of Director of the Central Intelligence Agency,
Gen. Michael V. Hayden
at the A-12 Presentation Ceremony
(as prepared for delivery)
September 19, 2007
Let me start by adding my
own welcome to our distinguished guests from the Air Force, and our partner
agencies in the Intelligence Community. We’re honored to have you with us
today, along with Admiral Stansfield Turner, our former Director, and Vice
Admiral Bert Calland, our former Deputy Director.
It is a special
privilege for me to welcome veterans of the OXCART program—pilots, engineers, support
staff, photographic analysts—and members of your families. Without your skill, courage, and creativity, we
wouldn’t be here today.
and spirit we mark this afternoon have their roots in April of 1958. The U-2 had been in the sky for almost two
years, delivering unprecedented, indispensable intelligence to our nation’s
leaders. But Soviet radar had tracked
the U-2 from its very first overflight, and the plane grew more vulnerable with
That was the challenge
facing Kelly Johnson and his small team of engineers at Lockheed’s Skunk Works. The task was to brainstorm a new spy plane
for CIA. The goal was an aircraft that could
outrun any Soviet missile. Johnson, the
visionary behind development of the U-2, shared his idea for something even
more revolutionary: A long-range,
radar-evading plane that would fly three miles higher and more than four times
faster than the U-2.
Today, half a century
later, it’s difficult to appreciate the audacity of Johnson’s ambition. But Ben Rich, a talented, young engineer who
would one day lead the Skunk Works, said he reacted, and I quote, “with jaw-dropping
To achieve what
Johnson proposed—what America’s
security demanded—would mean starting from scratch. Almost nothing about existing aircraft could
be applied to this daunting new requirement from CIA.
Some seven years
later, on the strength of a solid partnership between the Agency, Lockheed, and
the U.S. Air Force, Johnson’s dream aircraft was a reality, ready for
operations. A marvel of aeronautical
engineering, the A-12 literally took people’s breath away when they first saw
Helms, recalling a midnight test flight in the Nevada desert, later wrote: “The blast of flame that sent the black,
insect-shaped projectile hurtling across the tarmac made me duck
instinctively. It was as if the Devil
himself were blasting his way straight from Hell.”
He had a gift for
The sleek black machine
behind me was the eighth of 15 A-12s built—Article 128. In March 1965, it was the first operationally
outfitted A-12 to reach Mach 3. By the
end of that year, Kelly Johnson declared the aircraft and a cadre of CIA pilots
ready for action. He told Agency
officials, “The time has come when the bird should leave its nest.”
Today, some four
decades later, CIA is indeed proud to welcome this bird home.
As you know, this extraordinary
aircraft was developed, deployed, and eventually retired in secrecy. Twenty years would pass before CIA
acknowledged the project it called OXCART—a name that certainly doesn’t give
Since then, the
essential outlines of its story have been declassified, and several participants
in the program have written about it. CIA’s
own historians and records managers have compiled and released additional
details this week as part of our 60th Anniversary celebration.
The A-12 is,
without a doubt, one of the greatest technical achievements in CIA history. Lockheed overcame obstacles at every stage of
development. Often it was two steps
forward, one step back—as solving one problem yielded another. The titanium alloy chosen for the airframe, for
example, allowed the plane’s skin to withstand the high temperatures that come
at speeds of Mach 3 and above. But as
workers started machining the incredibly strong metal, drills broke and tools
snapped. New ones had to be devised.
By the time the
A-12 flew, the list of necessary innovations was long, including everything
from the fuel, lubricants, and hydraulic fluids, to the wiring, windshield, and
tires. Its cameras were more advanced
than those on any other plane. And it
laid the foundation for future stealth research.
turbo ramjets—posed one of the most difficult development challenges. To take the A-12 to three times the speed of
sound, they had to be the most powerful air-breathing propulsion devices ever
made. Engineers attained the power they
needed by adding retractable cones to regulate the air flow—the distinctive
“spikes” you see covering the engines.
But then, for more
than a year, they wrestled with the nerve-wracking problem of engine “unstarts.”
In the window between Mach 2.5 and 2.9,
shock waves would disrupt air flow to the engine, causing the plane to
violently pitch and yaw. This could
happen a dozen times in a single flight.
