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Photos of Crashed CIA A-12 Spyplane Outside Area 51

by John Reed on June 2, 2011

OK, you have to check this out. National Geographic just published this awesome slideshow documenting the crash site of one of the CIA’s A-12 spy planes operating out of Area 51 in 1963. The image above is from the collection featuring recently declassified photos of the A-12 program. It’s pretty amazing to see the mockup of the Mach-3 jet sitting there above the ancient looking jeep. The airframe is on the big stick so that Lockheed and CIA engineers can test its radar signature.

Below is a teaser of the pics you’ll find on the show. It’s the empennage of the A-12 that crashed in the desert near Wendover Utah after getting into an unrecoverable spin. National Geo does a great job at describing the efforts to cover up the fact that the super secret plane went down, noting how the pilot kept civilians from approaching the wreck by telling them the plane was carrying a nuclear weapon.

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

blondefletch June 2, 2011 at 4:23 pm

YF-12, precursor to this aircraft was the interceptor, not the A-12 Mark!


Jayson June 2, 2011 at 6:36 pm

Ancient jeep haha. The ol' Wiley's were the best jeeps until Hummer came along. But so expensive when Wiley's were cheap, easy to maintain/repair and reliable. Those were the days. As for the jet, nice read, I love historical relics like this. As far as I'm concerned they aren't out of style and can still do their role if the big heads would send them in.


DJR June 2, 2011 at 8:47 pm

"The airframe is on the big stick so that Lockheed and CIA engineers can test its radar signature."
The real reason is because of Soviet satellites taking photos of the test base. The planes' shadow was painted on cardboard and plcaed on the tarmack as the satellite passed over. Pilots and engineers complained about "wheeling in and out" the plane every time a soviet satellite passed.


Jack D. Ripper June 3, 2011 at 7:24 am

Funny thing is that they mount aircraft upside down like that today to check radar signatures of aircraft. The jeep was most likely 'to wheel it in and out'. You guys were both right.


RMR June 2, 2011 at 9:05 pm

Although Kelly Johnson Knew alot about alot, the SR71 was called "the Flying Fuel Leak"by those who worked on her. They routinely were issued new uniforms,&,new boots every month,becauseof the corrosive nature of the fuel. The plane grew significantly in flight. This caused the fuel tanks to crack & leak. Placing bladders in the tanks only delayed the leaks for a short while.


Riceball June 3, 2011 at 10:33 am

I've always read that the leaks were a design feature and were present to allow for the fuel tanks to expand when heated up during flight. Once the SR-71 was at cruising speed the tanks no longer leaked because they've expanded and thus sealed the leaks.


Atomic Walrus June 3, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Leakage was a feature of the design, but not something intentionally designed. Rather, it was more important to accomodate thermal expansion than to seal the fuel tanks on the ground. The leakage was never desirable, and meant that the aircraft had to refuel shortly after take-off to achieve decent range.


camlo 1969 June 3, 2011 at 9:52 pm

Your right, the the thermo sealing at speed was intentional because no existing bladder or sealant could tolerate the high temperatures or corrosive fuel mixture of the blackbirds, they even had their own tanker fleet for the special jp mixture.


Paul Blackburn June 3, 2011 at 12:37 am

Disclaimer: I have no vested interest and nothing to do with the book below.

About 2/3 thru new book "Area 51" and it is a great collection of exhaustive research about Area 51 & its history, products. Didn't expect much d/t what I thought was going to be a rehash of all the sensationalistc stuff (UFO aliens helping us build alien technology, etc) but the book is exhaustively researched and takes you through the inception, development, and lots of other truly interesting history. For anyone liking aviation, secret spy stuff, and how it got to be what it is today, this is a must read. Answers questions and speculation such as the question above.

New York Times review if you check out their Book Review section.

An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base

By Annie Jacobsen

523 pages. Illustrated. Little, Brown and Company. $27.99.


jemc50 June 3, 2011 at 3:19 am

A-12 and SR-71 did a heckuva job for being built in the 1960s and was able to perform for a long time, thanks to those who maintained and flew it. Big technology jump for the times.


anon June 4, 2011 at 4:21 pm

There are a few websites dedicated to digging out the wreckage in the desert. Here's one of them:


FormerDirtDart June 2, 2011 at 4:24 pm

You're thinking of the AF/YF-12, which was a developmental offshoot of the A-12 program.


scosche June 2, 2011 at 10:31 pm

The A-12 was developed by the CIA to do one thing and one thing only to replace the U2 spy plane to fly over the USSR and spy on their military capabilities.


EJ257 June 2, 2011 at 5:05 pm

How do you propose to hide the massive heat signature generated from friction by flying at mach 3+?


PMI June 2, 2011 at 5:10 pm

It always amazes me to see the great lengths that people will go in an attempt to twist anything to fit their personal agenda. The SR-71 was a beast to maintain & ungodly expensive for it's day (yay black budgets!). It's extreme speed also contributed to making it MORE observable (despite it's use of expensive, hard to maintain signature reducing coatings & composite structures).

In short it was the exact opposite of the model you're arguing for.


Mastro June 2, 2011 at 5:27 pm

The SR-71 filled in a small era where computers were too slow to track something Mach 3 and most SAM's wouldn't be able to catch up to it.

Those advantages were gone by the Eighties (MIG 31 specifically)

What's with armoring a spyplane? Its not an A-10- a SAM would bring it down unless it was built like an Abrams tank.


Jya June 3, 2011 at 12:47 am

The heat generated by an aircraft like that would have increased it's radar signature because the change in air density would reflect radar waves.


Dfens June 3, 2011 at 7:29 am

Do any of you have anything to say that's even a little bit true?


Riceball June 3, 2011 at 10:36 am

The problem with satellites is that they're fairly predictable, all of the major players when and where a satellite will be at any given time, plus you can't put a satellite anywhere you want at any time. That's the benefit of a plane like the SR-71, if you need some near real time intel at a moment's notice then you send in a plane that can be anywhere within hours.


PMI June 3, 2011 at 10:37 am

Well at least you did manage to get the 18th development cycle right…


Atomic Walrus June 3, 2011 at 2:03 pm

And now you'd use a UAV instead. They're staged close to areas of interest so response time is still reasonably fast, and they have higher persistence.


Dfens June 3, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Wow, so close to being clever…


Dfens June 3, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Yeah, they'd persist right up until someone shot their slow ass out of the sky.


Atomic Walrus June 3, 2011 at 6:50 pm

The Soviets achieved a successful interception of the SR-71 using MiG-31s in the 1980s, and their SA-5 was cited by Ben Rich as a major threat to SR-71 operations in the '70s. Being fast doesn't mean you're invulnerable, and it's a lot easier to be stealthy when you're not emitting a huge amount of IR from afterburners and aerodynamic heating.


Dfens June 4, 2011 at 1:52 pm

Like hell they did. Where do you get this bs? The SA-5 could have been a threat to the SR-71 if they had carpeted the Soviet Union with them and fired half of them every time it flew over. It is not just the speed, it is the speed combined with the unpredictability of the entry trajectory combined with the fact the velocity, direction, and speed can change dynamically. Satellites are easy to hit. If it was there yesterday, it will be there today, tomorrow, the next day. Hell even those Chicom MF'ers could hit a satellite. No one has ever taken down an SR-71. That's what killed the program. Lockheed makes lots of money upgrading the U-2. They didn't make squat upgrading the SR-71, therefore they made sure the cash cow continued in service.


anon June 4, 2011 at 4:44 pm

The SR was also expensive as hell to maintain. A capability that in peacetime seems not worth funding.


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