The deets on the SR-71 and its father A-12 are shared by the CIA

cia sr71 a12 image
CIA
The SR-71 Blackbird is a legendary supersonic air craft that has captured countless imaginations since its existence first became known. Known for its prowess, stealth features, and its sleek profile, you would be hard-pressed to find one red-blooded American male throughout the land that wouldn’t instantly recognize and associate it with the glory years of dominance in the skies. What many may not realize is that there was a top secret predecessor to that craft called at A-12 Oxcart. It was a tool in the arsenal of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Recently, the Agency put out a news story on its website to ask the public if they knew of the differences between these two craft.

The Oxcart was developed under a program that started in 1957. The mission was to create a craft that could avoid Soviet air defense through high-altitude supersonic flight. It was a tall task for the time, but the push became more critical in the wake of an international incident that occurred in 1960, when Francis Gary Powers was shot down while flying a U-2 surveillance craft over the Soviet Union. Powers was captured and convicted of espionage. The requirements to build such an aircraft meant that special materials had to be used. At top speed, the craft would endure temperatures as high as 550 degree Fahrenheit. This required the usage of titanium alloys and the craft ultimately had to be built by hand, as working with these materials was not practical at the time.

The public has come upon two of the A-12’s crash sites over the years, but the details over what was found are still murky. The program was a complete secret until 1981. The operation was based out of Groom Lake, California, where the CIA owned and operated these craft. The only pilots to fly in them were CIA personnel.

The view from inside an SR-71 at 73,000 feet
The view from inside an SR-71 at 73,000 feet Wikipedia

By 1967, following extensive test flights and improvements in development, the A-12 saw its first duty over Vietnam. In 1968, the craft was retired, surpassed by the SR-71 Blackbird. The mission was accomplished however, as the development of the A-12 pioneered advanced supersonic flight, taking things beyond any conceivable limits. Improvements in pilot safety, design, aerodynamics, and manufacturing are among its many achievements.

The SR-71 flew actively for many years until 1989, when the Air Force deactivated it from duty in favor of satellite and space-based surveillance systems. A few years later, Congress voted to fund the craft and they took to the skies again. The program was shut down permanently by means of a funding veto from President Bill Clinton in 1997. A hypersonic craft has been proposed as a replacement, but it is still in the early stages of design proposal, to be followed by design, testing, and funding.

As far as differences go, the craft are very similar in appearance, even to the trained eye. The consensus on A-12 capabilities has placed its maximum speed at Mach 3.35 at 85,000 feet, with a maximum ceiling of 95,000 feet. The SR-71 was capable of Mach 3.2 at 85,000 feet, its maximum altitude.

In the end, the A-12 was able to produce higher-resolution photography, but the SR-71 became the successor due to its side-looking radar and cameras. This ability meant the SR-71 could achieve its reconnaissance missions without penetrating the airspace over enemy territory. The story of these amazing craft can be found throughout the web as the details were declassified starting in 2012.

Computing

Google focuses on making ecommerce safer with the launch of Chrome 71

Starting in December, Google will begin warning web surfers if they're visiting a website with unclear billing terms. Chrome 71 will alert you with a warning when you stumble on a website with deceptive billing practices.
Photography

Get your Sagan on with 60 awe-inspiring photos of the final frontier

Few things instill a sense of wonder quite like the final frontier. The best space photos show off the beauty of Earth, our solar system, and the far corners of the universe. Here are our current favorites.
Cars

Ambitious but not rubbish: The best 'Top Gear' episodes

Since its relaunch in 2002, 'Top Gear' has become required viewing for any serious gearhead. The great moments from this show may seem too numerous to count, but we've managed to pick some of the highlights from the first 25 seasons.
Emerging Tech

These 11 catastrophic rocket crashes highlight just how difficult space travel is

Space is a tricky business. Failure is common and often results in an explosion, a fiery crash and sometimes the loss of lives. Our video compilation of the worst rocket crashes shows just how catastrophic a mission failure can be.
Emerging Tech

‘Bionic mushroom’ can generate electricity without using fossil fuels

Researchers have come up with a way to produce electricity without fossil fuels using mushrooms covered with bacteria. The mushroom provides a safe environment for special cyanobacteria that generate electricity when light is shone on them.
Emerging Tech

Curiosity rover active and drilling again after computer issue

The Curiosity rover has succeeded in drilling a hole into the tough bedrock that previously defeated it, allowing imaging and collection of samples. The rover had been incapacitated for a few weeks due to problems with its computer.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: 1-handed drone control, a pot that stirs itself

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Astronomers discover two rogue planets that do not orbit a star

Astronomers have identified two rogue planets in our galaxy which do not orbit around a star. Unlike the vast majority of discovered planets, these rogue planets drift through space alone with no sun to shine on them.
Emerging Tech

Pairs of supermassive black holes spotted in colliding galaxies

Astronomers have discovered several pairs of supermassive black holes in galaxies that are colliding with each other. These black holes will spiral closer and closer together and eventually merge into one supermassive black hole.
Emerging Tech

Quantum-based accelerometer can locate objects without GPS

Researchers have created a quantum "compass" that allows navigation without satellites. The instrument, technically called a standalone quantum accelerometer, is small enough to be transportable and has a very high level of accuracy.
Emerging Tech

Ancient continent discovered beneath the ice of Antarctica

Antarctica could be hiding the remains of a long-lost continent. Scientists created a 3D map of the crust beneath the Antarctic ice sheet which shows a similarity to the crust in Australia and India, suggesting they used to be joined.
Emerging Tech

Rocket Lab steps into spotlight with its first commercial rocket launch

Rocket Lab has deployed multiple small satellites into orbit in its first notable commercial launch. Its New Zealand-born boss said the success means "rapid and reliable access to space is now a reality for small satellites."
Emerging Tech

Alibaba’s Singles’ Day sale smashes online shopping records

The annual online shopping frenzy that is Singles' Day this year raked in $30.8 billion, up from $25 billion last time around. The Alibaba-organized event generates more in sales than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.
Emerging Tech

Watch this lab-grown heart tissue beat just like the real thing

A team of researchers in Germany have used stem cells to create a lab-grown human heart tissue which actually beats, as well as responding to drugs in the same way as the real thing.