In marriage, a 40th anniversary is a special time in life. A time
of reflection, to relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor, and to recognize
your accomplishments of raising your children and setting a foundation
for the rest of your life. The same may be said for those who raised, nurtured
and developed the mighty A-12 aircraft.
from all over the country gathered in Palmdale, Calif. in April to celebrate
the A-12's birth 40 years ago. A crowd comprised of test and mission pilots,
maintainers, authors, and aircraft enthusiasts descended at Blackbird Airpark
April 27 where both an SR-71 and the A-12 prototype are on display. A-12
test pilot Lou Schalk, YF-12 test pilot Jim Eastham and SR-71
test pilot Bob Gilliland, along with A-12 mission pilots, Frank
Murray, Ken Collins, Mele Vojvodich, Jack Layton
and Denny Sullivan were signing photographs and aircraft memorabilia.
Also on hand
were Donn Byrnes, author of Blackbird Rising and Peter Merlin,
author of his newly published "Mach 3+, NASA/USAF Research YF-12 Flight
Research." That evening, those involved with the A-12 Oxcart program
and it's successors, the YF-12 interceptor and the SR-71 were recognized
at the Blackbird Laurels Society induction banquet at the Park Plaza Hotel
in Lancaster, Calif.
the Flight Test Historical Foundation and the Air Force Flight
Test Center Museum, the banquet was attended by California Senator
and former X-15 pilot, Pete Knight and Frank Roberts, Mayor
of Lancaster in addition to the many military and civilian dignitaries,
former OXCART program operatives and SR-71 personnel. Attendees enjoyed
viewing Blackbird memorabilia including one of the first flight suits.
A silent auction offered bidders and chance to purchase a piece of Cold
War history. Films featuring the father of the Blackbird, Kelly Johnson
with his creation brought back many memories to those connected with the
A-12 and SR-71
pilot, Ken Collins served as Master of Ceremonies. Collins completed
13 A-12 combat missions while deployed at Kadena. After the program was cancelled
in 1968, he became the 99th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron Operations
Officer, and instructor and test pilot for the SR-71 at Beale AFB.
Retired Major General Mele Vojvodich recalled his days as a captain
flying RF-86's over South Korea. While there he flew 125 combat missions.
In May 1967, Vojvodich piloted the first A-12 deployed to Kadena AFB
in Okinawa and flew the first operational mission over North Vietnam.
"I was proud to have been part of the program," he said.
was posthumously inducted into the Blackbird Society along with 20 others.
"Thank you for what you've done for our nation," said A-12 mission pilot
and inductee, Jack Layton of Kelly. "The A-12 was a fine
airplane with fine people."
Schalk has flown more than 70 types of aircraft in his career and on
April 30, 1962, the Lockheed test pilot wowed the crowed of dignitaries from
both the military and the Central Intelligence Agency as he flew the A-12
in it's first official flight over the remote test site in southern Nevada
known as the "Ranch" or Groom Lake. Taking off with a total weight of 119,000
pounds the aircraft flew 55 minutes. Using J-75 engines the A-12 reached
1.2 on the mach meter.
the flight Lockheed's Bill Fox recalled, ?\"I walked out to the north
side of the hangar where the bird was sitting with lots going on around it.
I sat down against the hangar and Lou Schalk came over and sat beside
me. We joshed a little and soon I noticed Lou had dozed off so I kept quiet.
Soon Larry Bohannon came over and was about to talk to Lou and then
noticed he was asleep. He said, "Gosh, I'd like to talk to him about some
things but I don't want to wake him up." "After a few minutes Lou snapped
to life and Larry came back and briefed him on a couple of last minute items.
I thought that is about as cool a test pilot as I have ever seen and remember
it vividly," said Fox.
The five remaining
mission pilots, Ken Collins, Jack Layton, Frank Murray, Mele Vojvodich, and Dennis Sullivan were on hand to accept
their induction into the Blackbird Laurels Society. In addition,
both test pilots for the SR-71 and YF-12 were present.
began his aviation career in 1942 when he entered the CPT program under
the sponsorship of the Army Air Corps. "Eastham went on to become
the project test pilot for Hughes Aircraft in 1956 on the Falcon Missile
program. During that time he flew approximately 800 test missions in the
F-102, F-106 and the YB-58 Hustler. He became the third to fly the A-12
and the first pilot to fly the YF-12A in 1963. Eastham was the Lockheed test
pilot on all phases of that program. "The YF-12 did everything it was set
out to do," he said. "It was the best interceptor the Air Force never bought,"
As the chief
test pilot for Lockheed, Bob Gilliland gave the Air Force an early
Christmas present when he made the first flight of the SR-71A on December
22, 1964 at Edwards Air Force Base.
