THE OXCART STORY
One spring dayest pilot named Louis Schalk, employed by the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, took off in an aircraft the likes of which had never been seen before. A. casual observer would have been startled by the appearance of this vehicle; he would perhaps have noticed especially its extremely long, slim, shape, its two enormous jet engines, its long, sharp, projecting nose, and its swept-back wings which appeared far too short to support the fuselage in flight. He might well have realized that thisevolutionary airplane; he could not have known that it would be able to fly at three times the speed of sound for moreiles without refueling, or that toward the end of its flight, when fuel began to run low, it could cruise at0 feet. Still less would he have known of the equipment it was to carry, or of the formidable problems attending its design and construction.
There was, of course, no casual observer present. The aircraft had been designed and built for reconnaissance; it was projecteduccessor to. Its development had been carried out in profound secrecy. Despite the numerous designers, engineers, skilled and unskilled workers, administrators, end others who had been involved in the affair, no authentic accounts, and indeed scarcely any accounts at all, had leaked.
The official designation of the aircraft ort of inspired perversity, however, it came to be calledode word also applied to the program under which it was developed. The secrecy in which it was so long shrouded hasit, and the purpose of this article is to give some account of the inception, development, operation, and untimely demise of this remarkable airplane. The OXCART no longer flies, but itegacy of technological achievement which points the way to new projects. And it became the progenitorimilar reconnaissance vehicle called thehose existence is well known to press and public.
atedhen its development began under the directionroup headed by Richard M. Bissell of CIA. Inhe aircraft becamo operational, but officials predicted that its useful lifetime over the USSR could hardly be much more thanonths or two years. Its first flights over Soviet territory revealed that the air defense warning system not only detected but tracked it quite accurately. Yet itnique and invaluable source of Intelligence information for almost four years, untilrancis Gary Powers was shot down near Sverdlovsk.
Meanwhile, even asommenced Its active career, efforts were under way to make it less vulnerable. The hope was to reduce the vehicle's radar cross-section, so that it would become less susceptible to detection. New developments in radar-absorbing materials were tried out and achieved considerable success, though not enough to solve* the problem. Various far-out designs were explored, most of them seeking to creato an aircraft capable of flying at extremely high altitudes, though still at relatively slow speed. None of them proved practicable.
Eventually, in the fallissell arrangedontractorob of operations analysis to determine how far the probability of shooting down an airplane varied respectively with the plane's speed, altitude, and radar cross-section. This analysis demonstrated that supersonic speed greatly reduced the chances of detection by radar. The probability of being shot down was not of course reduced to zero, but it was evident that the supersonic line of approach was worth serious consideration. Therefore, from this time on, attention focussed increasingly on the possibility ofehicle which could fly at extremely high speeds as well as at great altitudes, and which would also incorporate the best that could be attained in radar-absorbing capabilities. Lockheed Aircraft Corporation and Convair Division of General Dynamics were informed, of the general requirement, and their designers set to work on the problem without as yet receiving any contract or funds from the government. From the fall7 to8 these designers constantly refined and adapted their respective schemes.
Bissell realized that development and production of such an aircraft would be exceedingly expensive, and that in the early stages at least it would be doubtful whether the project could succeed. To secure the necessary funds forrogram, high officials would have to receive the best and most authoritative presentation of whatever prospects might unfold. Accordingly, he gotanel consisting of two distinguished authorities on aerodynamics and one physicist, with E. M. Land of the Polaroid Corporation as chairman.79 this panel met about
six times, usually in Land's office in Cambridge. Lockheed and Convair designers attended during parts of the sessions. So also did the Assistant Secretaries of the Air Force and Navy concerned with research and development, together with one or two of their technical advisors. One useful consequence of the participation of service representatives was that bureaucratic and jurisdictional feuds were reduced virtually to nil. Throughout the program both Air Force and Navy gave valuable assistance and cooperation.
As the months went by, the general outlines ot" what might be done took shape in tho minds of those concerned. Late in the members of the panelrucial meeting. They agreed that it now appeared feasible to build an aircraft of such speed and altitude as to be very difficult to track by radar. They recommended that the President be asked to approve inurther prosecution of the project, and tofunds available for further studies and tests. The President and his Scientific Advisor, Dr. James Killian, were already aware of what was going on, and when CIA officials went to thorn with the recommendation of the panel theyavorable hearing. The President gave his approval. Lockheed and Convair were then asked to submit definite proposals, funds were made available to them, and the project took on the code name GUSTO.
Lessear later the two proposals were essentially complete, and onhe President was again briefed. This time he gave final approval, which signified that the program could get fully under way.
The next major step was to choose between the Lockheed and Convair designs. Onpecifications of the two proposals were submittedoint DOD/USAF/CIA selection panel
Range (total) Range (at altitude)
Gross Weight Fuel Weight First Flight
t. 57 ft.
