A-12 pilot Jim Eastham dropped the nose down a bit to see if he could at least reach Mach 3.0. Out of nowhere, Jim hit good air and in the dive with good air, he red-lined everything
The distinctive features and architecture of the A-12 Oxcart Mach 3 spy plane served as the model for three other Lockheed supersonic aircraft that were produced for the CIA and USAF: the YF-12A, the M-21, and the SR-71.
To replace the F-108A Rapier, which was canceled, the USAF ordered in October 1962 that a specific model of the Oxcart be developed. The AF-12 and YF-12A were the initial designations for the upgraded A-12. Between 1963 and 1964, only three YF-12As were built and delivered.
The SR-71 Blackbird website states that the CIA permitted Skunk Works to investigate the viability of converting the A-12 to carry and launch a reconnaissance drone for unmanned overflight of denied areas in the same month and year. TAGBOARD was the codename for the project. To distinguish it from the A-12, the mother ship—renamed the M-21—was equipped with a second seat intended for the launch control officer (LCO) of the drone, known as the D-21. However, Kelly Johnson terminated the program because on July 30, 1966, during the fourth TAGBOARD test, a launch mishap resulted in the mother ship crashing, killing LCO Ray Torick.
The most well-known A-12 (right) variant, though, is the SR 71 Blackbird (left), whose moniker has become synonymous with the entire line of Oxcart variations. The aircraft carried more fuel and had a longer range than the A-12 or YF-12A, but it flew slower and lower due to its additional weight.
When talking about the Lockheed Blackbird family, probably the most frequently asked Blackbird question is: How fast does it fly?
“I’ve answered this question before, but here goes,” says Jim Goodall, former Master Sergeant at U.S. Air Force and author of the book Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird: The Illustrated History of America’s Legendary Mach 3 Spy Plane. “The fastest an SR-71A has ever gone is Mach 3.43 in 974 [Blackbird #61-17974, better known as “Ichi-Ban”], at the time, a Site II bird. It blew out both inlets as it had a dual unstart.”
“Ben Rich told me that the inlets were designed to fly at its “Sweet Spot” of Mach 3.24. All manned Blackbirds from the A-12 through to the last SR-71 built were designed to all fly at the same top speed.
“But during early flight testing at Area 51 with the A-12s, Jim Eastham told me that A-12 #128 flew as fast as any A-12 during testing. On the particular day that the A-12 red-lined everything.
“During a routine top-speed envelope expansion flight, A-12 #128 was having a hard time getting past Mach 2.7 as the outside air was too warm. The reason for the flight test card that day was to validate a new inlet bypass door schedule.
“Jim said he dropped the nose down a bit to see if he could at least reach Mach 3.0. Out of nowhere, Jim hit good air and in the dive with good air, he red-lined everything. He went into his descent profile and headed back to the test site.”
“When all was said and done; and for a very brief 15 seconds, Jim hit Mach 3.56, or just under 2,400 mph. Mind you, this was a one-time event and was never duplicated.”
Photo by Dru Blair via www.drublair.com