As difficult and
frustrating as the problem must have been for Ben Rich and his team of
propulsion experts, imagine being at the controls in the cockpit. CIA’s Jack Layton recalled: “It was like six sticks of dynamite going off
and all of the sudden you’re flying half sideways.” Displaying the cool disposition for which
pilots are sometimes famous, Jack added, “It would get a little hairy at
Like so many other
barriers, the pilots and engineers overcame the challenge of “popped shocks”
through trial and error, gritty persistence, and plain old sweat—intellectual
That kind of
courage, skill, and determination can be seen throughout the 10-year history of
the OXCART program. The people who
brought the A-12 from a rough sketch on paper to an intelligence asset high
above East Asia were the very best in their
People like CIA’s
own Richard Bissell, Bud Wheelon, and John Parangosky, Agency Trailblazers who
led and managed the OXCART program. We
are pleased to have Dr. Wheelon with us today.
and scientists from Lockheed, Pratt & Whitney, Honeywell, David Clark,
Firewel, Perkin Elmer, and elsewhere in the private sector designed and fitted
every system in the aircraft—down to the revolutionary flight suit and the
The Air Force
played a vital role, not only in selecting the pilots, but in support of testing
and operations. Keep in mind, this
aircraft burned 11,000 pounds of fuel per hour at cruising speed and
altitude. Some flights required five
refuelings by KC-135 tankers. Its custom
fuel had to be positioned at tank farms on air bases across the globe.
The risks assumed
by the brave men who piloted the A-12 cannot be overstated. Each time they climbed into the cockpit, they
headed to the very edge of the technical horizon—a place of unknown yet
Twice during the
test phase, pilots were forced to eject at less than 200 feet. Over the course of the program, five A-12s were
lost to crashes. CIA pilots Walter Ray
and Jack Weeks lost their lives, as did Air Force Lieutenant Colonels Jim Simon
and Weldon King, who piloted F-101 chase planes.
Walter Ray and Jack
Weeks are remembered forever on our Memorial Wall, along with 85 other Agency
employees fallen in the line of duty. With this aircraft, we have a second place in which to honor them. Their service and sacrifice will not be
forgotten. They are for all of us a
source of strength and pride.
We are honored to
have with us today Diane Ray, Walter’s widow, and members of the Weeks
family: Jack’s wife, Sharlene, and his
daughter Tana. Thank you so much for
I also want to recognize
pilots Jack Layton, whom I mentioned earlier, plus Ken Collins, Frank Murray,
and Dennis Sullivan. All four of these
men, along with Jack Weeks and Mel Vojvodich, received the Intelligence Star for piloting
operational missions. You are a group
defined by valor.
The display of this
aircraft will be a lasting reminder of the missions you flew and the valuable
contribution the A-12 made to our nation’s defense. Over the course of 29 missions, OXCART imaged
thousands of square miles. In fact, each
overflight produced 5,000 feet of film.
Tom Farrell was the first analyst to see a frame of photography
from the A-12’s maiden operation. He examined
it immediately after it came out of the film processor in Rochester,
New York, and then hand-carried a copy to Washington on a
commercial fight. As fate would have it,
there were 12 Cubans aboard. All the
way, he worried how he would get rid of his classified carry-on if the flight
were hijacked to Cuba,
a distinct possibility at the time.
But Tom made it through. In fact he’s here today, as are several others who studied the A-12’s
photographs: Art Beidler, Mike
Davis, Jim Dimon,
Jimmy Lynch, and Joe Ozefovich.
These men and many others painstakingly culled
through thousands of photographs—sifting nuggets of intelligence from miles of
ground clutter. After the initial
missions, they concluded that North
Vietnam had no surface-to-surface missiles—a
finding that dispelled fears of an imminent escalation of the war.
SHIELD also collected crucial intelligence on North Vietnam’s air defense network
and key military and economic targets. And, as highlighted earlier in the video, the A-12’s three flights over North Korea—its final missions—allowed analysts
to locate the USS Pueblo and allay concerns that Pyongyang was preparing for military action.
As a tactical
intelligence collector, the A-12 had a near-perfect record. CIA takes great pride in that. But our admiration for this plane goes well
beyond what it achieved operationally. OXCART
tells a truly inspirational story—a story that says a lot about CIA and its
commitment to mission. From it, every
officer serving today can draw important lessons:
- That pioneering scientific achievement requires not only
genius, but patience and discipline.
- That a willingness to take risks—intellectual,
technological, and physical—is the foundation for success.
- And that talented men and women, drawn together by their
shared desire to protect America,
can and do achieve extraordinary things.
Thank you very