Lockheed design was selected, Project GUSTO terminated, and the program toollow-on aircraft was named OXCART. IA authorized Lockheed to proceed with antiradar studies, aerodynamic structural tests, and engineering designs, and on0 gave the areen light to produceircraft.
Pratt and Whitney Division of United Aircraft Corporation had been involved in discussions of the project, and undertook to develop the propulsion system. 8 engine, which was to be used inad been sponsored originally by the US Navy for its own purposes, and was to be capablepeed of
. Navy interest in the development wasand the Secretary of Defense had decided tothe program at the end CIA's requirement wasengine and airframe be further developed and optimized forof. The new contract called for initialthree advanced experimental engines for durabilitytesting, and provision of three enginesflight testing in early
Lockheed's designer was Clarence L. (Kelly) Johnson, creator of, and he called his new vehicle2l. Its design exhibited many innovations. Supersonic airplanes, however,ultitude of extremely difficult design problems. Their payload-range performance is highly sensitive to engine weight, structural weight, fuel consumption, and aerodynamic efficiency. Small mistakes in predicting these values can lead to large errors in performance. Models ofl were tested and retested, adjusted and readjusted, during thousands of hours in the wind tunnel. Johnson was confident of his design, but no one could say positively whether the bird would fly, still less whether it would fulfill the extremely demanding requirements laid down for it.
To make the drawings and test the model was one thing; to build the aircraft was another. The most numerous problems arose from the simple fact that in flying through the atmosphere at its designed speed the skin of the aircraft would be subjectedemperature of moreegrees Fahrenheit. For one thing, no metal hitherto commonly used in aircraft production would stand this temperature, and those which would do so were for the most part too heavy to be suitable for the purpose in hand.
During the design phase Lockheed evaluated many materials and finally chose an alloy ofharacterized by great strength, relatively light weight, and good resistance to high temperatures. Titanium was also scarce and very costly. Methods for milling it and controlling the quality of the product were not fully developed. Of the early deliveries from Titanium Metals Corporation someercent had to be rejected, and it was notelegation from headquarters visited the officials of that company, informed them of the objectives and high priority of the OXCART program, that the problems were solved.
But this only solved an initial problem. One of the virtues of titanium was its exceeding hardness, but this very virtue gave rise to immense difficulties in machining and shaping the material. Drills which worked well on aluminum soon broke into pieces; new ones had to be devised. Assembly-line production was impossible; each of the small OXCART fleet was.
so to spoak, turned out by hand. Tha cost of the program mounted well above original estimates, and it soon began to run behind schedule. One alter another, however, the problems were solved, and their solution constituted the greatest single technological achievement of the entire enterprise. Henceforth it became practicable, if expensive, to build aircraft out of titanium*
Since every additional pound of weight was critical, adequate insulation was out of the question. The inside of the aircraft would beoderately hot oven. The pilot would have toind of space suit, with Its own cooling apparatus, pressure control, oxygen supply, and other necessities for survival. The fuel tanks, which constituted by far the greater part of the aircraft, would heat up toegrees, so that special fuel had to be supplied and the tanks themselves rendered inert with nitrogen. Lubricating oil was formulated for operationndiluent in order to remain fluid at operation belowegrees. Insulation on thentricate wiring soon became brittle and useless. During the lifetime of the OXCART no better insulation was found; the wiring and related connectors had to be given special attention and handling at great cost in labor and time.
Then there was the unique problem of the camera window. The OXCART was toelicate and highly sophisticated camera, which would look outuartz glass window. The effectiveness of the whole system depended upon achieving complete freedom from optical distortion despite the great heat to which the window would be subjected. Thus the question was not simply one of providing equipment with resistance to high temperature, but of assuring that there should be no unevenness of temperature throughout the area of the window. It took three years and two million dollars to arriveatisfactory solution. The program scored one of its most remarkable successes when the quartz glass was successfully fused to its metal frame by an unprecedented process involving the use of high frequency sound waves.
Another major problem of different nature was to achieve the low radar cross-section desired. The airframe areas giving the greatest radar return were the vertical stabilisers, the engine inlet, and the forward side of the engine nacelles. Research in ferrites, high-temperature absorbing materials and high-temperature plastic structures was undertaken to find methods to reduce the return. Eventually the vertical tail section fins were constructedind of laminated "plastic"first time thataterial had been used for an important part of an aircraft's structure, with such changes in structural materials,l was and as such has never been publicly disclosed.
To test the effectiveness of antiradarmall-scale model is inadequate;ull-size mock-up will do. Lockheed accordingly built one of those, and as early asransported itpecially designed trailer truck over hundreds of miles of highway from tho Burbank plant to the test area. Here it was hoisted to the topylon and looked at from various angles by radar. Tests and adjustments went onearaif before the results were deemed satisfactory. In the course of the process it was found desirable to attach some sizable metallic constructions on each side of the fuselage, and Kelly Johnsonood deal about the effect of these protuberances on his design. In flight tests, however, it later developed that theyseful aerodynamic lift to the vehicle, and years afterward Lockheed's designupersonic transport embodied similar structures.
