unique hybrid, the engine can be thought of as a turbojet inside a ramjet. At lower speeds, the turbojet provided most of the compression and most of the energy from fuel combustion. At higher speeds, the turbojet largely ceased to provide thrust; instead, air was compressed by the shock cones and fuel burned in the afterburner.

In detail, air was initially compressed (and thus also heated) by the shock cones, which generated shock waves that slowed the air down to subsonic speeds relative to the engine. The air then passed through four compressor stages and was split by movable vanes: some of the air entered the compressor fans ("core-flow" air), while the rest of the air went straight to the afterburner (via six bypass tubes). The air traveling through the turbojet was further compressed (and further heated), and then fuel was added to it in the combustion chamber: it then reached the maximum temperature anywhere in the Blackbird, just low enough to keep the turbine blades from softening. After passing through the turbine (and thus being cooled somewhat), the core-flow air went through the afterburner and met with any bypass air.

Around Mach 3, the increased heating from the shock cone compression, plus the heating from the compressor fans, was enough to get the core air to high temperatures, and little fuel could be added in the combustion chamber without melting the turbine blades. This meant the whole compressor-combustor-turbine set-up in the core of the engine provided less power, and the Blackbird flew predominantly on air bypassed straight to the afterburners, forming a large ramjet effect.[21][45][46] The maximum speed was limited by the specific maximum temperature for the compressor inlet of 800 °F (427 °C).

Early 1990s studies of inlets of this type indicated that newer technology could allow for inlet speeds with a lower limit of Mach 6.[47]


AG330 start cart, Hill Aerospace Museum

Originally, the Blackbird's engines started up with the assistance of an external engine referred to as a "start cart". The cart included two Buick Wildcat V8 engines positioned underneath the aircraft. The two engines powered a single, vertical driveshaft connecting to a single J58 engine. Once one engine was started, the cart was wheeled to the other side of the aircraft to start the other engine. The operation was deafening. Later, big-block Chevrolet engines were used. Eventually, a quieter, pneumatic start system was developed for use at Blackbird main operating bases, but the start carts remained to support recovery team Blackbird starts at diversion landing sites not equipped to start J-58 engines.[48]

Astro-Inertial Navigation System

Prior to the advent of the Global Positioning System (GPS) for navigation, the SR-71 required a precision navigation system for maintaining route accuracy and target tracking at very high speeds. Inertial navigation systems had been employed by the U-2 and A-12, but USAF planners wanted a system not vulnerable to inertial position error accumulation that would limit mission lengths.[citation needed] An astro-inertial navigation system (ANS) was devised that could correct inertial orientation errors with celestial observations. Nortronics, Northrop's electronics development organization, had in the mid-1950s developed an ANS for the SM-62 Snark missile and a separate system for the AGM-48 Skybolt missile. Following Skybolt's cancellation in December 1962, work began on adapting this system for the SR-71's use.[citation needed]

The ANS was located behind the Reconnaissance Systems Officer (RSO)'s position, tracking stars through a circular window set in the upper fuselage.[22] A time-consuming primary alignment was performed on the ground to bring the inertial components to a high degree of accuracy prior to takeoff. In flight, a "blue light" source star tracker, able to see stars during day and night time, would continuously track a variety of stars as the aircraft's changing position brought them into view. The system's digital computer ephemeris contained data on 56 (later 61) stars.[49] The ANS could supply attitude and position inputs to flight controls and other systems, including the Mission Data Recorder, Auto-Nav steering to preset destination points, automatic pointing and control of cameras and sensors, and optical or SLR sighting of fix points loaded into the ANS before takeoff.[50]

Sensors and payloads

The SR-71 Defensive System B

The SR-71 originally included optical/infrared imagery systems; side-looking airborne radar (SLAR); electronic intelligence (ELINT) gathering systems; defensive systems for countering missile and airborne fighters; and recorders for SLAR, ELINT and maintenance data.[citation needed] The SR-71 carried a Fairchild tracking camera and an HRB Singer infrared camera, both of which ran during the entire mission for route documentation, to respond to any accusations of overflight.[citation needed]

Because the SR-71 carried an observer behind the pilot, it could not use the A-12's principal sensor, a single large-focal-length optical camera that sat in the "Q-Bay" behind the cockpit. Instead, camera systems could be located either in the wing chines or the aircraft's interchangeable nose. Wide-area imaging was provided by two of Itek's Operational Objective Cameras (OOCs), which provided stereo imagery across the width of the flight track, or an Itek Optical Bar Camera (OBC), which gave continuous horizon-to horizon coverage. A closer view of the target area was given by the HYCON Technical Objective Camera (TEOC), that could be directed up to 45 degrees left or right of the centerline.[51] Initially, the TEOCs could not match the resolution of the A-12's larger camera, but rapidly-made improvements in both the camera and film improved this performance.[51][52]

Side-looking radar, built by Goodyear Aerospace, could be carried in the removable nose. In later life the radar was replaced by Loral's Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar System (ASARS-1). Both the first SLR and ASARS-1 were ground mapping imaging systems, collecting data either in fixed swaths left or right of centerline or from a spot location for higher resolution.[51] ELINT-gathering systems, called the Electro Magnetic Reconnaissance System (EMR), built by AIL could be carried in the chine bays to analyse electronic signal fields being passed through, and were pre-programmed to identify items of interest.[51][53]

Over its operational life, the Blackbird carried various electronic countermeasures, including warning and active electronic systems built by several ECM companies and called Systems A, A2, A2C, B, C, C2, E, G, H and M. On a given mission, an aircraft would carry several of these frequency/purpose payloads to meet the expected threats.[citation needed] After landing, recording systems and gathered information from the SLR and ELINT systems, and the Maintenance Data Recorder (MDR) were subjected to post-flight ground analysis. In the later years of its operational life, a data-link system could send ASARS-1 and ELINT data from about 2,000 nmi (3,700 km) of track coverage to a suitably equipped ground station.[citation needed]

Operational history

A SR-71 refueling from a KC-135Q Stratotanker during a flight in 1983

The first flight of an SR-71 took place on 22 December 1964, at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California.[54] The first SR-71 to enter service was delivered to the 4200th (later, 9th) Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base, California, in January 1966.[55] The United States Air Force Strategic Air Command had SR-71 Blackbirds in service from 1966 through 1991.

SR-71s first arrived at the 9th SRW's Operating Location (OL-8) at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa on 8 March 1968.[56] These deployments were code named "Glowing Heat", while the program as a whole was code named "Senior Crown". Reconnaissance missions over North Vietnam were code named "Giant Scale".

On 21 March 1968, Major (later General) Jerome F. O'Malley and Major Edward D. Payne flew the first operational SR-71 sortie in SR-71 serial number 61-7976 from Kadena AB, Okinawa.[56] During its career, this aircraft (976) accumulated 2,981 flying hours and flew 942 total sorties (more than any other SR-71), including 257 operational missions, from Beale AFB; Palmdale, California; Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan; and RAF Mildenhall, England. The aircraft was flown to the National Museum of the United States Air Force near Dayton, Ohio in March 1990.

From the beginning of the Blackbird's reconnaissance missions over enemy territory (North Vietnam, Laos, etc.) in 1968, the SR-71s averaged approximately one sortie a week for nearly two years. By 1970, the SR-71s were averaging two sorties per week, and by 1972, they were flying nearly one sortie every day.

While deployed in Okinawa, the SR-71s and their aircrew members gained the nickname Habu (as did the A-12s preceding them) after a pit viper indigenous to Japan, which the Okinawans thought the plane resembled.[5]

Swedish JA 37 Viggen fighter pilots, using the predictable patterns of SR-71 routine flights over the Baltic Sea, managed to lock their radar on the SR-71 on numerous occasions. Despite heavy jamming from the SR-71, target illumination was maintained by feeding target location from ground-based radars to the fire-control computer in the Viggen.[57] The most common site for the lock-on to occur was the thin stretch of international airspace between Öland and Gotland that the SR-71 used on the return flight.[58][59][60]

Operational highlights for the entire Blackbird family (YF-12, A-12, and SR-71) as of about 1990 included:[61]

  • 3,551 Mission Sorties Flown
  • 17,300 Total Sorties Flown
  • 11,008 Mission Flight Hours
  • 53,490 Total Flight Hours
  • 2,752 hours Mach 3 Time (Missions)
  • 11,675 hours Mach 3 Time (Total)

Only one crew member, Jim Zwayer, a Lockheed flight-test reconnaissance and navigation systems specialist, was killed in a flight accident. The rest of the crew members ejected safely or evacuated their aircraft on the ground.

The highly specialized tooling used to manufacture the SR-71 was ordered destroyed in 1968 by then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, per contractual obligations at the end of production.[citation needed] Destroying the tooling killed any chance of there being an F-12B and also limited the SR-71 force to the 32 completed, the final SR-71 order having to be cancelled when the tooling was destroyed.

First retirement

In the 1970s, the SR-71 was placed under closer congressional scrutiny and, with budget concerns, the program was soon under attack. Both Congress and the USAF sought to focus on newer projects like the B-1 Lancer and upgrades to the B-52 Stratofortress, whose replacement was being developed. While the development and construction of reconnaissance satellites was costly, their upkeep was less than that of the nine SR-71s then in service.[citation needed]

The SR-71 had never gathered significant supporters within the Air Force, making it an easy target for cost-conscious politicians. Also, parts were no longer being manufactured for the aircraft, so other airframes had to be cannibalized to keep the fleet airworthy. The aircraft's lack of a datalink (unlike the Lockheed U-2) meant that imagery and radar data could not be used in real time, but had to wait until the aircraft returned to base. The Air Force saw the SR-71 as a bargaining chip which could be sacrificed to ensure the survival of other priorities. A general misunderstanding of the nature of aerial reconnaissance and a lack of knowledge about the SR-71 in particular (due to its secretive development and usage) was used by detractors to discredit the aircraft, with the assurance given that a replacement was under development. In 1988, Congress was convinced to allocate $160,000 to keep six SR-71s (along with a trainer model) in flyable storage that would allow the fleet to become airborne within 60 days. The USAF refused to spend the money. While the SR-71 survived attempts to be retired in 1988, partly due to the unmatched ability to provide high quality coverage of the Kola Peninsula for the US Navy,[62] the decision to retire the SR-71 from active duty came in 1989, with the SR-71 flying its last missions in October that year.[63]

Funds were redirected to the financially troubled B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit programs. Four months after the plane's retirement, General Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr., was told that the expedited reconnaissance which the SR-71 could have provided was unavailable during Operation Desert Storm.[64] However, it was noted by SR-71 supporters that the SR-71B trainer was just coming out of overhaul and that one SR-71 could have been made available in a few weeks, and a second one within two months. Since the aircraft was recently retired, the support infrastructure was in place and qualified crews available. The decision was made by Washington not to bring the aircraft back.[citation needed]


Due to increasing unease about political conditions in the Middle East and North Korea, the U.S. Congress re-examined the SR-71 beginning in 1993.[64] At a hearing of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, Senator J. James Exon asked Admiral Richard C. Macke:

If we have the satellite intelligence that you collectively would like us to have, would that type of system eliminate the need for an SR-71… Or even if we had this blanket up there that you would like in satellites, do we still need an SR-71?