1968, Frank Murray was the first to fly over North Korea when North
Korean gunboats seized the USS Pueblo. Murray made three passes over North
Korea, mapping the entire country. Murray also had the privilege of making
the final flight of the A-12 before it's retirement in 1968. The flight
was a short hop from Groom Lake to Lockheed's Palmdale facilities.
was both an A-12 mission pilot and YF-12 pilot. Layton flew the last A-12
mission over North Korea while deployed at Kadena.
General Dennis Sullivan has more than 7,000 flying hours and began
his military career in the U.S. Naval Academy. Throughout his service, Sullivan
flew F-80's over North Korea and was command director in the Cheyenne Mountain
Complex for the North American Aerospace Defense Command.
six missiles launched against him while flying an A-12 mission over North
Vietnam, 3 detonated and on post flight inspection, they found a small piece
of metal imbedded in the lower wing fillet area. After the Oxcart
program was cancelled Sullivan served as Director of Operations and later
Vice Commander of the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force
Base. "This (the Roadrunners) is the world's greatest flying club,"
he said. "It is the best program in my career that I've been associated with."
Retired Colonel Ken Collins followed in his forefather's footsteps with a military
career. His grandfather, Sgt. Edward E. Collins of the 10th U.S. Calvary
was sent out with the Troopers to fight the Battle of Wounded Knee. Collins
took to the skies at Goodfellow AFB, Texas in 1951 and later volunteered
for Korea. In 1960, Collins was contacted by the USAF Office of NASA requesting
that he volunteer for a highly classified space program. This evolved into
the OXCART program. Collins' first flight in the A-12 was February 6, 1963.
career includes 135 combat missions in F-4's while in Southeast Asia and
deputy chief of staff for tactical analysis, Tactical Air Warfare Center
at Eglin AFB, Fla. The retired general is a command pilot with 6,000
In June 1968
the five mission pilots along with deceased pilot Jack Weeks received
the CIA Intelligence Star of Valor for their participation in the operational
"Slip" Slater was commander of the 1129th Special Activities Squadron
at Groom Lake. He was responsible for operations and the welfare of the
crew. "It was an honor to serve at Groom Lake," he said. "I thank
the Lockheed guys, Kelly, the pilots working on the program was beyond my
wildest dreams." Slater noted the contributions of pilots, Bill
Park, Walt Ray, Jack Weeks and Bill Skliar who
died in the line of duty.
were an integral part of the development and operations of both the A-12
and the SR-71.
was chief of manufacturing for Skunk Works and last year was honored with
the Kelly Johnson Lifetime Achievement award at the Blackbird Association
Reunion in Reno, Nev. Murphy's career goes back to the U-2 program
in the 1950's.
CIA engineer inside Skunkworks during the A-12's production.
Wing Commander with more than 6,000 flying hours (735 in the SR-71).
former Director of Flight Test at Edwards and SR-71 pilot.
was the technical director of Skunk Works and is revered as the father
of the titanium A-12 structure. As Combs accepted his award he could only
say, "There are not enough words to express my respect and admiration for
was the program manger for Skunkworks and worked on the YF-12 Nasa/Air Force
testing. "I am humbled to receive this award," said Fox. "I can't
believe I'm part of this group."
Fulton has flown 235 different types of aircraft accumulating 16,500
hours. Fulton participated in the YF-12 program.
Gornik (Ret) was proud to be inducted into the Blackbird Laurels Society
on behalf of all the enlisted men. "No doubt, this award pays homage to
all the enlisted personnel-those who were the backbone of the Air Force,"
executive vice president of research and development of the Dave Clark
Company accepted the award for his firm who designed and constructed the
high altitude pressure suits used by the Blackbird pilots.
General Eldon Joersz was an SR-71 instructor pilot and has logged
4,500 flying hours with 300 in the SR-71.
Illian was responsible for all the preflight operations for the program.
the efforts of these fine individuals and others like them, our country
was safe during the turbulent Cold War Years. The state of the art designs
conceived by Kelly Johnson and the hard work by those involved
in the programs are a testament to our freedom. Johnson was proud of his
child as it grew to protect our country proudly and reliably over hostile
If only for
a few short years, it served us well and will always be remembered.
Posted Thornton D. Barnes
By Thornton D. Barnes