Pilots for the OXCART would obviously have to be of quite extraordinary competence, not only because of the unprecedented performance of the aircraft itself, but also because of the particular qualities needed in men who were to fly intelligence missions. Brigadier General Don Flickinger of the Air Force, was designated to draw up the criteria for selection, with advice from Kelly Johnson and from CIA Headquarters. Pilots had to be qualified in the latest high performance fighters, emotionally stable, and well motivated. They were to be betweenndears of age, and the size of2 cockpit prescribed that they be under six feet tall andounds in weight.
One thing to be decided in the earliest stages of the program was where to base and test the aircraft. Lockheed clearly could not do the business at Burbank, where the aircraft were being built, if for no other reason that its runway was too short. The ideal location ought to be remote from metropolitan areas; well away from civil and military airways to preclude observation; easily accessible by air; blessed with good weather the year round; capable of accommodating large numbers of personnel; equipped with fuel storage facilities; fairly close to an Air Force installation; and possessing at leastoot runway. There was no such place to be found.
Ten Air Force bases programmed for closure were considered, but none provided the necessary security and annual operating costs at most of them would be unacceptable. Edwards Air Force Base in Californiaore likely candidate, but in the end it also was passed over. ery secluded site was finally picked. It was deficient in personnel accommodations and POL storage, and its long-unused runway was inadequate, but security was good, or could be made so,oderate
construction program could provide sufficient facilities. Lockheed estimated what would be needed in such respects as monthly fuel consumption, hangars and shop space, housing for personnel, and runway specifications. Armed with the list of major reguirements. Headquarters came uponstruction and engineering plan.
Construction began in earnest innd, continuedouble-shift schedule until One of the most urgent tasks was to build the runway, which according to initial estimates2 requirements musteet longrunwayeet long and incapable of supporting the weight of The new one was built ?? September andovember and involved pouring0 yards of concrete. Another major problem was to provideallons ofircraft fuel per month. Neither storage facilities nor means of transporting fuel existed.
amJ truc* transport, itJhat*Jemost economical, and could
feasible by resurfacing no more than eighteen miles of highway leading into the base.
avy hangars were obtained, dismantled, and erected on the north side of the base. urplus Navy housing buildings were transported to the base and made ready for occupancy. Byuel tank farm was ready,apacityallons. Warehousing and shop spice was begun and repairs made to older buildings. All this, together with the many other facilities that had to be provided,ong time to complete. Meanwhile, however, the really essential
he forecast delivery date of Aircraft No.n
The facilities were ready, but the aircraft were not.
ngine up to OXCARTli'ei^iSllynotified
"Schedules are in jeopardy on two fronts. One is tho assembly of the wing and tho other is in satisfactory development of the engine. Our evaluation shows that each of these programs is from three to four months behind the current schedule.-
To this Bissell replied:
ave learnedyour expected additional delay in first flight fromugust This news is extremely shocking on top of our previous slippage from May to August and my understanding as of our meetingecember that the titanium extrusion problems were essentially overcome. rust this is the last of such disappointments shortevere earthquake in Burbank."
Realizing that delays were causing the cost of the program to soar. Headquarters decided toop-level aeronautical engineer in residence at Lockheed to monitor the program and submit progress reports.
Delays nevertheless persisted. Oneptember,hitney informed Lockheed of their continuing difficulties with8 engine in terras of weight, delivery, and performance. Completion date for Aircrafty now had slipped tond the first flight toven on this last date8 would not be ready, and it was therefore decided5 engine, designed fornd flown in, should be used for early flights. The engine, along with other components, could be fitted to2 airframe, and it could power the aircraft safely to altitudes up0 feet and at speeds up to.
When this decision had been made, final preparations were begun for the testing phase. Support aircraft began arriving in the spring These included's for training,s for proficiencyor cargoA for administrativeelicopter for search and rescue,or liaison use. In addition, Lockheed providedo act as chase aircraft during2 flight test period.
Meanwhile inn agreement was reached with the Civil Aeronautics Board that expanded the restricted airspace in the vicinity of the test area. Certain CAB air traffic controllers were cleared for the OXCART Project; their function was to insure that aircraft did not violate the order. The North American Air Defense Command established procedures to prevent their radar stations from reporting the appearance of high performance aircraft on their radar scopes.