Macke replied,

From the operator's perspective, what I need is something that will not give me just a spot in time but will give me a track of what is happening. When we are trying to find out if the Serbs are taking arms, moving tanks or artillery into Bosnia, we can get a picture of them stacked up on the Serbian side of the bridge. We do not know whether they then went on to move across that bridge. We need the [data] that a tactical, an SR-71, a U-2, or an unmanned vehicle of some sort, will give us, in addition to, not in replacement of, the ability of the satellites to go around and check not only that spot but a lot of other spots around the world for us. It is the integration of strategic and tactical."[65]

Rear Admiral Thomas F. Hall addressed the question of why the SR-71 was retired, saying it was under "the belief that, given the time delay associated with mounting a mission, conducting a reconnaissance, retrieving the data, processing it, and getting it out to a field commander, that you had a problem in timeliness that was not going to meet the tactical requirements on the modern battlefield. And the determination was that if one could take advantage of technology and develop a system that could get that data back real time… that would be able to meet the unique requirements of the tactical commander." Hall stated that "the Advanced Airborne Reconnaissance System, which was going to be an unmanned UAV" would meet the requirements but was not affordable at the time. He said that they were "looking at alternative means of doing [the job of the SR-71]."[65]

Macke told the committee that they were "flying U-2s, RC-135s, [and] other strategic and tactical assets" to collect information in some areas.[65]

Senator Robert Byrd and other Senators complained that the "better than" successor to the SR-71 had yet to be developed at the cost of the "good enough" serviceable aircraft. They maintained that, in a time of constrained military budgets, designing, building, and testing an aircraft with the same capabilities as the SR-71 would be impossible.[61]

Congress' disappointment with the lack of a suitable replacement for the Blackbird was cited concerning whether to continue funding imaging sensors on the U-2. Congressional conferees stated the "experience with the SR-71 serves as a reminder of the pitfalls of failing to keep existing systems up-to-date and capable in the hope of acquiring other capabilities."[61]

It was agreed to add $100 million to the budget to return three SR-71s to service, but it was emphasized that this "would not prejudice support for long-endurance UAVs [such as the Global Hawk]." The funding was later cut to $72.5 million.[61] The Skunk Works was able to return the aircraft to service under budget, coming in at $72 million.[66]

Colonel Jay Murphy (USAF Retired) was made the Program Manager for Lockheed's reactivation plans. Retired Air Force Colonels Don Emmons and Barry MacKean were put under government contract to remake the plane's logistic and support structure. Still-active Air Force pilots and Reconnaissance Systems Officers (RSOs) who had worked with the aircraft were asked to volunteer to fly the reactivated planes. The aircraft was under the command and control of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base and flew out of a renovated hangar at Edwards Air Force Base. Modifications were made to provide a data-link with "near real-time" transmission of the Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar's imagery to sites on the ground.[61]

Second retirement

The reactivation met much resistance: the Air Force had not budgeted for the aircraft, and UAV developers worried that their programs would suffer if money was shifted to support the SR-71s. Also, with the allocation requiring yearly reaffirmation by Congress, long-term planning for the SR-71 was difficult.[61] In 1996, the Air Force claimed that specific funding had not been authorized, and moved to ground the program. Congress reauthorized the funds, but, in October 1997, President Bill Clinton used the line-item veto to cancel the $39 million allocated for the SR-71. In June 1998, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the line-item veto was unconstitutional. All this left the SR-71's status uncertain until September 1998, when the Air Force called for the funds to be redistributed. The plane was permanently retired in 1998. The Air Force quickly disposed of their SR-71s, leaving NASA with the two last flyable Blackbirds until 1999.[67] All other Blackbirds have been moved to museums except for the two SR-71s and a few D-21 drones retained by the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center.[66]

SR-71 timeline

Important dates pulled from many sources.[68][unreliable source?]

  • 24 December 1957: First J58 engine run.
  • 1 May 1960: Francis Gary Powers is shot down in a Lockheed U-2 over the Soviet Union.
  • 13 June 1962: SR-71 mock-up reviewed by Air Force.
  • 30 July 1962: J58 completes pre-flight testing.
  • 28 December 1962: Lockheed signs contract to build six SR-71 aircraft.
  • 25 July 1964: President Johnson makes public announcement of SR-71.
  • 29 October 1964: SR-71 prototype (#61-7950) delivered to Palmdale.
  • 7 December 1964: Beale AFB, CA announced as base for SR-71.
  • 22 December 1964: First flight of the SR-71 with Lockheed test pilot Bob Gilliland at AF Plant #42.
  • 21 July 1967: Jim Watkins and Dave Dempster fly first international sortie in SR-71A #61-7972 when the Astro-Inertial Navigation System (ANS) fails on a training mission and they accidentally fly into Mexican airspace.
  • 3 November 1967: A-12 and SR-71 conduct a reconnaissance fly-off. Results were questionable.
  • 5 February 1968: Lockheed ordered to destroy A-12, YF-12, and SR-71 tooling.
  • 8 March 1968: First SR-71A (#61-7978) arrives at Kadena AB to replace A-12s.
  • 21 March 1968: First SR-71 (#61-7976) operational mission flown from Kadena AB over Vietnam.
  • 29 May 1968: CMSgt Bill Gornik begins the tie-cutting tradition of Habu crews neck-ties.
  • 3 December 1975: First flight of SR-71A #61-7959 in "Big Tail" configuration.
  • 20 April 1976: TDY operations started at RAF Mildenhall in SR-71A #17972.
  • 27–28 July 1976 : SR-71A sets speed and altitude records (Altitude in Horizontal Flight: 85,068.997 ft (25,929.030 m) and Speed Over a Straight Course: 2,193.167 miles per hour (3,529.560 km/h)).
  • August 1980: Honeywell starts conversion of AFICS to DAFICS.
  • 15 January 1982: SR-71B #61-7956 flies its 1,000th sortie.
  • 21 April 1989: #974 was lost due to an engine explosion after taking off from Kadena AB. This was the last Blackbird to be lost, and was the first SR-71 accident in 17 years.[3][4]
  • 22 November 1989: Air Force SR-71 program officially terminated.
  • 21 January 1990: Last SR-71 (#61-7962) left Kadena AB.
  • 26 January 1990: SR-71 is decommissioned at Beale AFB, CA.
  • 6 March 1990: Last SR-71 flight under SENIOR CROWN program, setting four speed records enroute to Smithsonian Institution.
  • 25 July 1991: SR-71B #61-7956/NASA #831 officially delivered to NASA Dryden.
  • October 1991: Marta Bohn-Meyer becomes first female SR-71 crew member.
  • 28 September 1994: Congress votes to allocate $100 million for reactivation of three SR-71s.
  • 26 April 1995: First reactivated SR-71A (#61-7971) makes its first flight after restoration by Lockheed.
  • 28 June 1995: First reactivated SR-71 returns to Air Force as Detachment 2.
  • 28 August 1995: Second reactivated SR-71A (#61-7967) makes first flight after restoration.
  • 2 August 1997: A NASA SR-71 made multiple flybys at the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh air show. It was then supposed to perform a sonic boom at 53,000 feet (16,000 m) after a midair refueling, but a fuel flow problem caused it to divert to Milwaukee. Two weeks later, the pilot's flight path brought him over Oshkosh again, and there was, in fact, a sonic boom.
  • 19 October 1997: The last flight of SR-71B #61-7956 at Edwards AFB Open House.
  • 9 October 1999: The last flight of the SR-71 (#61-7980/NASA 844).
  • September 2002: Final resting places of #956, #971, and #980 are made known.[69]
  • 15 December 2003: SR-71 #972 goes on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.


#61-7958 on display at the Museum of Aviation, Robins AFB, GA

The SR-71 was the world's fastest and highest-flying operational manned aircraft throughout its career. On 28 July 1976, SR-71 serial number 61-7962 broke the world record for its class: an "absolute altitude record" of 85,069 feet (25,929 m).[8][70][71][72] Several aircraft exceeded this altitude in zoom climbs but not in sustained flight.[8] That same day SR-71, serial number 61-7958 set an absolute speed record of 1,905.81 knots (2,193.2 mph; 3,529.6 km/h).[8][72]

The SR-71 also holds the "Speed Over a Recognized Course" record for flying from New York to London distance 3,508 miles (5,646 km), 1,435.587 miles per hour (2,310.353 km/h), and an elapsed time of 1 hour 54 minutes and 56.4 seconds, set on 1 September 1974 while flown by U.S. Air Force Pilot Maj. James V. Sullivan and Maj. Noel F. Widdifield, reconnaissance systems officer (RSO).[73] This equates to an average velocity of about Mach 2.68, including deceleration for in-flight refueling. Peak speeds during this flight were probably closer to the declassified top speed of Mach 3.2+. For comparison, the best commercial Concorde flight time was 2 hours 52 minutes, and the Boeing 747 averages 6 hours 15 minutes.

On 26 April 1971, 61-7968 flown by Majors Thomas B. Estes and Dewain C. Vick flew over 15,000 miles (24,000 km) in 10 hrs. 30 min. This flight was awarded the 1971 Mackay Trophy for the "most meritorious flight of the year" and the 1972 Harmon Trophy for "most outstanding international achievement in the art/science of aeronautics".[74]

Pilot and RSO,
6 March 1990
Last SR-71 Senior Crown flight

When the SR-71 was retired in 1990, one Blackbird was flown from its birthplace at United States Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California, to go on exhibit at what is now the Smithsonian Institution's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. On 6 March 1990, Lt. Col. Raymond "Ed" E. Yielding and Lt. Col. Joseph "Jt" T. Vida piloted SR-71 S/N 61-7972 on its final Senior Crown flight and set four new speed records in the process.

  1. Los Angeles, CA to Washington, D.C., distance 2,299.7 miles (3,701.0 km), average speed 2,144.8 miles per hour (3,451.7 km/h), and an elapsed time of 64 minutes 20 seconds.[73]
  2. West Coast to East Coast, distance 2,404 miles (3,869 km), average speed 2,124.5 miles per hour (3,419.1 km/h), and an elapsed time of 67 minutes 54 seconds.
  3. Kansas City, Missouri to Washington D.C., distance 942 miles (1,516 km), average speed 2,176 miles per hour (3,502 km/h), and an elapsed time of 25 minutes 59 seconds.
  4. St. Louis, Missouri to Cincinnati, Ohio, distance 311.4 miles (501.1 km), average speed 2,189.9 miles per hour (3,524.3 km/h), and an elapsed time of 8 minutes 32 seconds.

These four speed records were accepted by the National Aeronautic Association (NAA), the recognized body for aviation records in the United States.[75] After the Los Angeles–Washington flight, Senator John Glenn addressed the United States Senate, chastening the Department of Defense for not using the SR-71 to its full potential:

Mr. President, the termination of the SR-71 was a grave mistake and could place our nation at a serious disadvantage in the event of a future crisis. Yesterday's historic transcontinental flight was a sad memorial to our short-sighted policy in strategic aerial reconnaissance.

—Senator John Glenn, 7 March 1990[76]


Much speculation exists regarding a replacement for the SR-71, most notably aircraft identified as the Aurora. This is due to limitations of spy satellites, which are governed by the laws of orbital mechanics. It may take up to 24 hours before a satellite is in proper orbit to photograph a particular target, far longer than a reconnaissance plane. Spy planes can provide the most current intelligence information and collect it when lighting conditions are optimum. The fly-over orbit of spy satellites may also be predicted and can allow the enemy to hide assets when they know the satellite is above, a drawback spy planes do not exhibit. These factors have led many to doubt that the US has abandoned the concept of spy planes to complement reconnaissance satellites.[77] Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are also used for much aerial reconnaissance in the 2000s. They have the advantage of being able to overfly hostile territory without putting human pilots at risk.


  • SR-71A was the main production variant.
  • SR-71B was a trainer variant.[78]
  • SR-71C was a hybrid aircraft composed of the rear fuselage of the first YF-12A (S/N 60-6934) and the forward fuselage from a SR-71 static test unit. The YF-12 had been wrecked in a 1966 landing accident. This Blackbird was seemingly not quite straight and had a yaw at supersonic speeds.[79] It was nicknamed "The Bastard".[80][81]

Specifications (SR-71A)

Data from,[82] Pace[83]

General characteristics


Accidents and aircraft disposition

SR-71 at Pima Air & Space Museum, Tucson, Arizona
Close-up of the SR-71B operated by NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California

Twelve SR-71s were lost and one pilot died in accidents during the aircraft's service career.[3][4] Eleven of these accidents happened between 1966 and 1972.

List of SR-71 Blackbirds
Serial number Model Location or fate
61-7950 SR-71A Lost, 10 January 1967
61-7951 SR-71A Pima Air & Space Museum, Tucson, Arizona
61-7952 SR-71A Lost, 25 January 1966[86]
61-7953 SR-71A Lost, 18 December 1969[87]
61-7954 SR-71A Lost, 11 April 1969
61-7955 SR-71A Air Force Flight Test Center Museum, Edwards Air Force Base, California[88]
61-7956 SR-71B Air Zoo, Kalamazoo, Michigan
61-7957 SR-71B Lost, 11 January 1968
61-7958 SR-71A Museum of Aviation, Warner Robins, Georgia
61-7959 SR-71A Air Force Armament Museum, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida[89]
61-7960 SR-71A Castle Air Museum, Atwater, California
61-7961 SR-71A Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, Hutchinson, Kansas
61-7962 SR-71A American Air Museum in Britain, Imperial War Museum Duxford, Cambridgeshire, England[90]
61-7963 SR-71A Beale Air Force Base, Marysville, California
61-7964 SR-71A Strategic Air and Space Museum, Ashland, Nebraska
61-7965 SR-71A Lost, 25 October 1967
61-7966 SR-71A Lost, 13 April 1967
61-7967 SR-71A Barksdale Air Force Base, Bossier City, Louisiana
61-7968 SR-71A Virginia Aviation Museum, Richmond, Virginia
61-7969 SR-71A Lost, 10 May 1970
61-7970 SR-71A Lost, 17 June 1970
61-7971 SR-71A Evergreen Aviation Museum, McMinnville, Oregon
61-7972 SR-71A Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Washington Dulles International Airport, Chantilly, Virginia
61-7973 SR-71A Blackbird Airpark, Palmdale, California
61-7974 SR-71A Lost, 21 April 1989
61-7975 SR-71A March Field Air Museum, Riverside, California[91]
61-7976 SR-71A National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio
61-7977 SR-71A Lost, 10 October 1968
61-7978 SR-71A Lost, 20 July 1972[3]
61-7979 SR-71A Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas
61-7980 SR-71A Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards Air Force Base, California
61-7981 SR-71C Hill Aerospace Museum, Hill Air Force Base, Ogden, Utah (formerly YF-12A 60-6934)

