This 16-part blog series will delve into the history, mission, and mysteries of Nellis Air Force Base. We will investigate this enigmatic military outpost from its opening in 1941. We’ll look at the base’s numerous military functions and the various conspiracy theories surrounding it. We will also investigate the multiple reports of UFO sightings and extraterrestrial encounters in the area. Join us as we explore Area 51’s mysteries and find the truth about this enigmatic military outpost.
The A-12 Oxcart was a reconnaissance aircraft developed by Lockheed Skunk Works for the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and used as a spy plane during the Cold War.
Around the time that the U-2 was completing its first tests, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) began looking for a successor to the Lockheed reconnaissance aircraft. This new generation of planes would need to fly higher and faster than ever to evade any anti-aircraft weapons or fighter planes.
Around the time that the U-2 was completing its first tests, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) began looking for a successor to the Lockheed reconnaissance aircraft. This new generation of planes would need to fly higher and faster than ever to evade any anti-aircraft weapons or fighter planes. The result was a high-altitude spy plane called “Oxcart,” developed by Lockheed’s Skunk Works at Plant 42 in Palmdale, California.
As with all projects from this legendary facility, the development of this project took place under intense secrecy—to prevent potential Soviet espionage from learning about it—and in complete confidentiality from all but those within Lockheed who were working directly on it.
A new era of American spy planes began in August 1960, with Area 51 as the birthplace of stealth technology. During a Virginia CIA headquarters meeting, six contractors were awarded contracts to design their models for this new super plane.
In August 1960, a new era of American spy planes began with the selection of six contractors to design their models. These companies would be awarded contracts to develop test versions of their aircraft over the next several months. The three companies selected to continue creating test versions were Lockheed, Northrop, and Boeing.
The team at Lockheed created a small and sleek plane that could exceed Mach 3 speeds using liquid hydrogen fuel and titanium alloy components. The Northrop team devised an airplane that was similar in size but used conventional jet engines instead of liquid-fuel rockets or ramjets for propulsion. The Boeing group developed a wider fuselage than other models for greater payload capacity, allowing it to carry more camera equipment and electronics, such as radar jammers or decoys, to confuse enemy defense systems during reconnaissance missions (McDougall).
Three companies would be selected from these six to continue developing test versions of the plane over the next several months. The final three were Lockheed with its U-2 design, Republic with its F-105 design, and North American Aviation with its A-3J Vigilante design. Lockheed’s design was chosen as the winner.
The CIA elected a joint contractor effort between Lockheed and Clarence “Kelly” Johnson’s development team at Skunk Works in California. The Skunk Works would design, manufacture, assemble and test the A-12 Oxcart while the CIA provided funding and coordinated with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) at Wright Patterson AFB.
The first two YF-12A aircraft flew in 1962; one was lost during a landing accident when one wheel failed to extend due to an electrical fault. The second YF-12A reached Mach 3 (3x its speed of sound) on its 27th flight on August 25th, 1963 but never exceeded Mach 3 due to structural limitations imposed by the design contractor Lockheed Aircraft Corporation.
However, one problem with Lockheed’s model was that it looked too similar to the U-2. The CIA elected a joint contractor effort between Lockheed and Clarence “Kelly” Johnson’s development team at Skunk Works in California, who developed a completely new design from scratch — code-named Archangel, later renamed Oxcart.
The Oxcart was a spy plane developed by Lockheed Martin, the company behind the F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter. It was designed for reconnaissance missions over enemy territory but could also be used to carry nuclear weapons. The A-12 Oxcart is a sleek aircraft with swept wings and twin vertical tails in front of each engine nacelle (which hold fuel tanks). It carried an array of cameras and sensors in its nose cone and belly pod, providing high-resolution images from altitudes above 80,000 feet — over twice as far up as any other U.S. aircraft had flown before then!
Ultimately, Lockheed and Skunk Works would take over three years to complete the A-12 Oxcart. The plane was built with titanium throughout its frame, making it extremely lightweight and durable. This gave Lockheed engineers an excellent platform to develop their new spy plane.