Refueling concepts reguired prepositioning of vast quantities of fuel at certain points outside the United States. Special tank farms were programmed in California, Eielson AFB Alaska, and at strategic locations overseas, since2 used specially refined low vapor pressure fuel, these tank farms
were reserved exclusively for use by the OXCART Program. detachments of technicians at these locationsfuel storage facility and arranged for periodicfuel
At the Lockheed Burbank plant, Aircraftaerially) received its final tests and checkout during January andnd was partially disassembled for shipment to the site. It became clear very early in OXCART planning that because of security problems and the inadequate runway,2 could not fly from Burbank. Movement of the full-scale radar test model had been successfully accomplished ins described above. horough survey of the route inscertained the hazards and problems of moving the actual aircraft, and showedackage measurinqeet wideeet long could be transported without major difficulty. Obstructing road signs had to be removed, trees trimmed, and some roadsides leveled. Appropriate arrangements were made with police authorities and local officials to accomplish the safe transport of the aircraft. The entire fuselage, minus wings, was crated, covered, and loaded on the special-design trailer, which cost Ont departed Burbank, and arrived at the base according to plan.
reassembly of the aircraft and installation of
5 engines began. Soon it was found that aircraft tank sealing compounds had failed to adhere to the metals, and when fuel was put into the tanks numerous leaks occurred. It was necessary to strip the tanks of the faulty sealing compounds and reiine them with new materials. Thus occurred one mora unexpected and exasperating delay in the program.
Finally, onas ready. On that day, in accordance with Kelly Johnson's custom, Louis Schalk took it for an unofficial, unannounced, maiden flight lastinq someinutes. As in all maiden flights minor problems were detected, but it took only four more days to ready the aircraft for its first official flight.
Onust under one year later than originally Planned,2 officially lifted her wheels from tho runway. Piloted again by Louis Schalk, it took offnots,ross weight0 pounds, and climbed0 feet Top speednots and the flight lastedinutes. The pilot reported that the aircraft responded well and was extremely stable. Kelly Johnson declared it to be the smoothest official first flight of any aircraft he had designed or tasted. The aircraft broke the sound barrier on its second official fliqht reported62' reacnin9 Macn Iala in. only minor problems were
With these flights accomplished, jubilation was the order of the day. The new Director of Central Intelligence, Mr. John McCone,elegram of congratulation to Kelly Johnson. ritical phase had been triumphantly passed, but there remained the long, difficult, and sometimes discouraging process of working the aircraft up to full operational performance.
Aircraftrrived at base onnd spent three months in radar testing before engine installations nnd final assembly. Aircraft No.rrived in August and flew in October- Aircraftwo-seated version intended for use in training project pilots, was delivered in November. It was to be powered by8 engines, but delivery delaysesire to begin pilot trainingecision to install thes. The trainer flew initially in The fifth aircraft., arrived at the area onecember.
Meanwhile the OXCART programhot in the arm from the Cuban missile crisis. ad beenegular reconnaissance vigil over the island, and it was on one of these missions in October that the presence of offensive missiles was discovered. Overflights thereafter became more frequent, but on, flowntrategic Air Force pilotAC-directed mission, was shot downurface-to-air missile. This raised the dismaying possibility that continued manned, high-altitude surveillance of Cuba might become out of the question. The OXCART program suddenly assumed greater significance than ever, and its achievement of operational status became one of the highest national priorities.
At the end2 there were2 aircraft engaged in flight tests. peed of6 and altitude0 feet had been achieved. Progress was still slow, however, because of delays in the delivery of engines and shortcomings in the performance of those delivered. One of the two test aircraft was still flying with5 engines, and the other with5 and It had long since become clear thathitney had been too optimistic in their forecast; the problem of developing8 up to OXCART specifications hadood deal more recalcitrant than expected. Mr. McCone judged the situation to be truly serious, andecember he wrote to the President of United Aircraft Corporation:
ave been advised8 engine deliveries have been delayed again due to engine control production
the end of the year it appears we will have
barely8 engines to support the flight test
programdue to various engine
difficulties we have not yet reached design speed and altitude. Engine thrust and fuel consumption deficiencies at present prevent sustained flight at design conditions which is so necessary to complete development."
By the end ofen engines were available, and the first flight with two of them installed occurred onanuary. Thenceforth2 aircraft were fitted with their intended propulsion system. Flight testing accelerated and contractor personnel wenthree-shift work day.
with each succeeding stepigh Mach'regirae new problems presented themselves. The worst of all theseone of the most formidable in the entire history of therevealed when flight testing moved into speeds between, and the aircraft experienced such severe roughness as to make its operation virtually out of the question. The trouble was diagnosed as being in the air inlet system, which with its controls admitted air to the engine. At the higher speeds the flow of air was uneven, and the engine therefore could not function properly. Onlyong period of experimentation, often highly frustrating and irritating,olution reached. This further postponed the day when2 could be declared operationally ready.
Among more mundane troubles was the discovery that various nuts, bolts, clamps, and other debris of the manufacturing process had not been cleared away, and upon engine run up or take off were sucked into the engine. The engine parts were machined to such close tolerances that they could be ruined in this fashion. Obviously the fault was due to sheer carelessness. Inspection procedures were revised, and it was also found prudent at Burbank to hoist the engine nacelles into the air, rock them back and forth, listen for loose objects, and then remove them by hand.
hileoutine training flight, one of the detachment pilots recognized an erroneous and confusing air speed indication and decided to eject from the aircraft, which crashediles south of Wendover, Utah. The pilot was unhurt. The wreckage was recovered in two days, and persons at the scene were identified and requested to sign secrecy agreements. 2 aircraft were groundedeek during investigation of the accident. lugged pilot static tube in icing conditions turned out to be responsible for the faulty cockpit instrumentwas not something which would hold things up for long.
