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Summary

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 except in an emergency (and overflights were no longer necessary due to spy satellites) and, although crews trained for the role, U-2s remained adequate for Cuba.

After lengthy debate, the CIA decided to deploy the A-12s to Asia. The first A-12 arrived at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan, on 22 May 1967. With the arrival of two more aircraft (24 May, and 27 May) the unit was declared operational on 30 May, and began Operation Black Shield on 31 May. 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 Mach 3.1. From Kadena, during 1967, the A-12s conducted 22 operations in support of the Vietnam War. During 1968, Black Shield conducted operations in Vietnam and also supported the Pueblo Crisis with North Korea. The operational use of the A-12 was nearly a decade after the original conception of the Oxcart program.

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 which the locals thought the plane resembled.

The A-12 program was officially canceled on 28 December 1966 – even before Black Shield began in 1967 – due to budget concerns and because of the forthcoming SR-71, which arrived in Kadena in 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 2.5 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. Francis J. Murray took the final A-12 flight on 21 June 1968, to Palmdale, California.

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.

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.

Timeline

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

Sources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A-12_OXCART