Notes: Many secondary references use apparently incorrect 64- series aircraft serial numbers (e.g. SR-71C 64-17981), but no primary government documents have been found to support this.[92]

After completion of all USAF and NASA SR-71 operations at Edwards, the SR-71 Flight Simulator was moved in July 2006 to the Frontiers of Flight Museum at Love Field Airport in Dallas, Texas.[93]

See also

Related development
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
Related lists


  1. ^ See the opening fly page in Paul Crickmore's book SR-71, Secret Missions Exposed, which contains a copy of the original R-12 labeled plan view drawing of the vehicle.
  2. ^ Crickmore SR-71, Secret Missions Exposed, original R-12 labeled plan view drawing
  3. ^ See Blackbird with Canards image for visual.
  4. ^ Maximum speed limit was Mach 3.2, but could be raised to Mach 3.3 if the engine compressor inlet temperature did not exceed 801 °F (427 °C).[85]
  1. ^ "SR-71 Blackbird." Retrieved: 14 March 2010.
  2. ^ a b "SR71 Blackbird." PBS documentary, Aired: 15 November 2006.
  3. ^ a b c d Landis and Jenkins 2005, pp. 98, 100–101.
  4. ^ a b c Pace 2004, pp. 126–127.
  5. ^ a b Crickmore 1997, p. 64.
  6. ^ Landis and Jenkins 2005, p. 78.
  7. ^ Pace 2004, pp. 159.
  8. ^ a b c d "Records: Sub-class : C-1 (Landplanes) Group 3: turbo-jet." Retrieved: 30 June 2011.
  9. ^ Rich and Janos 1994, p. 85.
  10. ^ McIninch 1996, p. 31.
  11. ^ a b c Robarge, David. "A Futile Fight for Survival. Archangel: CIA's Supersonic A-12 Reconnaissance Aircraft." CSI Publications, 27 June 2007. Retrieved: 13 April 2009.
  12. ^ a b Landis and Jenkins 2005, pp. 56–57.
  13. ^ McIninch 1996, p. 29.
  14. ^ McIninch 1996, pp. 14–15.
  15. ^ Merlin 2005, pp. 4–5.
  16. ^ Merlin 2005, p. 6.
  17. ^ Crickmore 2009, pp. 30–31.
  18. ^ Lockheed obtained the metal from the USSR at the height of the Cold War, using many guises to prevent the Soviet government from knowing what it was to be used for.
  19. ^ "SR-71 manual, Air Inlet System." Retrieved: 14 March 2010.
  20. ^ "Penn State- turbo ramjet engines." Retrieved: 14 March 2010.
  21. ^ a b c d e f Johnson 1985
  22. ^ a b c Shul and O'Grady 1994
  23. ^ Crickmore 1997, pp. 42–43.
  24. ^ Landis and Jenkins 2005, p. 97.
  25. ^ Rich and Janos 1994, p. 221.
  26. ^ Landis and Jenkins 2005, p. 83.
  27. ^ Rich and Janos 1994, pp. 213–214.
  28. ^ Rich and Janos 1994, p. 203.
  29. ^ McIninch 1996, p. 5.
  30. ^ Graham, 1996, p. 75
  31. ^ Rich and Janos 1994, p. 36.
  32. ^ Hott, Bartholomew and George E. Pollock. "The Advent, Evolution, and New Horizons of United States Stealth Aircraft." Retrieved: 5 May 2007.
  33. ^ "MiG-25 Foxbat". Retrieved 31 May 2011.
  34. ^ Suhler 2009, p. 100.
  35. ^ Suhler 2009, ch. 10.
  36. ^ AirPower May 2002, p. 36.
  37. ^ SR-71 Gallery
  38. ^ Goodall 2003, p. 19.
  39. ^ AirPower, May 2002, p. 33.
  40. ^ Donald 2003, p. 172.
  41. ^ Popular Mechanics, June 1991, p. 28.
  42. ^ Kloesel, Kurt J.; Ratnayake, Nalin A.; Clark, Casie M.. "A Technology Pathway for Airbreathing, Combined-Cycle, Horizontal Space Launch Through SR-71 Based Trajectory Modeling". NASA. Dryden Flight Research Center. Retrieved 7 September 2011.
  43. ^ "SR-71." Retrieved: 14 March 2010.
  44. ^ Kloesel, Kurt J., Nalin A. Ratnayake and Casie M. Clark. "A Technology Pathway for Airbreathing, Combined-Cycle, Horizontal Space Launch Through SR-71 Based Trajectory Modeling." NASA Dryden Flight Research Center. Retrieved: 7 September 2011.
  45. ^ "Blackbird manual." Retrieved: 14 March 2010.
  46. ^ "Aerostories." Retrieved: 14 March 2010.
  47. ^ Colville, Jesse R. "Axisymmetric Inlet Design for Combined Cycle Engines." Digital Repository at the University of Maryland, 1993.
  48. ^ Landis and Jenkins 2005, pp. 95–96.
  49. ^ SR-71A-1 Flight Manual, Section IV p. 3. Retrieved 13 Dec. 2011.
  50. ^ The original B-1A Offensive Avionics Request For Proposal (RFP) required the installation and integration of an NAS-14 system, but cost-cutting changes later deleted it from the B-1. Some U-2Rs did receive the NAS-21 system, but newer inertial and GPS systems replaced them.
  51. ^ a b c d Crickmore 1997, p. 74.
  52. ^ Crickmore 1997, p. 563.
  53. ^ Crickmore 1997, p. 77.
  54. ^ Crickmore 1997, pp. 56, 58.
  55. ^ Crickmore 1997, p. 59.
  56. ^ a b Crickmore 1997, pp. 62–64.
  57. ^ Flyghistorisk Revy – System 37 Viggen, Stockholm: Svensk Flyghistorisk Förening, 2009, ISSN 0345-3413
  58. ^ Mach 14, vol 4, no 3, 1983, p. 5. ISSN 0280-8498.
  59. ^ Mach 25, vol 7, no 2, 1986, pp. 28–29. ISSN 0280-8498.
  60. ^ Darwal 2004, pp. 151–156.
  61. ^ a b c d e f Graham 1996
  62. ^ Crickmore 1997, pp. 84–85.
  63. ^ Crickmore 1997, p. 81.
  64. ^ a b Remak and Ventolo 2001
  65. ^ a b c "Department of Defense Authorization for Appropriations for Fiscal Year 1994 and The Future Years." United States Senate, May–June 1993.
  66. ^ a b Jenkins 2001
  67. ^ "NASA/DFRC SR-71 Blackbird." NASA. Retrieved: 16 August 2007.
  68. ^ "SR-71." Retrieved: 14 March 2010.
  69. ^ (2002), SR-71 Online Headlines Archive, retrieved 2011-12-06, "On Saturday, 14 September 2002, SR-71A #980 was put on display at the entrance of Dryden Flight Research Center. The concrete hardstand has not yet been built.
    It is also apparent that SR-71B #956 will be going to the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo, MI and SR-71A #971 will be going to the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, OR.
    With these announcements, all SR-71s have been allocated to museums."
  70. ^ Landis and Jenkins 2005, pp. 77–78.
  71. ^ Altitude record
  72. ^ a b A-12, YF-12A, & SR-71 Timeline of Events
  73. ^ a b "Blackbird Records." Retrieved: 18 October 2009.
  74. ^ "1966 Lockheed SR-71". Retrieved 14 Feb 2011.
  75. ^ National Aeronautic Association
  76. ^ SR-71 Revealed: The Inside Story
  77. ^ Siuru, William D. and John D. Busick. Future Flight: The Next Generation of Aircraft Technology. Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania: TAB Books, 1994. ISBN 0-8306-7415-2.
  78. ^ Landis and Jenkins 2005, pp. 56–58.
  79. ^ Landis and Jenkins 2005, pp. 62, 75.
  80. ^ Merlin 2005, p. 4.
  81. ^ Pace 2004, pp. 109–110.
  82. ^ "Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird page." Retrieved: 14 March 2010.
  83. ^ a b Pace 2004, p. 110.
  84. ^ Graham 1996, p. 48.
  85. ^ Graham 2002, pp. 93, 223.
  86. ^ "BILL WEAVER SR-71 Breakup". Roadrunners Internationale. 10 September 2011. Retrieved 3 March 2012.
  87. ^ SR-71 #953 crash.
  88. ^ SR-71A Blackbird Air Force Flight Center Museum. Retrieved: 10 February 2009.
  89. ^ Exhibits. Air Force Armament Museum. Retrieved: 10 February 2009.
  90. ^ "Aircraft On Display: Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird." The American Air Museum, Imperial War Museum. Retrieved: 10 February 2009.
  91. ^ "Aircraft: Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird." March Field Air Museum. Retrieved: 10 February 2009.
  92. ^ U-2 / A-12 / YF-12A / SR-71 Blackbird & RB-57D – WB-57F locations.' Retrieved: 22 January 2010.
  93. ^ "Frontiers of Flight Museum." Retrieved: 14 March 2010.
  • "A Bittersweet and Fancy Flight." Philadelphia Inquirer, 7 March 1990, p. 1.
  • Crickmore, Paul F. "Blackbirds in the Cold War". Air International, January 2009, pp. 30–38. Stamford, UK: Key Publishing.
  • Crickmore, Paul F. "Lockheed's Blackbirds – A-12, YF-12 and SR-71A". Wings of Fame, Volume 8, 1997, pp. 30–93. London: Aerospace Publishing. ISBN 1-86184-008-X.
  • Donald, David, ed. "Lockheed's Blackbirds: A-12, YF-12 and SR-71". Black Jets. AIRtime, 2003. ISBN 1-880588-67-6.
  • Goodall, James. Lockheed's SR-71 "Blackbird" Family. Hinckley, UK: Aerofax/Midland Publishing, 2003. ISBN 1-85780-138-5.
  • Graham, Richard H. SR-71 Blackbird: Stories, Tales, and Legends. North Branch, Minnesota: Zenith Imprint, 2002. ISBN 0-7603-1142-0.
  • Graham, Richard H. SR-71 Revealed: The Inside Story. St. Paul, Minnesota: MBI Publishing Company, 1996. ISBN 978-0-7603-0122-7.
  • Jenkins, Dennis R. Lockheed Secret Projects: Inside the Skunk Works. St. Paul, Minnesota: MBI Publishing Company, 2001. ISBN 978-0-7603-0914-8.
  • Johnson, C.L. Kelly: More Than My Share of it All. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books, 1985. ISBN 0-87474-491-1.
  • Landis, Tony R. and Dennis R. Jenkins. Lockheed Blackbirds. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Specialty Press, revised edition, 2005. ISBN 1-58007-086-8.
  • McIninch, Thomas. "The Oxcart Story". Center for the Study of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, 2 July 1996. Retrieved: 10 April 2009.
  • Merlin, Peter W. From Archangel to Senior Crown: Design and Development of the Blackbird., Reston, Virginia: American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), 2008. ISBN 978-1-56347-933-5.
  • Merlin, Peter W. "The Truth is Out There... SR-71 Serials and Designations". Air Enthusiast, No. 118, July/August 2005. Stamford, UK: Key Publishing, pp. 2–6. ISSN 0143-5450.
  • Pace, Steve. Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. Swindon, UK: Crowood Press, 2004. ISBN 1-86126-697-9.
  • Remak, Jeannette and Joe Ventolo, Jr. A-12 Blackbird Declassified. St. Paul, Minnesota: MBI Publishing Company, 2001. ISBN 0-7603-1000-9.
  • Rich, Ben R. and Leo Janos. Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1994. ISBN 0-316-74330-5.
  • Shul, Brian and Sheila Kathleen O'Grady. Sled Driver: Flying the World's Fastest Jet. Marysville, California: Gallery One, 1994. ISBN 0-929823-08-7.
  • Suhler, Paul A. From RAINBOW to GUSTO: Stealth and the Design of the Lockheed Blackbird (Library of Flight Series) . Reston, Virginia: American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), 2009. ISBN 978-1-60086-712-5.
Additional sources

External links

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Area 51

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Area 51
A satellite image of Area 51 shows dry Groom Lake just northeast of the site.
Airport type Military
Owner United States Government
Operator United States Air Force
Location Southern Nevada, United States
Elevation AMSL 4,462 ft / 1,360 m
Coordinates 37°14′06″N 115°48′40″WCoordinates: 37°14′06″N 115°48′40″W
Location of Area 51 Airfield
Direction Length Surface
ft m
14L/32R 12,000 3,658 Asphalt
12/30 5,420 1,652 Closed
09L/27R 11,440 3,489 Salt
09R/27L 11,440 3,489 Salt
03L/21R 10,030 3,057 Salt
03R/21L 10,030 3,057 Salt
14R/32L 23,270 7,093 Closed

Area 51 is a military base, and a remote detachment of Edwards Air Force Base. It is located in the southern portion of Nevada in the western United States, 83 miles (133 km) north-northwest of Las Vegas. Situated at its center, on the southern shore of Groom Lake, is a large military airfield. The base's primary purpose is undetermined, however, based on historical evidence, it appears to support development and testing of experimental aircraft and weapons systems.[1][2]

The base lies within the United States Air Force's vast Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR), formerly called the Nellis Air Force Range (NAFR). Although the facilities at the range are managed by the 99th Air Base Wing at Nellis Air Force Base, the Groom facility appears to be run as an adjunct of the Air Materiel Command Air Force Flight Test Center (AFFTC) at Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert, around 186 miles (300 km) southwest of Groom, and as such the base is known as Air Force Flight Test Center (Detachment 3).[3][4]

Though the name Area 51 is used in official Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) documentation,[5] other names used for the facility include Dreamland, Paradise Ranch,[6][7] Home Base, Watertown Strip, Groom Lake,[8] and most recently Homey Airport.[9] The area is part of the Nellis Military Operations Area, and the restricted airspace around the field is referred to as (R-4808N),[10] known by the military pilots in the area as "The Box" or "the Container".[11]

The facility is not a conventional airbase, as frontline operational units are not normally deployed there. It instead appears to be used for highly classified military/defense Special Access Programs (SAP), which are unacknowledged publicly by the government, military personnel, and defense contractors. Its mission may be to support the development, testing, and training phases for new aircraft weapons systems or research projects. Once these projects have been approved by the United States Air Force or other agencies such as the CIA, and are ready to be announced to the public, operations of the aircraft are then moved to a normal air force base.