Loss of this aircraft neverthelessolicy problem which had been troubling the Agency for some time. With the growing numbers, how much longer could the project remain secret? The program had gone through development, construction,ear of flight testing without attracting public attention. There wasealization that the technological data would be extremely valuable in connection
with feasibility studies for the SST. Finally, there was a
growing awareness in the higher reaches of the aircraft industry
that something new and remarkable was going on. Rumors spread,
and gossip flew about. Commercial airline crews sighted the
OXCART in flight. The editor of Aviation Week indicated his
knowledge of developments at Burbank. The secrecy was thinninq out.
The President's Announcement
In spite of all3 went by without any public revelation. President Johnson was brought tip to date on theeek after taking office, and directedaper be prepared for an announcement in the spring Then at his press conference onetatement of which the first paragraph was as follows:
The United States has successfully developed an advanced experimental jet aircraft, l, which has been tested in sustained flight at moreiles per hour and at altitudes in excess0 feet. The performance ofl far exceeds that of any other aircraft in the world today. The development of this aircraft has been made possible by major advances in aircraft technology of great significance for both military and commercial applications. l aircraft are now being flight tested at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The existence of this program is being disclosed today to permit the orderly exploitation of this advance technology in our military and commercial program."
The President went on to mention the "mastery of the metallurgy and fabrication of titanium metal" which has been achieved, gave credit to Lockheed and tohitney, remarked that appropriate members of the Senate and House had been kept fully informed, and prescribed that the detailed performance ofl would be kept strictly classified.
The President's reference to thel- was of course deliberate. l" had been the original design designation for the all-metal aircraft first proposed by Lockheed; subsequently it became the design designation for the Air Forcenterceptor which differed from its parent mainly in that itecond man for launching air-to-air missiles. To preserve the distinction betweenl and2 Security had briefed practically all witting personnel in gove rnment and industry on the impending announcement- OXCART secrecy continued in effect. There was considerable speculation about an Agency role inl development, but it was never acknowledged by the government. News headlines ranged from "US hasl jets already flying" to "Secret of sizzling new plane probably history's best kept."
The President also said thatl aircraft now at Edwards Air Force Base are undergoing extensive tests to determine their capabilities as long-range interceptors." It was true that the Air Force inad contracted for three interceptor versions ofnd they were by this time available. But at the moment when the President spoke, there were8 at Edwards and there never tiad been. Project officials had known that the public announcement was about to be made, but they had not been told exactly when. Caught by surprise, they hastily flew two Air Force's to Edwards to support the President's statement. So rushed was this operation, so speedily were the aircraft put into hangars upon arrival, that heat from them activated the hangar sprinkler system, dousing the reception team which awaited them.
Thenceforth, while the OXCART continued its secretits own site,l performed at Edwards Air Force Baseconsiderable glare of publicity. Pictures of thein the press, correspondents could look at itstories could be written. Virtually no detailsavailable, but the technical journals nevertheless hadday. The unclassified Air Force and Spaceong article in its issue of April "The official pictures and statements tellaboutl. But the technical literature fromwhen carefully interpreted,ood dealit could and, more importantly, what it could notthe
Three years and seven months after first flight in2 the OXCART was declared ready for operational use at design specifications. The period thus devoted to flight tests was remarkably short, considering the new fields of aircraft performance which were being explored. As each higher Mach number was reached exhaustive tests were carried out in accordance with standard procedures to ensure that the aircraft functioned properly and safely. Defects were corrected and improvements made. All concerned gained experience with the particular characteristics and idiosyncrasies of the vehicle.
The aircraft inlet and related control continuedong time to present the most troublesome and refractory problem. Numerous attempts failed toemedy, evenpecial task force concentrated on the task. ime there was something approaching despair, and the solution when finally achieved was greeted with enormous relief. After all, not every experimental aircraft of advanced performance has survived its flight testing period. The possibility existed that OXCART also would fail, despite the great cost and effort expended upon it.
The main burden of test flights fell upon Lockheed pilots, and some of the aircraft that became available at the site were reserved for the most advanced testing. At the same time, however, the detachment pilots were receiving training and familiarizing themselves with the new vehicle. In the course of doing so, theyood many suggestions for improvements, and their own numerous flights shortened the, time required for the test programhole. Indeed, one feature of OXCART development was this intimate collaboration between designer, test pilots, operational pilots, and CIA officials, all of whom worked together with great effectiveness.
A few dates and figures will serve to mark the progress of events. By the end3 there hadlightsours. Nine aircraft were in the inventory. On3 test aircraft flew for the first time at Machn Novemberthe design speed) was reached. The longest sustained flight at design conditions occurredt lasted for ten minutes at. By the end4 there hadlights,ours. Eleven aircraft were then available, four of them reserved for testing and seven assigned to the operational detachment.
