By: Connie Pardew
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Most Americans didn't know about the secret military projects back in the days of Leave it to Beaver, the first GI Joe doll, soda fountains or hula hoops. Most did not know there were those working in obscurity to protect our country back in the 1950's and 1960's. As American Citizens were going about their daily routines; these men were risking and sometimes giving their lives in the name of freedom. They are the silent heroes of the Cold War.
One group of individuals, The Roadrunners, were an elite group of CIA, Air Force and support personnel operating out of what is officially known as "an operating location near Groom Lake, Nev.," also known as Area 51, the Ranch or the Area by those who worked there.
These heroes, whether pilots, crewmembers, support personnel or government contractors were an integral part of our Cold War history. Aircraft including the U-2 and the A-12, developed by Lockheed Skunkworks, were designed to perform reconnaissance and photographic missions over the world's hot spots including Russia, North Vietnam and North Korea.
The A-12 program (code named OXCART) was headed by Col. Hugh Slater. Lockheed pilot Lou Schalk first tested this predecessor to the SR-71) at Groom Lake in April 1962. The program became operational in May 1967 with a detachment of 260 personnel deployed to Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa.
Their mission called "Black Shield" was formally sanctioned by President Johnson. They flew out of Kadena over North Vietnam and North Korea collecting imagery of missile sites The A-12 was the first to fly over North Korea after the USS Pueblo was seized in 1968.
But after only 10 months, the USAF ordered Lockheed to destroy the A-12 and YF-12 tooling. In March 1968, the first SR-71A arrived at Kadena as the A-12's replacement. Some still say the A-12's INTEL capabilities out performed the SR-71.
Although the program they worked on is no longer operational, the group reunites every two years to renew friendships.
At the last reunion in Las Vegas, Nev. boasted more than 250 of the 311 members and associates of the organization of of former pilots, crewmembers, engineers, support personnel and government contractors for the YF-12, U-2 and A-12 programs. Included are retired USAF NCO's, a contingent of Taiwanese pilots who flew U-2 missions over Red China, representatives from Lockheed (Skunkworks) Honeywell, Pratt and Whitney and Hycon.Click to Enlarge
Lockheed SR-71, Secret Missions Exposed, by Paul F. Crickmore
The U-2 Spyplane: Toward the Unknown: A New History of the Early Years, by Chris Pocock
The Online Blackbird Museum
Includes photo gallery, news and events pertaining to both the A-12 and the SR-71.
Leland Haynes Blackbirds
A wealth of information on the A-12 and SR-71 history and missions, including The OXCART story, theaters of operation, photos and news.
"A-12 Declassified" by Jeannette Remak and Joseph Ventolo, Jr.
John Stone's Blackbirds
Includes a comprehensive timeline on the Blackbird and U-2 operations.