The intense secrecy surrounding the base, whose very existence the U.S. government did not even acknowledge until 29 September 1995, has made it the frequent subject of conspiracy theories and a central component to unidentified flying object (UFO) folklore..[7][12]


U.S. government's positions on Area 51

A letter from the USAF replying to a query about Area 51
CIA document from 1967 referring to Area 51

The U.S. government did not acknowledge the existence of Area 51 until 29 September 1995.[13] The government explicitly concedes (in various court filings and government directives) that the USAF has an "operating location" near Groom Lake, but does not provide any further information.

The base does not appear on public U.S. government maps;[14] the USGS topographic map for the area only shows the long-disused Groom Mine.[15] A civil aviation chart published by the Nevada Department of Transportation shows a large restricted area,[16] but defines it as part of the Nellis restricted airspace. The official aeronautical navigation charts for the area show Groom Lake but omit the airport facilities.[17] Similarly the National Atlas page showing federal lands in Nevada[18] does not distinguish between the Groom block and other parts of the Nellis range. Although officially declassified, the original film taken by U.S. Corona spy satellite in the 1960s has been altered prior to declassification; in answer to freedom of information queries, the government responds that these exposures (which map to Groom and the entire NAFR) appear to have been destroyed.[19] Terra satellite images (which were publicly available) were removed from web servers (including Microsoft's TerraServer-USA) in 2004,[20] and from the monochrome 1 m resolution USGS data dump made publicly available. NASA Landsat 7 images are still available (these are used in the NASA World Wind). Higher resolution (and more recent) images from other satellite imagery providers (including Russian providers and the IKONOS) are commercially available. These show, in considerable detail, the runway marking, base facilities, aircraft, and vehicles.

Although federal property within the base is exempt from state and local taxes, facilities owned by private contractors are not. Area 51 researcher Glenn Campbell claimed in 1994 that the base only declares a taxable value of $2 million to the Lincoln County tax assessor, who is unable to enter the area to perform an assessment.[21]

When documents that mention the NTS and operations at Groom are declassified, mentions of Area 51 and Groom Lake are routinely redacted. One notable exception is a 1967 memo from CIA director Richard Helms regarding the deployment of three OXCART aircraft from Groom to Kadena Air Base to perform reconnaissance over North Vietnam. Although most mentions of OXCART's home base are redacted in this document, as is a map showing the aircraft's route from there to Okinawa, the redactor appears to have missed one mention: p15 section No. 2 ends "Three OXCART aircraft and the necessary task force personnel will be deployed from Area 51 to Kadena."[22]

Security and operations

Unlike much of the Nellis range, the area surrounding the lake is permanently off-limits both to civilian and normal military air traffic. Radar stations protect the area, and unauthorized personnel are quickly expelled. Even military pilots training in the NAFR risk disciplinary action if they stray into the exclusionary "box" surrounding Groom's airspace.[12][23]

A montage of available USGS satellite photography showing southern Nevada. The NTS and the surrounding lands are visible; the NAFR and neighboring land has been removed.
Area 51 border and warning sign stating that "photography is prohibited" and that "use of deadly force is authorized" under the terms of the 1950 McCarran Internal Security Act. A government vehicle is parked on the hilltop; from there, security agents observe the approach to Groom Lake.

Perimeter security is provided by uniformed private security guards working for EG&G's security subcontractor Wackenhut,[24] who patrol in Humvees, SUVs, and pickup trucks. The guards are armed with M16s, but no violent encounters with Area 51 observers have been reported; instead, the guards generally follow visitors near the perimeter and radio for the Lincoln County Sheriff. Deadly force is authorized if violators who attempt to breach the secured area fail to heed warnings to halt. Fines of around $600 seem to be the normal course of action, although some visitors and journalists report receiving follow-up visits from FBI agents. Some observers have been detained on public land for pointing camera equipment at the base. Surveillance is supplemented using buried motion sensors.[25]

Civil Aviation identification

In December 2007, airline pilots noticed that the base had appeared in their aircraft navigation systems' latest Jeppesen database revision with the ICAO airport identifier code of KXTA and listed as "Homey Airport".[26] The probably inadvertent release of the airport data led to advice by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) that student pilots should be explicitly warned about KXTA, not to consider it as a waypoint or destination for any flight even though it now appears in public navigation databases.[26]


Soviet spy satellites obtained photographs of the Groom Lake area during the height of the Cold War. It is presumed that intelligence-gathering satellites still monitor the area. In addition, civilian remote sensing satellites have produced detailed images of the base and its surroundings which are available via the internet on sites such as Google Earth/Maps.[27]


Aerial imagery shows the airfield of Area 51 having seven runways including one that now appears to be closed. The closed runway, 14R/32L, is also by far the longest with a total length of approximately 23,300 feet (7,100 m), not including stopway. It appears to contain numerous cracks, the concrete slabs used in its construction having deteriorated due to the desert heat.

The two active airfield runways are of asphalt construction, 14L/32R with a length of 12,000 feet (3,700 m) and 12/30 with a length of 5,400 feet (1,600 m), and four runways located on the salt lake. These four runways are 09L/27R and 09R/27L, which are both approximately 11,450 feet (3,490 m), and 03L/21R and 03R/21L, which are both approximately 10,000 feet (3,000 m). [28][29] The control tower and a support building is located at 37°14′25″N 115°48′32″W adjacent to an access road in the taxiway area. There is also a twin-ended hangar located in the taxiway area, 37°14′03″N 115°48′16″W. It has one end for fixed winged aircraft, the opposite end for helicopters and what may be an area for personnel in the middle of the structure. It may possibly be used for alert aircraft.

On the flight line are two open transient aircraft parking ramps, along with what appears to be a terminal/base operations buildings 37°14′22″N 115°48′44″W visible. A large number of vehicles are parked near it, likely being used for personnel transport around the base. The northern transient aircraft ramp appears to be used for single or twin-engine commuter aircraft; the southern transient ramp for larger aircraft. Imagery shows several Boeing 737 aircraft parked on the southern ramp. These are likely used for transporting personnel to the Groom Lake facility from other locations.

Station area

Road access to the facility is with Nevada State Route 375 at 37°38′03″N 115°43′10″W where an access road connects to the public highway system. The security gate and a parking facility is at 37°35′37″N 115°53′57″W about 10 miles west-southwest of the road turnoff. The gate is approximately 25 miles from the main support base along a winding road. It appears that once road traffic reaches the base, vehicles are routed to a large facility 37°14′28″N 115°49′26″W where imagery shows a large number of tractor-trailers and other vehicles are parked. This facility likely processes incoming shipments and presumably issues security credentials for personnel for their movement on the base. Several storage areas are around the facility, likely used for outside storage of large items. The road then continues to the west, eventually going into the Nevada Test Site, and southward to Mercury, Nevada, a restricted access community some 40 miles to the south-southeast where the road connects to the public highway system at U.S. Route 95.

What may be a large Civil Engineering area, along with various equipment storage areas and workshops 37°14′25″N 115°49′10″W are visible to the southeast of that same area. A large number of white-painted, presumably government vehicles are visible in numerous parking lots in the station area, mostly being pickup trucks, SUVs and vans.

The support area of the station has what appear to be several 1960s-era personnel barracks 37°14′30″N 115°49′02″W of the type formerly found on Naval shore facilities are visible. It is not known how many personnel may be stationed at Groom Lake or the length of their tour of duty. No military family housing units are located on the base. Visible recreational facilities include a baseball diamond, tennis courts, and what may be an indoor open mess, possibly some type of base exchange, dining facility and likely some type of medical clinic. The base electrical power substation is located just to the northwest of the tennis court.

What may be a headquarters building appears to be located about a block to the north and west of the airfield terminal building at 37°14′27″N 115°48′50″W. It is a large, modern, multi-story office building with extensive landscaping and a parking area, which differentiates it from the other more bland, military-style buildings on the station. It is unknown what, if any, military designated unit is assigned to the Groom Lake facility. A large multi-storied building located just to the south of the presumed headquarters building may be an auxiliary support building containing engineering labs or other facilities.

There appear to be two separate aircraft maintenance areas; one on the north side of the station, the other on the south. Numerous hangars and maintenance support buildings are located in them. Both facilities contain a very large number of hangars (four in the north area, eight in the south), far more than a normal Air Force Base or Naval Air Station would have. The large number of hangars on the station is presumably to insure operational aircraft are kept out of view of orbiting reconnaissance satellites as well as out of the intense desert heat.

The north side maintenance area 37°14′38″N 115°48′54″W appears to be the original CIA facility, with what appear to be 1950s and 1960s era hangars and buildings, having been expanded over the years with additional buildings and four new large hangars. Several open aircraft parking ramps are visible, one having several black-painted F-16s. A helicopter parking ramp is located just to the north, with several black painted helicopters. Generally black-painted military aircraft are flown at night. A very large tower, possibly an old airfield control tower is visible in the area.

To the north of the aircraft maintenance area appears several buildings 37°14′51″N 115°49′03″W, and two large satellite dishes, probably being the base communications facility. Several radars are visible at 37°14′52″N 115°48′50″W linked to what is likely an air defense monitoring facility. A large, triangle shaped tower 37°14′46″N 115°49′24″W is located to the west. It's unusual appearance, painted black and also unusual external features on two sides are noted, its use is undetermined.

To the south of the aircraft maintenance hangars appears to be numerous shops and support buildings 37°14′34″N 115°48′53″W, one appearing to be an administrative office complex, and a 1960s era hangar on the flightline, which has been expanded into possibly a logistics support facility and warehouse.

The south side maintenance area 37°14′03″N 115°48′47″W appears to be of relatively new construction, with modern buildings and recently-constructed aircraft taxiways and hangars of the current area. It consists of several double aircraft hangars and what are likely maintenance support buildings. A very large quad-size hangar, 37°13′53″N 115°48′54″W which appears to have four separate sets of doors, along with two other hangars are visible. One hangar just to the east of the quad-sized hangar appears to have a very high roof, twice the height of the other hangars in the area. Another large hangar, possibly several stories tall 37°13′44″N 115°48′40″W is located separately from the other facilities, it having quite wide doors, possibly capable of accommodating very large, wide winged aircraft.

What appears to be the POL area with large above-ground fuel tanks and several aircraft fueling trucks is located on the south side of the station 37°13′24″N 115°48′54″W, along with several areas of disturbed land, possibly indicating new construction. Nearby are what appears to be several storage tanks 37°13′44″N 115°49′24″W, along with what may be the base security police building and an outdoor rifle range.

On the extreme south end of the station appear to be several high security areas, enclosed by fences and monitored by video cameras on poles. One appears to be a munition storage area 37°12′48″N 115°48′40″W, given what appear to be munitions storage bunkers similar to ones found on normal Air Force Bases. Two other high security areas are of undetermined use 37°12′28″N 115°48′56″W. A third fenced area, consisting of large dirt mounds is visible; the area having some natural vegetation growing on the mounds. Its use is undetermined.