The record may be put in another way. as reached after six months of flying;fteronths. Two years after the first flight the aircraft hadotal ofours at Machhree hours at, and less than one hour at Mach 3. After three years,ime had increased toours,ime toours, andime to nine hours; allime, however, was by test aircraft, and detachment aircraft were still restricted to.
As may be seen from the figures, roost flights were of short duration, averaging little more than an hour each. Primarily this was because longer flights were unnecessary at this stage of testing. it was also true, however, that the less seen of OXCART the better, and short flights helped to preserve the secrecy of the proceedings. Yet it was virtually impossible for an aircraft of such dimensions and capabilities to remain inconspicuous. At its full speed OXCARTurning radius of no less thaniles. There was no question of staying close to the airfield; its shortest possible flights took itery large expanse of territory.
The first long-range, high-speed flight occurred onhen one of the test aircraft flew for an hour and forty minutes, with an hour and fifteen minutes above. Its total rangeautical miles, with altitudes00 feet.
Two more aircraft were lost during this phase of the program. 4 Aircraftas making its final approach to the runway when at altitudeeet and airspeednots itmooth steady roll to the left. Lockheed test pilot Bill Parks could not overcome the roll. At5 degree bank angleoot altitude he ejected. As he swung down to the vertical in the parachute his feet, touched the ground, for what must have been one of the narrower escapes in the perilous history of test piloting. The primary cause of the accident was that the servo for the right outboard roll and pitch control froze. No news of the accident filtered out.
On5 Aircraftrashed immediately after take-off and was totally destroyed. The detachment pilot ejected safely at an altitudeeet. The accident investigation board determinedlight line electrician had improperly connected the yaw and pitchin effect reversed the controls. This time Mr. McCone directed the Office of Security to conduct an investigation into the possibility of sabotage. While nothing of the sort was discovered, there were indications of negligence, as the manufacturer of the gyro had earlier warned of the possibility that the mechanism could be connected in reverse. No action had been taken, however, even by such an elementary precaution as painting the contacts different colors. Again there was no publicity connected with the accident.
The5 saw the test site reach the high point of activity. Completion of construction brought it to full physical size. All detachment pilots wereualified. Site population reached. Contractors were working threeay. Lockheed Constellations made daily flights between the factory at Burbank and the site. And officials were considering how and when and where to use OXCART in its appointed role.
Targeting the OX
By4 Project Headquarters began planning for the contingency of flights over Cubarogram designated Skylark. Bill Parks' accident in early July held this program upime, butugust it was directed that SKYLARK achieve emergency operational readinessovember. This involvedmall detachment which should be able to do the job over Cuba, though at something less than the full design capability of the OXCART. The goal was to operate at0 feet altitude.
In order to meet the deadline set, camera performance would
have to be validated, pilots qualified forlight, and
coordination with supporting elements arranged- Only one of
several equipments for electronic countermeasures (BCM> would be
ready by November,enior intra-governmental group,
including representation from the President's Scientific Advisor
Committee, examined the problem of operating ovec Cuba without
the full complement of defensive systems. This panel decided
that the first few overflights could safely be conducted without
them, but the ECM would be necessary thereafter. The delivery
schedule of ECM equipment was compatible with this course of action.
After considerable modifications to aircraft, the detachment simulated Cuban missions on training flights,imited emergency SKYLARK capability was announced. With two weeks notice the OXCART detachment coulduban overflight, though with fewer ready aircraft and pilots than had been planned.
During the following weeks the detachment concentrated on developing SKYLARKustained capability, with five ready pilots and five operational aircraft. The main tasks were to determine aircraft range and fuel consumption, attain repeatable reliable operation, finish pilot training,amily of SKYLARK missions, and coordinate routes with North American Air Defense, Continental Air Defense, and the Federal Aviation Authority. All this was accomplished without substantially hindering the main task of working up OXCART to full design capability. We may anticipate the story, however, by remarking that despite all this preparation the OXCART was never used over Cuba. 's proved adequate, and2 was reserved for more critical situations.
ore critical situation did indeed emerge in Asia, and interest in using the aircraft there began to be manifest. The Director of the Office of Special Activities briefed senior officialscheme which had been drawn up for operations in the Far East. The project was called BLACK SHIELD, and it called for the OXCART to operate out of the Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa. In the first phase, three aircraft would stage to Okinawaday periods,ear, withersonnel involved. After this was in good order, BLACK SHIELD would advance to the point ofermanent detachment at Kadena. Secretary Vance7 million available to be spent in providing support facilities on the island, which were to be available by early fall
Meanwhile the Communists began to deployaround Hanoi, thereby threatening our currentcapabilities. Secretary McNamara called thisattention of the Under Secretary of the Air Force on 3and inquired about the practicability ofaircraft. He was told that BLACK SHIELDover Vietnam as soon as adequate aircraft
With deployment overseas thus apparently impending in the fall, the detachment went into the final stages of its program for validating the reliability of aircraft and aircraft systems. It set out to demonstrate complete systems reliability at5 andautical miles range, with penetration altitude0 feet. emonstrated capability for three aerial refuelings was also part of the validation process.
