by Dru Blair, Mixed Media on Illustration Board, 2007
Donated by Daniel K. Hilton
No question in the early 1950s had greater implications for US security than determining the kinds and numbers of strategic weapons the Soviet Union possessed and how Moscow intended to use them. The U-2 was built to help answer that question, but the aircraft was barely in production when it became plain that a radical improvement was needed, and efforts were begun under CIA supervision in 1957 to create a new aircraft. The result was the Lockheed “Skunk Works”- designed A-12, OXCART. Only 15 were built, and only three would fly operational missions, ironically none over the USSR, before the aircraft were put in storage to be replaced by the US Air Force version of the plane, the SR-71.
Unveiled with the presentation of an A-12 OXCART on static display at CIA’s Headquarters during its 60th anniversary in September 2007, Untouchable depicts the first operational flight of the A-12 on 31 May 1967. Piloted by Mele Vojvodich, the aircraft “Article 131” took off from Kadena Air Base in Okinawa during a torrential downpour just before 1100 local time that day. The A-12 had never operated in heavy rain before, but the weather over the target area was forecast to be satisfactory. Vojvodich crossed the coast of North Vietnam one hour and 14 minutes later, flying at a speed of Mach 3.1 at an altitude of 80,000 feet. He flew the planned route in less than nine minutes, refueled over Thailand, exited near the Demilitarized Zone, and touched down at Kadena in the rain three hours and 39 minutes after he had lifted off. The mission was a success, photographing 70 of the 190 known SAM sites and nine other priority targets, including an airfield, a military training area, an army barracks, and the port at Haiphong. No surface-to-surface missile facilities were located. Contrary to some published accounts, neither Chinese nor North Vietnamese radar tracked the aircraft, nor were North Vietnamese missiles launched at it. A-12 flights remained “untouchable” for another four months.
OXCART’s 29 operational missions over East Asia in CIA’s Operation BLACK SHIELD provided timely threat assessments of SA-2 SAMs in North Vietnam; determined that North Vietnam had no surface-to-surface missiles threatening US and allied military forces in the South; provided information on key installations in North Vietnam; and located the intelligence ship USS Pueblo, which had been seized by North Korea; and confirmed that no further hostilities were imminent there.