Other areas

Approximately 15.5 miles north-northeast of the base, on a peak known as Baldy Mountain, are a series of radar radomes 37°26′58″N 115°44′01″W, 37°27′06″N 115°44′06″W at approximately 9,400' elevation. The types of radar at these sites is unknown, although they may be the ARSR-4 Air Route Surveillance Radar which is used by the Air Force and FAA Joint Surveillance System throughout the United States. Another series of radars of a different type are located on a ridge at 4,300' just to the north of Groom Lake at 37°17′41″N 115°49′21″W. All of the radar sites appear to be automated and unattended.

Approximately 85 miles to the northeast of the Area 51 airfield is a 7,300' airstrip aligned 03/21, that is parallel to U.S. Route 6 38°18′55″N 116°16′59″W. This airfield is known as "Base Camp Airfield". There is no sign at the facility except "U.S. Government" and to "Keep Out". It is alleged that the facility is operated by civilian government contractor personnel on behalf of the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards AFB, California. It may be an auxiliary airfield for the Groom Lake airfield. In addition to the single runway, there is a small residential compound presumably for the operations staff; a radome which appears to be a VORTAC/VOR-DME station; an industrial compound; and a fire station. The runway, equipped with modern navigation aids, is shown as "closed" on air charts and is marked with an "X" painted on either runway end, however aerial imagery shows the industrial compound has several vehicles parked inside it, and a vehicle parked near the aircraft parking ramp of the airstrip.[30]

Halligan Mesa Radar Site is located approximately 15 miles northeast of Base Camp Airfield 38°30′18″N 116°08′50″W. It is an electronics and communications facility used for collecting data for Air Force testing programs conducted in the vicinity of the Tonopah Test Range (TTR) and the Nellis North Range [30]


World War II

The first known use of the area was the construction in 1941 of an auxiliary airfield for the West Coast Air Corps Training Center at Las Vegas Air Field. Known as Indian Springs Airfield Auxiliary No. 1, it consisted of two dirt 5000' runways aligned NE/SW, NW/SE 37°16′35″N 115°45′20″W. The airfield was also used for bombing and artillery practice, as bomb craters are still visible in the vicinity of the runways. It was abandoned after the gunnery school at Las Vegas closed in June 1946.[31][32]

U-2 program

The Groom Lake test facility was established by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for Project Aquatone, the development of the Lockheed U-2 strategic reconnaissance aircraft in April 1955.

As part of the project, the director, Richard M. Bissell Jr., understood that, given the extreme secrecy enveloping the project, the flight test and pilot training programs could not be conducted at Edwards Air Force Base or Lockheed's Palmdale facility. A search for a suitable testing site for the U-2 was conducted under the same extreme security as the rest of the project.[33]

Bissell recalled "a little X-shaped field" in southern Nevada that he had flown over many times during his involvement with the nuclear weapons test program. The airfield was the abandoned Indian Springs Airfield Auxiliary No. 1 field, which by 1955 had reverted to sand and was unusable, but the adjacent Groom Dry Lake to the northwest met the requirements for a site that was "remote, but not too remote".[33]

He notified Lockheed, who sent an inspection team out to Groom Lake. According to Kelly Johnson, "... We flew over it and within thirty seconds, you knew that was the place ... it was right by a dry lake. Man alive, we looked at that lake, and we all looked at each other. It was another Edwards, so we wheeled around, landed on that lake, taxied up to one end of it. It was a perfect natural landing field ... as smooth as a billiard table without anything being done to it". Johnson used a compass to lay out the direction of the first runway. The place was called "Groom Lake."[1][33]

The lakebed made an ideal strip from which they could operate the troublesome test aircraft, and the Emigrant Valley's mountain ranges and the NTS perimeter protected the test site from prying eyes and outside interference about 100 miles north of Las Vegas.[34][35]

On 4 May 1955, a survey team arrived at Groom Lake and laid out a 5,000-foot (1,500 m), north-south runway on the southwest corner of the lakebed and designated a site for a base support facility. The new airfield, then known as Site II or "The Ranch", initially consisted of little more than a few shelters, workshops and trailer homes in which to house its small team.[34] In a little over three months, the base consisted of a single, paved runway, three hangars, a control tower, and rudimentary accommodations for test personnel. The base's few amenities included a movie theatre and volleyball court. Additionally, there was a mess hall, several water wells, and fuel storage tanks. By July 1955, CIA, Air Force, and Lockheed personnel began arriving.[1] The Ranch received its first U-2 delivery on 24 July 1955 from Burbank on a C-124 Globemaster II cargo plane, accompanied by Lockheed technicians on a Douglas DC-3.[34] The first U-2 lifted off from Groom on 4 August 1955. A U-2 fleet under the control of the CIA began overflights of Soviet territory by mid-1956.

The Groom Lake airfield soon acquired a name: Watertown. According to some accounts, the site was named after CIA director Allen Dulles' birthplace: Watertown, New York. Upon its activation, the testing facility was used with increasing frequency for U-2 testing, however that changed in 1957 when the Atomic Energy Commission began testing nuclear weapons at the nearby Yucca Flat facility.[1]

Once the AEC Operation Plumbbob series of tests began with the Boltzmann blast in May 1957, the Watertown airfield personnel were required to evacuate the base prior to each detonation. The AEC, in turn, tried to ensure that expected fallout from any given shot would be limited so as to permit re-entry of personnel within three to four weeks. All personnel at the base were required to wear radiation badges to measure their exposure to fallout. Once the atomic testing began, the CIA U-2 testing operations were interrupted constantly due to the explosions at Yucca Flat, which were scheduled and re-scheduled frequently.[1]

The CIA facilities at Groom Lake were always considered by the agency as a temporary facility, to accommodate the U-2 testing. As the project began to wind down, and CIA pilot classes finished their training, Watertown became a virtual ghost town. By June 1957, most U-2 testing had moved to Edwards AFB and the first operational USAF unit to receive the U-2, the 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, was active at Laughlin AFB, Texas. For two years following the departure of the U-2s from Groom Lake, the base was fairly quiet, although it remained under CIA jurisdiction.[1]

X-15 program

In July 1959 USAF personnel from Edwards AFB embarked on a two-day survey trip to investigate potential emergency landing sites for the North American X-15 rocket plane. The survey crew received permission to land on the then unused CIA facility at Groom Lake. The crew tested the hardness of the lakebed surface by dropping a 10-pound steel ball from a height of six feet and measuring the diameter of the resulting imprint. The result was that the Groom Lake surface was considered excellent for emergency use.[1]

In September 1960, NASA and Air Force Flight Test Center personnel at Edwards reviewed the results of the survey trip to Groom Lake, as well as other sites visited by the survey crew. The use of Groom Lake meant a reduction in support requirements as there was an airfield with emergency equipment and personnel at the site. Ultimately, they agreed to remove Groom from consideration as an emergency landing site due to difficulty obtaining clearance into the area.[1]

OXCART program

A-12 during radar testing at Groom Lake

Even before U-2 development was complete, Lockheed began work on its successor as part of the CIA's OXCART project, involving the A-12, a Mach-3 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft – a later variant of which became the famed USAF SR-71 Blackbird.

The second YF-12A Interceptor prototype at Groom Lake, Nevada (USAF Photograph)
Lockheed YF-12A 60-6934 in Air Defense Command markings 1963. The only YF-12A in ADC markings, Its first test flight occurred on 7 August 1963 at Groom Lake, Nevada. It was extensively tested at Edwards Air Force base. This aircraft was damaged beyond repair by fire at Edwards during a landing mishap on 14 August 1966; its rear half was salvaged and combined with the front half of a Lockheed static test airframe to create the one and only SR-71C 64-17981.

As with the previous U-2 program, security requirements of the Oxcart project necessitated an obscure, secret location for A-12 testing. Despite the success of the U-2 flight tests and the OXCART mock-up radar tests, Groom Lake was not initially considered. It was a "Wild West" outpost, with primitive facilities for only 150 people. The A-12 test program would require more than ten times that number. Groom Lake's five-thousand foot asphalt runway was both too short and unable to support the weight of the Oxcart. The fuel supply, hangar space, and shop space were all inadequate.[33]

Ten Air Force bases programmed for closure were considered, but all were rejected. The site had to be away from any cities and military or civilian airways to prevent sightings. It also had to have good weather, the necessary housing and fuel supplies, and an eighty-five-hundred-foot runway. None of the air force bases met the security requirements, although, for a time, Edwards Air Force Base was considered. In the end, Groom Lake was the only possibility from the standpoint of security but its short runway and austere facilities meant a major upgrade would be required before Oxcart A-12 testing could commence.[1] Groom Lake had also, by this time, received a new official name. The Nevada nuclear test site was divided into several numbered areas. To blend in, Groom Lake became "Area 51."[33]

This aircraft flight characteristics and maintenance requirements forced a massive expansion of facilities and runways at Groom Lake. On 1 October 1960, Reynolds Electrical and Engineering Company (REECo) began work on the site, referred to as "Project 51". Workers engaged in double-shift construction schedules for the next four years to overhaul and upgrade base facilities, and also expand the existing runway to 8,500-foot (2,600 m) as well as harden the existing runway to support the heavier A-12. In addition, a new 10,000-foot runway was constructed (14/32) diagonally across the southwest corner of the lakebed. An Archimedes curve approximately two miles across was marked on the dry lake so that an A-12 pilot approaching the end of the overrun could abort to the playa instead of plunging the aircraft into the sagebrush. Area 51 pilots called it "The Hook." For crosswind landings two unpaved airstrips (runways 9/27 and 03/21) were marked on the dry lakebed.[1][36]

By August 1961, construction of the essential facilities was completed. The United States Navy supplied three surplus hangars which were erected on the base's north side. They were designated as Hangar 4, 5, and 6. A fourth, Hangar 7, was new construction. The original U-2 hangars were converted to maintenance and machine shops. Facilities in the main cantonment area included workshops and buildings for storage and administration, a commissary, control tower, fire station, and housing. The Navy also contributed more than 130 surplus Babbitt duplex housing units for long-term occupancy facilities. Older buildings were repaired, and additional facilities were constructed as necessary. A reservoir pond, surrounded by trees, served as a recreational area one mile north of the base. Other recreational facilities included a gymnasium, movie theatre, and a baseball diamond.[1][36] A permanent aircraft fuel tank farm was constructed by early 1962 for the special JP-7 fuel required by the A-12. Seven tanks were constructed, with a total capacity of 1,320,000-gallons.[1]

Preparations began for the arrival of OXCART; security was greatly enhanced, and the small civilian mine in the Groom basin was closed. In January 1962, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expanded the restricted airspace in the vicinity of Groom Lake. The lakebed became the center of a 600-square-mile addition to restricted area R-4808N. Restricted continuously at all altitudes, the airspace occupies the center of the Nellis Air Force Range.[1][36]

Although remaining under the jurisdiction of the CIA, the facility received eight USAF F-101 Voodoos for training, two T-33 Shooting Star trainers for proficiency flying, a C-130 Hercules for cargo transport, a U-3A for administrative purposes, a helicopter for search and rescue, and a Cessna 180 for liaison use; and Lockheed provided an F-104 Starfighter for use as a chase plane.[36]

The first OXCART was covertly trucked to the base in February 1962, assembled, and it made its first flight 26 April 1962. At the time, the base boasted a complement of over 1,000 personnel. It had fueling tanks, a control tower, and a baseball diamond. The A-12 was a large, loud, and distinctive-looking aircraft. During the early test flights, the CIA tried to limit the number of people who saw the aircraft. All those at Groom Lake not connected with the Oxcart program were herded into the mess hall before each takeoff. This was soon dropped as it disrupted activities and was impractical with the large number of flights.[33]

Although the airspace above Groom Lake was closed, it was near busy Nellis Air Force Base. Inevitably, there were sightings. Some Nellis pilots saw the A-12 several times. At least one NASA test pilot from Edwards AFB saw an A-12. He radioed the Edwards tower and asked what it was. He was curtly told to halt transmissions. After landing, he was told what he had seen was vital to U.S. security. He also signed a secrecy agreement. The major source of A-12 sightings was airline pilots. It is believed that twenty to thirty airline sightings were made. One American Airlines pilot saw an A-12 twice. During one sighting, a pilot saw an A-12 and two chase planes; he radioed, "I see a goose and two goslings."[33]

Groom saw the first flight of most major Blackbird variants: A-12, the abortive YF-12A interceptor variant designed to intercept Soviet manned bombers, and the D-21 Blackbird-based drone project. By the end of 1963, nine A-12s were at Area 51. A mock-up of the "Reconnaissance Strike-71" (RS-71) was inspected by the Air Force on 4 June 1962. The concept of a strike A-12 with strategic bombing capabilities ran into political problems from both the Air Force, which was involved with the XB-70 Valkyrie program at the time and a lack of enthusiasm from Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara. McNamara and his "whiz kids" saw no need for additional manned bombers in the age of ICBMs. In addition McNamara was phasing down Air Defense Command and saw no use for the YF-12A Interceptor. Accordingly, only the reconnaissance version of the RS-71 remained (it kept the "strike" part of the name, however). Where the A-12 was designed for clandestine overflights of Soviet territory, the RS-71 carried additional side-looking cameras and other sensors which gave it much greater capabilities. On 27–28 December 1962, a contract was issued to Lockheed to build six test RS-71s.[33]

According to legend, President Lyndon B. Johnson asked an aide soon upon taking office after the Kennedy Assassination what the RS-71 was for. The aide responded, "strategic reconnaissance". Thus, when Johnson announced the existence of a new reconnaissance aircraft, on 24 July 1964, President Johnson called it the "SR-71". President Johnson's announcements created an unusual security situation. While the USAF SR-71 project was a "White" or open project, the CIA's A-12 was not. Its existence would remain a secret until 1981. To maintain the secret, all those involved were told of the coming SR-71 announcement and warned to keep the A-12 separate.[33]

The SR-71 first flew at the Lockheed facilities at Palmdale, California in December 1964, and Palmdale and Edwards AFB served as the primary operation sites for that model. The 4200th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing activated at Beale AFB on 1 January 1965, however the first SR-71 did not arrive until 7 January 1966.