By this time the OXCART was well along in performance. The inlet, camera, hydraulic, navigation, and flight control systems all demonstrated acceptable reliability. Nevertheless, as longer flights were conducted at high speeds and high temperatures, new problems came to the surface, the most serious being with the electrical wiring system, wiring connectors and components had to withstand temperatures of moreegrees Fahrenheit, together with structural flexing, vibration, and shock. Continuing malfunctions in the inlet controls, communications equipment, ECM systems, and cockpit instruments were in many cases attributable to wiring failures. There was also disturbing evidence that careless handling was contributing to electrical connector failures. Difficulties persisted in the sealing of fuel tanks. What with one thing and another, officials soon began to fear that the scheduled date for BLACK SHIELD readiness would not be met. Prompt corrective action on the part of Lockheed was in order. The quality of maintenance needed drastic improvement. The responsibility for delivering an aircraft system with acceptable reliability to meet an operational commitment lay in Lockheed's hands.
In this uncomfortable situation, OSA's Deputy for Technology went to the Lockheed plant to see Kelly Johnson rank discussion ensued on the measures necessary to insure that BLACK SHIELD commitments would be met, and Johnson concluded that he himself spend full time at the site in order to get the job done expeditiously. Lockheed President Daniel Haughton offered the full support of the corporation, and Johnson began duty at the site next day. His firm and effective management got Project BLACK SHIELD back on schedule.
Four primary BLACK SHIELD aircraft were selected and final validation flights conducted. During these tests the OXCART
aximum speed ofltitude0 feet, and sustained flight time abovef one hour and fourteen minutes. The maximum endurance flight lasted six hours and twenty minutes. The last stage was reached onnd two days later Kelly Johnson wrote Headquarters:
"Overall, my considered opinion is that the aircraft can be successfully deployed for the BLACK SHIELD truss ion withould consider to be at least asegree of risk as in theeployment days. Actually, considering our performance level of more than four timespeed and three miles more operating altitude, it is probably much less risky than oureployments. hink the time has come when the bird should leave its nest."
An impressive demonstration of the OXCARTapability occurred on6 when Lockheed test pilot Bill Parks8 statue miles in six hours. This flightecord unapproachable by any other aircraft.
With the readiness of the aircraftormal proposal was made that OXCART be deployed to the Far East. After examining the matter, the proposal was not approved, it was agreed, however, that short of actually moving aircraft to Kadena all steps should be taken to develop anduick reaction capability, ready to deployday period at any time There the matter remained, for moreear. 6 there were frequent renewals of the request for authorization to deploy OXCART to Okinawa end conduct reconnaissance missions over North Vietnam. All were turned down.
Meanwhile, of course, flight testing and crew proficiency training continued. There was plenty of time to improve mission plans and flight tactics, as well as to prepare the forward area at Kadena. New plans shortened deployment time from theays first specified. Personnel and cargo were to be airlifted to Kadena the day deployment was approved. On the fifth day the first OXCART would depart and traveliles in five hours andinutes. The second would go on the seventh and third on the ninth day. The first two would be ready for an emergency mission on the eleventh day, andormal mission on the fifteenth day.
About May7 prospects for deploymentew turn. ood deal of apprehension was evident in Washington about the possibility that the Communists might introduce surface-to-surface missiles into North Vietnam, and concernaggravated by doubts as to whether we could detect such a
development if it occurred. The President askedroposal on the matter and once again CIA suggested that the OXCART be used. Its camera was far superior tond its vulnerability was far less. The State and Defense members of the Committee decided to re-examine the requirement and the political risks involved. While they were engaged in their deliberations, the Director of Central Intelligence, Mr. Helms, submitted another formal proposal to deploy the "OXCART. Jji addition, he raised the matter at President Johnson'slunch- onay, and received the President's approval to -go." Walt Rostow later in the day formally conveyed the President's decision, and the BLACK SHIELD deployment plan was forthwith put into effect.
Onay airlift to Kadena began. Onay the2 (Serial) flew nonstop to Kadena in six hours and six minutes. Aircrafteparted onay and arrived at Kadena five hours andinutes later. The third., left according to plan on7 and proceeded normally until in the vicinity of Wake Island the pilot experienced difficulties with the inertia! navigation and communications systems. Under the circumstances, he decided torecautionary landing at Wake Island. The prepositioned emergency recovery team secured the aircraft without incident and the flight to Kadena resumed next day.
