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Summary

In October 1962, CIA authorized the Skunk Works to study the feasibility of modifying the A-12 to carry and deploy a reconnaissance drone for unmanned overflight of denied areas. The project was codenamed TAGBOARD. The mother ship, redesignated the M-21 to avoid confusion with the A-12, was fitted with a second seat for a launch control officer (LCO) for the drone, called the D-21. It was 43 feet long, weighed over five tons, had a ramjet engine, could reach a speed of over Mach 3.3 at 90,000 feet, fly over 3,000 miles, and had the smallest RCS of anything Lockheed had yet designed. The drones would be launched well away from targets, fly their missions, and return to a preprogrammed location in international waters. There they would jettison a payload that a C-130 would snag in midair, and then self-destruct with a barometrically activated explosive device. In June 1963, the Air Force took over the project because it had overall charge of unmanned reconnaissance aircraft. Lockheed eventually built two M-21s and 38 drones, and its test pilot Bill Park flew all the M-21 flights. On the fourth TAGBOARD test on 30 July 1966, a launch mishap caused the mother ship to crash, killing LCO Ray Torick and prompting Kelly Johnson to end the program. Afterward the Air Force used B-52s to launch the drones against Communist Chinese targets in a project called SENIOR BOWL. Four missions were flown starting in November 1969. None was completely successful, and SENIOR BOWL was cancelled in July 1971.

Sources

https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/books-and-monographs/a-12/the-oxcart-family.html