Starting in November 1965, even as the A-12 was declared operational for use by the CIA and planning was made for its use, doubts were expressed about the cost of operating the two separate groups of A-12s and SR-71s. After a year or more of debate, it was decided on 10 January 1967, to phase out the CIA A-12 program. Although the Oxcart was gone, its USAF descendant, the SR-71, would continue to fly intelligence missions for the next 22 years. Finally, in 1990, the SR-71 was retired.[33]

The A-12s would remain at Groom Lake until 1968 and occasionally were deployed to other United States bases overseas.[5] The CIA's nine remaining A-12s were placed in storage at Palmdale in June 1968. All surviving aircraft remained there for nearly 20 years before being sent to museums around the United States.

D-21 Tagboard

The D-21 mounted on the back of the M-21. Note the intake cover on the drone, which was used on early flights.

Following the loss of Gary Powers's U-2 over the Soviet Union, there were several discussions about using the A-12 OXCART as an unpiloted drone aircraft. Although Kelly Johnson had come to support the idea of drone reconnaissance, he opposed the development of an A-12 drone, contending that the aircraft was too large and complex for such a conversion. However, the Air Force agreed to fund the study of a high-speed, high-altitude drone aircraft in October 1962. The air force interest seems to have moved the CIA to take action, the project designated "Q-12". By October 1963, the drone's design had been finalized.At the same time, the Q-12 underwent a name change. To separate it from the other A-12-based projects, it was renamed the "D-21." (The "12" was reversed to "21"). "Tagboard" was the project's code name.[33]

The first D-21 was completed in the spring of 1964 by Lockheed. After four more months of checkouts and static tests, the aircraft was shipped to Groom Lake and reassembled. It was to be carried by a two-seat derivative of the A-12, designated the "M-21". When the D-21/M-21 reached the launch point, The first step would be to blow off the D-21's inlet and exhaust covers. With the D-21/M-21 at the correct speed and altitude, the LCO would start the ramjet and the other systems of the D-21. With the D-21's systems activated and running, and the launch aircraft at the correct point, the M-21 would begin a slight pushover, the LCO would push a final button, and the D-21 would come off the pylon".[33]

Difficulties were addressed throughout 1964 and 1965 at Groom Lake with various technical issues. Captive flights showed unforeseen aerodynamic difficulties. By late January 1966, more than a year after the first captive flight, everything seemed ready. The first D-21 launch was made on 5 March 1966 with a successful flight, with the D-21 flying 120 miles with limited fuel. A second D-12 flight was successful in April 1966 with the drone flying 1,200 miles, reaching Mach 3.3 and 90,000 feet. An accident on 30 July 1966 with a fully fueled D-21, on a planned checkout flight suffered from a non-start of the drone after its separation, causing it to collide with the M-21 launch aircraft. The two crewmen ejected and landed in the ocean 150 miles offshore. One crew member was picked up by a helicopter, but the other, having survived the aircraft breakup and ejection, drowned when sea water entered his pressure suit. Kelly Johnson personally cancelled the entire program, having had serious doubts from the start of the feasibility. A number of D-21s had already been produced, and rather than scrapping the whole effort, Johnson again proposed to the Air Force that they be launched from a B-52H bomber.[33]

By late summer of 1967, the modification work to both the D-21 (now designated D-21B) and the B-52Hs were complete. The test program could now resume. The test missions were flown out of Groom Lake, with the actual launches over the Pacific. The first D-21B to be flown was Article 501, the prototype. The first attempt was made on 28 September 1967, and ended in complete failure. As the B-52 was flying toward the launch point, the D-21B fell off the pylon. The B-52H gave a sharp lurch as the drone fell free. The booster fired and was "quite a sight from the ground". The failure was traced to a stripped nut on the forward right attachment point on the pylon. Several more tests were made, none of which met with success. However, the fact is that the resumptions of D-21 tests took place against a changing reconnaissance background. The A-12 had finally been allowed to deploy, and the SR-71 was soon to replace it. At the same time, new developments in reconnaissance satellite technology were nearing operation. Up to this point, the limited number of satellites available restricted coverage to the Soviet Union. A new generation of reconnaissance satellites could soon cover targets anywhere in the world. The satellites' resolution would be comparable to that of aircraft, but without the slightest political risk. Time was running out for the Tagboard.[33]

Several more test flights, made from Beale AFB, California, including two over Communist China were made in 1969 and 1970 to varying degrees of success. On 15 July 1971, Kelly Johnson received a wire canceling the D-21B program. The remaining drones were transferred by a C-5A and placed in dead storage. The tooling used to build the D-21Bs was ordered destroyed. Like the A-12 Oxcart, the D-21B Tagboard drones remained a Black airplane, even in retirement. Their existence was not suspected until August 1976, when the first group was placed in storage at the Davis-Monthan AFB Military Storage and Disposition Center. A second group arrived in 1977. They were labeled "GTD-21Bs" (GT stood for ground training).[33]

Davis-Monthan is an open base, with public tours of the storage area at the time, so the odd-looking drones were soon spotted and photos began appearing in magazines. Speculation about the D-21Bs circulated within aviation circles for years, and it was not until 1982 that details of the Tagboard program were released. However, it was not until 1993 that the B-52/D-21B program was made public. That same year, the surviving D-21Bs were released to museums.[33]

Foreign technology evaluation

HAVE FERRY, the second of two MiG-17F "Fresco"s loaned to the United States by Israel in 1969.
HAVE DOUGHNUT, (MiG-21F-13) flown by United States Navy and Air Force Systems Command during its 1968 exploitation.

During the Cold War, one of the missions carried out by the United States was the test and evaluation of captured Soviet fighter aircraft.[1] Beginning in the late 1960s, and for several decades, Area 51 played host to an assortment of Soviet-built aircraft. Under the HAVE DOUGHNUT, HAVE DRILL and HAVE FERRY programs, the first MiGs flown in the United States, were used to evaluate the aircraft in performance and technical capabilities, as well as in operational capability, pitting the types against U.S. fighters.[37]

This was not a new mission, as testing of foreign technology by the USAF began during World War II. After the war, testing of acquired foreign technology was performed by the Air Technical Intelligence Center (ATIC, which became very influential during the Korean War), under the direct command of the Air Materiel Control Department. In 1961 ATIC became the Foreign Technology Division (FTD), and was reassigned to Air Force Systems Command. ATIC personnel were sent anywhere where foreign aircraft could be found.

The focus of Air Force Systems Command limited the use of the fighter as a tool with which to train the front line tactical fighter pilots.[37] Air Force Systems Command recruited its pilots from the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California, who were usually graduates from various test pilot schools. Tactical Air Command selected its pilots primarily from the ranks of the Weapons School graduates.[37]

In August 1966, Iraqi Air Force fighter pilot Captain Munir Redfa defected, flying his MiG-21 to Israel after being ordered to attack Iraqi Kurd villages with napalm. His aircraft was transferred to Nevada within a month. In 1968 the US Air Force and Navy jointly formed a project known as Have Donut in which Air Force Systems Command, Tactical Air Command, and the U.S. Navy's Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Four (VX-4) flew this acquired Soviet made aircraft in simulated air combat training.[1][37] Because U.S. possession of the MiG-21 was, itself, secret, it was tested at Groom Lake. A joint air force-navy team was assembled for a series of dogfight tests.[33]

Comparisons between the F-4 and the MiG-21 indicated that, on the surface, they were evenly matched. But air combat was not just about technology. In the final analysis, it was the skill of the man in the cockpit. The Have Doughnut tests showed this most strongly. When the Navy or Air Force pilots flew the MiG-21, the results were a draw; the F-4 would win some fights, the MiG-21 would win others. There were no clear advantages. The problem was not with the planes, but with the pilots flying them. The pilots would not fly either plane to its limits. One of the Navy pilots was Marland W. "Doc" Townsend, then commander of VF-121, the F-4 training squadron at NAS Miramar. He was an engineer and a Korean War veteran and had flown almost every navy aircraft. When he flew against the MiG-21, he would outmaneuver it every time. The Air Force pilots would not go vertical in the MiG-21. The Have Doughnut project officer was Tom Cassidy, a pilot with VX-4, the Navy's Air Development Squadron at Point Mugu. He had been watching as Townsend "waxed" the air force MiG 21 pilots. Cassidy climbed into the MiG 21 and went up against Townsend's F-4. This time the result was far different. Cassidy was willing to fight in the vertical, flying the plane to the point where it was buffeting, just above the stall. Cassidy was able to get on the F-4's tail. After the flight, they realized the MiG-21 turned better than the F-4 at lower speeds. The key was for the F-4 to keep its speed up. What had happened in the sky above Groom Lake was remarkable. An F-4 had defeated the MiG 21; the weakness of the Soviet plane had been found. Further test flights confirmed what was learned. It was also clear that the MiG-21 was a formidable enemy. United States pilots would have to fly much better than they had been to beat it. This would require a special school to teach advanced air combat techniques.[33]

On 12 August 1968, two Syrian air force lieutenants, Walid Adham and Radfan Rifai, took off in a pair of MiG-17Fs on a training mission. They lost their way and, believing they were over Lebanon, landed at the Beset Landing Field in northern Israel. (One version has it that they were led astray by an Arabic-speaking Israeli).[33] In 1968 these ex-Iraqi MiG-17s were transferred from Israeli stocks and were added to the operation. These aircraft were given USAF designations and fake serial numbers so that they may be identified in DOD standard flight logs. As in the earlier program, a small group of Air Force and Navy pilots conducted mock dogfights with the MiG-17s. Selected instructors from the Navy's Top Gun school at NAS Miramar, California, were chosen to fly against the MiGs for familiarization purposes.[1] Very soon, the MiG-17's shortcomings became clear. It had an extremely simple, even crude, control system which lacked the power-boosted controls of American aircraft. The F-4's twin engines were so powerful it could accelerate out of range of the MiG-17's guns in thirty seconds. It was important for the F-4 to keep its distance from the MiG 17. As long as the F-4 was one and a half miles from the MiG-17, it was outside the reach of the Soviet fighter's guns, but the MiG was within reach of the F-4's missiles.[33]

The data from the Have Doughnut and Have Drill tests were provided to the newly formed Top Gun school at NAS Miramar. By 1970, the Have Drill program was expanded; a few selected fleet F-4crews were given the chance to fight the MiGs. The most important result of Project Have Drill is that no Navy pilot who flew in the project defeated the [MiG 17] Fresco in the first engagement The Have Drill dogfights were by invitation only. The other pilots based at Nellis Air Force Base were not to know about the U.S.-operated MiGs. To prevent any sightings, the airspace above the Groom Lake range was closed. On aeronautical maps, the exercise area was marked in red ink. The forbidden zone became known as "Red Square.[33]

During the remainder of the Vietnam War, the Navy kill ratio climbed to 8.33 to 1. In contrast, the Air Force rate improved only slightly to 2.83 to 1. The reason for this difference was Top Gun. The navy had revitalized its air combat training, while the Air Force had stayed stagnant. Most of the Navy MiG kills were by Top Gun graduates.