Onhe unit at Kadena was ready to fly an operational mission. Two hundred and sixty personnel had deployed to the BLACK SHIELD facility. Except for hangars, whichonth short of completion, everything was in shape for sustained operations. Next day the detachment was alertedission onay, and the moment arrived which would see the culmination of ten years of effort, worry, and cost. As fate would have it, on the morning oft heavy rain fell at Kadena. Since weather over the target area was clear, preparations continued in hopes that the local weather would clear. When the time for take-off approached, the OXCART, which had never operated in heavy rain, taxied to the runway, and took off while the rain continued.
The first BLACK SHIELD mission followed one flight line over North Vietnam and one over the Demilitarized Zone. It lasted three hours andinutes, and the cruise legs were flown at. Results were satisfactory. Seventy ofnown SAM sites in North Vietnam were photographed, as were nine other priority targets. There were no radar signals detected, indicating that the first mission had gone completely unnoticed.
Fifteen BLACK SHIELD missions were alerted during the period fromay to Seven of the fifteen were flown and of these four detected radar tracking signals, but no hostile action was taken against any of them. By mid-July it had been determinedigh degree of confidence that there were no surface-to-surface missiles in North Vietnam.
Operations and maintenance at Kadena began with the receipt of alert notification. rimary aircraft and pilotackup aircraft and pilot were selected. The aircraft were given thorough inspection and ser- vicing, all systems were checked, and the cameras loaded into the aircraft. Pilotsetailed route briefing in the early evening prior to the day of flight. On the morning of theinal briefing occurred, at which time the condition of the aircraft and its systems was reported, last-minute weather forecasts reviewed, and other relevant intelligence communicated, together with any amendments or changes in the flight plan. Two hours prior to take-off the primary pilotedical examination, got into his suit, and was taken to the aircraft. If any malfunctions developed on the primary aircraft, the back-up could execute the mission one hour later.
A typical route profileLACK SHIELD mission over North Vietnamefueling shortly after takeoff, south of Okinawa, the planned photographic pass or passes, withdrawalecond aerial refueling in the Thailand area, and return to Kadena. So great was the OXCART's speed that it spent onlyinutes over North Vietnamypical "single pass-mission,otal ofinutes on two passes.
Once landed back at Kadena, the camera film was removed from the aircraft, boxed, and sent by special plane to the processing facilities. By late summer an Air Force Center in Japan carried out the processing in order to place the photointelligence in the hands of American commanders in Vietnam withinours of completionLACK SHIELD mission.
Betweenugust andwenty-six missions were alerted. Fifteen were flown. Oneptember one SAM site traced the vehicle with its acquisition radar but was unsuccessful with its Fan Song guidance radar. Onorth Vietnamese SAM site for the first timeingle, albeit unsuccessful, missile at the OXCART. Photography from this mission documented the event with photographs of missile smoke above the SAM firing site, and with pictures of the missile and of its contrail. Electronic countermeasures equipment appeared to perform well against the missile firing.
During the flight ofwo sites prepared to launch missiles but neither did. During the second pass at least six missiles were fired at the OXCART, each confirmed by missile vapor trails on mission photography. The pilot saw these vapor trails and witnessed three missile detonations. Post-flight inspection of the aircraft revealediece of metal had penetrated the lower right wing fillet area and lodged against the support structure of the wing tank. The fragment wasarhead pellet but may haveart of the debris from one of the missile detonations observed by the pilot.
Inhe Air Forceleetrom Lockheed, which upon being finished as two-seated reconnaissance aircraft would be named The first flight was made in4 and theecame The fact that these aircraft were ordered eased the path of OXCART development, since it meant that the financial burden was shared with the Air Force, and the cost per aircraft was somewhat reduced by producing greater numbers. In the longer run, however, the existence ofpelled the doom of OXCART.
In spite of all the efforts to save the program, the Secretary of Defense on8 reaffirmed the original decision to terminate the OXCART Program and store the aircraft. This decision was confirmed by the President on8 during his weekly luncheon meeting with his principal advisors.
Early inB, USAFircraft began to arrive at Kadena to take over the BLACK SHIELD commitment, and by gradual stages2 was placed on standby to back up theroject Headquarters8 as the earliest possible date to begin redeployment, and in the meantime flights2 aircraft were to be limited to those essential for maintaining flying safety and pilot proficiency. After BLACK SHIELD aircraft arrived in the US they would proceed to storage. Those already at base were placed in storageune
In summary: the OXCART Program lasted just over ten year from its inception7 through first flights2 to termination During thisotal ofperational missions had been flown over hostile territory.
Lockheed producedXCARTS, three's, ands. Five OXCARTs were lost in accidents; two pilots were killed, and two had narrow escapes. In addition,hase planes were lost with their Air Force pilots during OXCART'S testing phase.
The main objective ofeconnaissance aircraft of unprecedented speed, range, and. altitudetriumphantly achieved. It may well bo, however, that the most important aspects of the effort lay in itsnotable advances in aerodynamic design, engine performance, cameras, electronic countermeasures, pilot life support systems, antiradar devices, and above all in milling, machining, and shaping titanium. Altogether itioneering accomplishment.Original document.