In May 1973, Project Have Idea was formed which took over from the older Have Donut, Have Ferry and Have Drill projects and the project was transferred to the Tonopah Test Range Airport. At Tonopah testing of foreign technology aircraft continued and expanded throughout the 1970s and 1980s.[37]

Area 51 also hosted another foreign materiel evaluation program called HAVE GLIB. This involved testing Soviet tracking and missile control radar systems. A complex of actual and replica Soviet-type threat systems began to grow around "Slater Lake", a mile northwest of the main base, along with an acquired Soviet "Barlock" search radar placed at Tonopah Air Force Station. They were arranged to simulate a Soviet-style air defense complex.[1]

The Air Force began funding improvements to Area 51 in 1977 under project SCORE EVENT. In 1979, the CIA transferred jurisdiction of the Area 51 site to the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards AFB, California. Mr. Sam Mitchell, the last CIA commander of Area 51, relinquished command to USAF Lt. Col. Larry D. McClain.[1]

Have Blue/F-117 program

The Lockheed Have Blue prototype stealth fighter (a smaller proof-of-concept model of the F-117 Nighthawk) first flew at Groom in December 1977.[38]

In 1978, the Air Force awarded a full-scale development contract for the F-117 to Lockheed Corporation's Advanced Development Projects. On 17 January 1981 the Lockheed test team at Area 51 accepted delivery of the first full Scale Development (FSD) prototype 79–780, designated YF-117A.[1] At 6:05 am on 18 June 1981 Lockheed Skunk Works test pilot Hal Farley lifted the nose of YF-117A 79–780' off the runway of Area 51.[39]

Meanwhile, Tactical Air Command (TAC) decided to set up a group-level organization to guide the F-117A to an initial operating capability. That organization became the 4450th Tactical Group (Initially designated "A Unit"), which officially activated on 15 October 1979 at Nellis AFB, Nevada, although the group was physically located at Area 51. The 4450th TG also operated the A-7D Corsair II as a surrogate trainer for the F-117A, and these operations continued until 15 October 1982 under the guise of an avionics test mission.[39]

Flying squadrons of the 4450th TG were the 4450th Tactical Squadron (Initially designated "I Unit") activated on 11 June 1981, and 4451st Tactical Squadron (Initially designated "P Unit") on 15 January 1983. The 4450th TS, stationed at Area 51, was the first F-117A squadron, while the 4451st TS was stationed at Nellis AFB and was equipped with A-7D Corsair IIs painted in a dark motif, tail coded "LV". Lockheed test pilots put the YF-117 through its early paces. A-7Ds was used for pilot training before any F-117A's had been delivered by Lockheed to Area 51, later the A-7D's were used for F-117A chase testing and other weapon tests at the Nellis Range.

15 October 1982 is important to the program because on that date Major Alton C. Whitley, Jr. became the first USAF 4450th TG pilot to fly the F-117A.[39]

Although ideal for testing, Area 51 was not a suitable location for an operational group, so a new covert base had to be established for F-117 operations.[40] Tonopah Test Range Airport was selected for operations of the first USAF F-117 unit, the 4450th Tactical Group (TG).[41] From October 1979, the Tonopah Airport base was reconstructed and expanded. The 6,000 ft runway was lengthened to 10,000 ft. Taxiways, a concrete apron, a large maintenance hangar, and a propane storage tank were added.[42]

By early 1982, four more YF-117A airplanes were operating out of the southern end of the base, known as the "Southend" or "Baja Groom Lake." After finding a large scorpion in their offices, the testing team (Designated "R Unit") adopted it as their mascot and dubbed themselves the "Baja Scorpions."[1] Testing of a series of ultra-secret prototypes continued at Area 51 until mid-1981, when testing transitioned to the initial production of F-117 stealth fighters. The F-117s were moved to and from Area 51 by C-5 under the cloak of darkness, in order to maintain program security. This meant that the aircraft had to be defueled, disassembled, cradled, and then loaded aboard the C-5 at night, flown to Lockheed, and unloaded at night before the real work could begin. Of course, this meant that the reverse actions had to occur at the end of the depot work before the aircraft could be reassembled, flight-tested, and redelivered, again under the cover of darkness. In addition to flight-testing, Groom performed radar profiling, F-117 weapons testing, and was the location for training of the first group of frontline USAF F-117 pilots.

Production FSD airframes from Lockheed were shipped to Area 51 for acceptance testing. As the Baja Scorpions tested the aircraft with functional check flights and L.O. verification, the operational airplanes were then transferred to the 4450th TG.[1][43]

On 17 May 1982, the move of the 4450th TG from Groom Lake to Tonoaph was initiated, with the final components of the move completed in early 1983. Production FSD airframes from Lockheed were shipped to Area 51 for acceptance testing. As the Baja Scorpions tested the aircraft with functional check flights and L.O. verification, the operational airplanes were then transferred to the 4450th TG at Tonopah.[1] [43]

The R-Unit was inactivated on 30 May 1989. Upon deactivated the unit was reformed as reformed as Detachment 1, 57th Fighter Weapons Wing (FWW). In 1990 the last F-117A (843) was delivered from Lockheed. After completion of acceptance flights at Area 51 of this last new F-117A aircraft, the flight test squadron continued flight test duties of refurbished aircraft after modifications by Lockheed. In February/March 1992 the test unit moved from Area 51 to the USAF Palmdale Plant 42 and was integrated with the Air Force Systems Command 6510th Test Squadron. Some testing, especially RCS verification and other classified activity was still conducted at Area 51 throughout the operational lifetime of the F-117. The recently inactivated (2008) 410th Flight Test Squadron traces its roots, if not its formal lineage to the 4450th TG R-unit. [43]

Later operations

Since the F-117 became operational in 1983, operations at Groom Lake have continued. The base and its associated runway system were expanded.[44][45] In 1995, the federal government expanded the exclusionary area around the base to include nearby mountains that had hitherto afforded the only decent overlook of the base, prohibiting access to 3,972 acres (16.07 km2) of land formerly administered by the Bureau of Land Management.[44]

United States military aircraft likely have been flown against Soviet-type radar systems and the Dynamic Coherent Measurement System (DYCOMS). The airborne RCS range likely has been used to measure the L.O. characteristics of all known stealth aircraft from the F-117A to the B-2 Spirit and F-22 Raptor.[1]

Over the past 20 years since the end of F-117A testing, the base has been expanded with new facilities, and a new main runway being built in the 1990s. Ongoing projects at Area 51 may include stealth aircraft development, weapons development, unmanned aerial vehicles, and avionics testing. Workers toil in relative isolation and inhospitable conditions at the site to prove revolutionary technologies and enhance the readiness of today's warfighter and support national requirements.[1]

Commuter service is provided along Groom Lake Road by a bus, catering to a small number of employees living in several small communities beyond the NTS boundary (although it is not clear whether these workers are employed at Groom or at other facilities in the NTS). The bus travels Groom Lake Road and stops at Crystal Springs, Ash Springs, and Alamo, and parks at the Alamo courthouse overnight.


Map showing Area 51, NAFR, and the NTS

Area 51 shares a border with the Yucca Flat region of the Nevada Test Site (NTS), the location of 739 of the 928 nuclear tests conducted by the United States Department of Energy at NTS.[46][47][48] The Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository is 44 miles (71 km) southwest of Groom Lake.

Nevada Test Range topographic chart centered on Groom Lake

The original rectangular base of 6 by 10 miles (9.7 by 16 km) is now part of the so-called "Groom box", a rectangular area measuring 23 by 25 miles (37 by 40 km), of restricted airspace. The area is connected to the internal NTS road network, with paved roads leading south to Mercury and west to Yucca Flat. Leading northeast from the lake, the wide and well-maintained Groom Lake Road runs through a pass in the Jumbled Hills. The road formerly led to mines in the Groom basin, but has been improved since their closure. Its winding course runs past a security checkpoint, but the restricted area around the base extends further east. After leaving the restricted area, Groom Lake Road descends eastward to the floor of the Tikaboo Valley, passing the dirt-road entrances to several small ranches, before converging with State Route 375, the "Extraterrestrial Highway",[49] south of Rachel.

Environmental lawsuit

Area 51 viewed from distant Tikaboo Peak
A closed-circuit TV camera watches over the perimeter of Area 51

In 1994, five unnamed civilian contractors and the widows of contractors Walter Kasza and Robert Frost sued the USAF and the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Their suit, in which they were represented by George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, alleged they had been present when large quantities of unknown chemicals had been burned in open pits and trenches at Groom. Biopsies taken from the complainants were analyzed by Rutgers University biochemists, who found high levels of dioxin, dibenzofuran, and trichloroethylene in their body fat. The complainants alleged they had sustained skin, liver, and respiratory injuries due to their work at Groom, and that this had contributed to the deaths of Frost and Kasza. The suit sought compensation for the injuries they had sustained, claiming the USAF had illegally handled toxic materials, and that the EPA had failed in its duty to enforce the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (which governs handling of dangerous materials.) They also sought detailed information about the chemicals to which they were allegedly exposed, hoping this would facilitate the medical treatment of survivors. Congressman Lee H. Hamilton, former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told 60 Minutes reporter Leslie Stahl, "The Air Force is classifying all information about Area 51 in order to protect themselves from a lawsuit."[50]

Citing the State Secrets Privilege, the government petitioned trial judge U.S. District Judge Philip Pro (of the United States District Court for the District of Nevada in Las Vegas) to disallow disclosure of classified documents or examination of secret witnesses, alleging this would expose classified information and threaten national security.[51] When Judge Pro rejected the government's argument, President Bill Clinton issued a Presidential Determination, exempting what it called, "The Air Force's Operating Location Near Groom Lake, Nevada" from environmental disclosure laws. Consequently, Pro dismissed the suit due to lack of evidence. Turley appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, on the grounds that the government was abusing its power to classify material. Secretary of the Air Force Sheila E. Widnall filed a brief that stated that disclosures of the materials present in the air and water near Groom "can reveal military operational capabilities or the nature and scope of classified operations." The Ninth Circuit rejected Turley's appeal,[52] and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear it, putting an end to the complainants' case.

The President continues to annually issue a determination continuing the Groom exception.[53][54][55] This, and similarly tacit wording used in other government communications, is the only formal recognition the U.S. Government has ever given that Groom Lake is more than simply another part of the Nellis complex.

An unclassified memo on the safe handling of F-117 Nighthawk material was posted on an Air Force web site in 2005. This discussed the same materials for which the complainants had requested information (information the government had claimed was classified). The memo was removed shortly after journalists became aware of it.[56]

1974 Skylab photography

Groom Lake (upper left) and Papoose Lake (lower right). Photo by Doc Searls, 2010.

In January 2006, space historian Dwayne A. Day published an article in online aerospace magazine The Space Review titled "Astronauts and Area 51: the Skylab Incident." The article was based on a memo written in 1974 to CIA director William Colby by an unknown CIA official. The memo reported that astronauts on board Skylab 4 had, as part of a larger program, inadvertently photographed a location of which the memo said:

There were specific instructions not to do this. <redacted> was the only location which had such an instruction.

Although the name of the location was obscured, the context led Day to believe that the subject was Groom Lake. As Day noted:

[I]n other words, the CIA considered no other spot on Earth to be as sensitive as Groom Lake.[57][58]

The memo details debate between federal agencies regarding whether the images should be classified, with Department of Defense agencies arguing that it should, and NASA and the State Department arguing against classification. The memo itself questions the legality of unclassified images to be retroactively classified.

Remarks on the memo,[59] handwritten apparently by DCI (Director of Central Intelligence) Colby himself, read:

He did raise it—said State Dept. people felt strongly. But he inclined leave decision to me (DCI)—I confessed some question over need to protect since:
  1. USSR has it from own sats
  2. What really does it reveal?
  3. If exposed, don't we just say classified USAF work is done there?

The declassified documents do not disclose the outcome of discussions regarding the Skylab imagery. The behind-the-scenes debate proved moot as the photograph appeared in the federal government's archive of satellite imagery along with the remaining Skylab 4 photographs, with no record of anyone noticing until Day identified it in 2007.[60]

UFO and other conspiracy theories

Its secretive nature and undoubted connection to classified aircraft research, together with reports of unusual phenomena, have led Area 51 to become a focus of modern UFO and conspiracy theories. Some of the activities mentioned in such theories at Area 51 include:

Many of the hypotheses concern underground facilities at Groom or at Papoose Lake (AKA "S-4 location"), 8.5 miles (13.7 km) south, and include claims of a transcontinental underground railroad system, a disappearing airstrip (nicknamed the "Cheshire Airstrip", after Lewis Carroll's Cheshire cat) which briefly appears when water is sprayed onto its camouflaged asphalt,[61] and engineering based on alien technology. Publicly available satellite imagery, however, reveals clearly visible landing strips at Groom Dry Lake, but not at Papoose Lake.

Veterans of experimental projects such as OXCART and NERVA at Area 51 agree that their work (including 2,850 OXCART test flights alone) inadvertently prompted many of the UFO sightings and other rumors:[7]

The shape of OXCART was unprecedented, with its wide, disk-like fuselage designed to carry vast quantities of fuel. Commercial pilots cruising over Nevada at dusk would look up and see the bottom of OXCART whiz by at 2,000-plus mph. The aircraft's titanium body, moving as fast as a bullet, would reflect the sun's rays in a way that could make anyone think, UFO.[7]

They believe that the rumors helped maintain secrecy over Area 51's actual operations.[12] While the veterans deny the existence of a vast underground railroad system, many of Area 51's operations did (and presumably still do) occur underground.[7]

  • Bob Lazar
see: S-4 (facility) for further information
Several people have claimed knowledge of events supporting Area 51 conspiracy theories. These have included Bob Lazar, who claimed in 1989 that he had worked at Area 51's "Sector Four (S-4)", said to be located underground inside the Papoose Range near Papoose Lake. Lazar has stated he was contracted to work with alien spacecraft that the U.S. government had in its possession.[62]
  • Bruce Burgess
Similarly, the 1996 documentary Dreamland directed by Bruce Burgess included an interview with a 71 year old mechanical engineer who claimed to be a former employee at Area 51 during the 1950s. His claims included that he had worked on a "flying disc simulator" which had been based on a disc originating from a crashed extraterrestrial craft and was used to train US Pilots. He also claimed to have worked with an extraterrestrial being named "J-Rod" and described as a "telepathic translator".[63]
  • Dan Burisch
In 2004, Dan Burisch (pseudonym of Dan Crain) claimed to have worked on cloning alien viruses at Area 51, also alongside the alien named "J-Rod". Burisch's scholarly credentials are the subject of much debate, as he was apparently working as a Las Vegas parole officer in 1989 while also earning a PhD at SUNY.[64]

Portrayal in media and popular culture

Novels, films, television programs, and other fictional portrayals of Area 51 describe it—or a fictional counterpart—as a haven for extraterrestrials, time travel, and sinister conspiracies, often linking it with the Roswell UFO incident. In the 1996 action film Independence Day, the United States military uses alien technology captured at Roswell to attack the invading alien fleet from Area 51. The "Hangar 51"[65] government warehouse of the Indiana Jones films stores, among other exotic items, the Ark of the Covenant and an alien corpse from Roswell. The television series Seven Days takes place inside Area 51, with the base containing a covert NSA time travel operation using alien technology recovered from Roswell. The 2005 video game Area 51 is set in the base, and mentions the Roswell and moon landing hoax conspiracy theories.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x DREAMLAND: Fifty Years of Secret Flight Testing in Nevada By Peter W. Merlin
  2. ^ Rich, p. 57. Rich describes Groom in 1977 as being "...a sprawling facility, bigger than some municipal airports, a test range for sensitive aviation projects"
  3. ^ Area 51 researcher Glenn Campbell claims that AFFTC Detachment 3 is located at Groom, citing the title of a leaked security manual, the mailbox in Henderson, Nevada he believes formerly served Groom, and the NASA biography of astronaut Carl E. Walz who was formerly a manager at AFFTC-DET3: Campbell, Glenn. "Area 51 is Edwards DET 3", Groom Lake Desert Rat, 17 June 1996; Biography of Carl E. Walz (Colonel, USAF, Ret.), NASA Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center.
  4. ^ Merlin, Peter W."Black Projects at Groom Lake: Into the 21st century".
  5. ^ a b Richard Helms (15 May 1967). "OXCART Reconnaissance of North Vietnam". CIA. Retrieved 4 April 2010.
  6. ^ Rich, p. 56. Rich writes "Kelly [Johnson, the U2's designer] had jokingly nicknamed this Godforsaken place Paradise Ranch, hoping to lure young and innocent flight crews"
  7. ^ a b c d e Jacobsen, Annie (April 5, 2009). "The Road to Area 51". Los Angeles Times.
  8. ^ Patton, p. 3, lists Paradise Ranch, Watertown, Groom Lake, and Home Base as nicknames
  9. ^ "Researcher offers clues on new Area 51 name", Air Force Times, 23 January 2008.
  10. ^ FAA aviation chart for the Groom area
  11. ^ "R-4808N Fixes and Janet Routes" Dreamland Resort
  12. ^ a b c Lacitis, Erik. "Area 51 vets break silence: Sorry, but no space aliens or UFOs" The Seattle Times, 27 March 2010.
  13. ^ "Presidential Determination on Classified Information Concerning the Air Force’s Operating Location Near Groom Lake, Nevada". U.S. Government Printing Office. 1995. Retrieved 4 August 2012.
  14. ^ USGS 1:24K/25K Topo map for location UTM 11 605181E 4124095N (NAD27) (map via
  15. ^ USGS 1:24K/25K Topo map for geopoint GROOM MINE, NV (map via
  16. ^ "Airports and Landing strips, 2002"[dead link], Nevada Department of Transportation, cf section R-4808N
  17. ^ Las Vegas Sectional Aeronautical Chart, National Aeronautical Chart Office, Federal Aviation Administration (last checked 26 September 2008)
  18. ^ "Federal lands and Indian reservations", The National atlas of the United States of America, United States Department of the Interior, document ID: pagefed_nv7.pdf INTERIOR-GEOLOGICAL SURVEY, RESTON, VIRGINIA-2003
  19. ^ "Corona image". Archived from the original on 1 July 2010. Retrieved 10 June 2010.
  20. ^ USGS aerial image from USGS via Microsoft Research Maps (formerly TerraServer-USA)
  21. ^ Campbell, Glenn (March 1994). "Secret Base Cheats Local Tax Rolls". The Groom Lake Desert Rat. Archived from the original on 15 June 2007. Retrieved 8 July 2007. "In the 93–94 tax year, the Air Force paid taxes of $65,517 on a property assessment (for "Buildings and Improvements" plus "Other Personal Property") of $2,517,781."
  22. ^ "OXCART reconnaissance of North Vietnam", Memo to the Deputy Secretary of Defence from the office of CIA Director Richard Helms, 15 May 1967, p15 (the full declassified document is mirrored at Wikimedia Commons)
  23. ^ Hall, George. Skinner, Michael. Red Flag, Motorbooks International, 1993, ISBN 978-0-87938-759-4, p.49: "It is an understatement to say that overflying Dreamland is forbidden..."
  24. ^ Patton, p. 10.
  25. ^ Poulsen, Kevin. "Area 51 hackers dig up trouble", Security Focus, 25 May 2004.
  26. ^ a b Marsh, Alton K. (10 January 2008)."Don't ask, don't tell: Area 51 gets airport identifier", AOPA On Line.
  27. ^ The aerial imagery interpretation was performed by editors of Wikipedia with additional information suggested by Google Earth metadata file. Accuracy of this interpretation is subjective, as ground verification is not possible due to the restricted access to the area. Non-verifiable specific information about base facilities provided by Google Earth is not included.
  28. ^ Measurements, runway state and alignment information based upon Google Earth / Digital Globe images as retrieved on 21 December 2007.
  29. ^ Jeppesen-Sanderson, Inc. (August 2007). "Jeppesen Flightstar Airport Database". Archived from the original on 11 October 2007. Retrieved 1 October 2007.
  30. ^ a b Basecamp Airfield
  31. ^ Military Airfields in WW2
  32. ^ [Mueller, Robert (1989). Active Air Force Bases Within the United States of America on 17 September 1982. USAF Reference Series, Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-912799-53-6
  33. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Peebles, Curtis, (1999), Dark Eagles, Presidio Press; Revised edition, ISBN 0-89141-696-X
  34. ^ a b c Peebles, Curtis (2000). Shadow Flights: America's Secret Air War Against the Soviet Union. Novato, CA: Presidio Press. ISBN 978-0-89141-700-2
  35. ^ Rich, pp. 141–144, details U2 test pilot Tony LeVier scouting the remote area near Death Valley for locations, saying of Groom "I gave it a ten plus [score]... a dry lake bed around three and a half miles around", and describes LeVier showing the lake to U-2 designer Kelly Johnson and CIA official Richard Bissell, and Johnson deciding to locate the runway "at south end of lake"
  36. ^ a b c d The OXCART Story, Thomas P. McIninch, CIA Studies Archive, Vol 15, No. 1, 1994, declassified
  37. ^ a b c d e Steve Davies: "Red Eagles. America's Secret MiGs", Osprey Publishing, 2008
  38. ^ Rich, pp. 56–60
  39. ^ a b c 37th TFW History and Lineage of the F-117 Stealth Fighter Organizations
  40. ^ Area 51
  41. ^ 4450th Tactical Group
  42. ^ Tonopah Test Range Airport
  43. ^ a b c Baja Scorpions
  44. ^ a b Pike, John. "Area 51 Facility Overview", Federation of American Scientists.
  45. ^ Motta, Mary (23 April 2000). "Images of Top-Secret U.S. Air Base Show Growth"[dead link], "the photos ... show that the area has significantly expanded since the first images were snapped of the infamous site over 30 years ago."
  46. ^ "US Department of Energy. Nevada Operations Office. United States Nuclear Tests: July 1945 through September 1992 (December 2000)" (PDF). Archived from the original on 15 June 2010. Retrieved 10 June 2010.
  47. ^ NTS map showing the different areas overlaid on topographic map. State of Nevada — Division of environmental protection
  48. ^ Annotated NTS map at the Federation of American Scientists website
  49. ^ Regenold, Stephen (13 April 2007). "Lonesome Highway to Another World?". The New York Times.
  50. ^ "Area 51 / Catch 22" segment, 60 Minutes broadcast 17 March 1996.
  51. ^ Rogers, Keith (4 June 2002). "Federal judges to hear case involving Area 51", Las Vegas Review-Journal.
  52. ^ US 9th Circuit ruling on Kasza V Browner and related case Frost V Perry, Lake, Widnall
  53. ^ "2000 Presidential Determination". Retrieved 10 June 2010.
  54. ^ "2002 Presidential Determination". 18 September 2002. Retrieved 10 June 2010.
  55. ^ "2003 Presidential Determination". 16 September 2003. Archived from the original on 10 May 2010. Retrieved 10 June 2010.
  56. ^ Rogers, Keith (21 May 2006). "Warnings for emergency responders kept from Area 51 workers", Las Vegas Review-Journal.
  57. ^ Day, Dwayne A. (January 9, 2006). "Astronauts and Area 51: the Skylab Incident". The Space Review (online). Archived from the original on 16 March 2006. Retrieved April 2, 2006.
  58. ^ "Presidential Determination No. 2003-39". 16 September 2003. Archived from the original on 10 May 2010. Retrieved 10 June 2010.
  59. ^ "CIA memo to DCI Colby" (PDF). hosted by The Space Review. Archived from the original on 26 March 2006. Retrieved 2 April 2006.
  60. ^ Day, Dwayne A. (26 November 2007). "Secret Apollo". The Space Review (online). Retrieved 16 February 2009.
  61. ^ Mahood, Tom (October 1996). "The Cheshire Airstrip". Archived from the original on 16 March 2006. Retrieved 2 April 2006.
  62. ^ "S4 Sport Model – Cetin BAL – GSM:+90 05366063183 – Turkey / Denizli". Retrieved 10 June 2010.
  63. ^ Dreamland, Transmedia and Dandelion Production for Sky Television (1996).
  64. ^ Sheaffer, Robert (November/December 2004). "Tunguska 1, Roswell 0". Skeptical Inquirer (Committee for Skeptical Inquiry) 28 (6). Archived from the original on 29 March 2008.
  65. ^ Rinzler, J.W.; Bouzereau, Laurent (2008). The Complete Making of Indiana Jones. London: Ebury. p. 249. ISBN 978-0-09-192661-8.

External links

Maps and photographs

Go there...

Area 51 OxCart SR-71 and A-12 Spy Planes
Area 51 Ox Cart - Google Search
Lockheed A-12 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Project OXCART, an Area 51 Special Project of Roadrunner T.D. Barnes
OXCART: The Real Secret of Area 51 – Boing Boing Gadgets
The Road to Area 51 -
Area 51 during Project Oxcart in the 1960's
OXCART Down! - Searching for the remains of a secret spy plane
CIA Spy Plane: Lockheed A-12 Blackbird - Project Oxcart - Project BLACK SHIELD CIA Files, Flight Logs and Manuals
Home Page - Roadrunners Internationale Declassified U-2 A-12 Projects Aquatone OXCART Area 51
Updates to the Roadrunners Internationale Web Site
Inside Area 51 With Annie Jacobsen (HQ) - YouTube
Nevada Aerospace Hall of Fame » Washington, D.C. Oxcart Legacy Tour 2010 Video
Kelly Johnson (engineer) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
File:Kelly-Johnson U-2.jpg - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Lockheed YF-12 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
File:YF-12A.jpg - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
File:A-12 Nose View.jpg - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
File:A12Blackbird.jpg - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
File:LockheedM21-D21.jpg - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
File:A12-flying.jpg - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
File:A12radartesting.jpg - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Roadrunner C-Span symposium 2009 Las Vegas
CIA A-12 PIlot Frank Murray on Oxcart at Groom Lake - YouTube
Area 51 I was there - YouTube
National Geographic: Area 51 Declassified Part 3/4 - YouTube
Area 51 Ox Cart - Google Video Search
Area 51 Oxcart - Google Search
National Geographic Documentary: Area 51 Declassified (full episode 45mins) - YouTube
Annie Jacobsen, Author of "Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base" (Part 2)
area 51 i was there - Google Search
FDsys - Browse BUDGET
United States Air Force - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Area 51 - The Alien Interview (Full Documentary) - YouTube
Area 51 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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