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General Hayden's Remarks at A-12 Presentation Ceremony

Remarks of Director of the Central Intelligence Agency,
Gen. Michael V. Hayden
at the A-12 Presentation Ceremony
(as prepared for delivery)

September 19, 2007

60th Anniversary logoLet 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.

The achievements 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 each mission.

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 disbelief.”

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 it fly.

Director Richard 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 understatement.

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 much away.

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.

The engines—J58 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 times.”

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 and otherwise.

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 profession.

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.

Talented engineers 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 photo gear.

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 palpable danger.

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 being here.

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.

Operation BLACK 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 much.




Historical Document
Posted: Sep 19, 2007 11:39 AM
Last Updated: Jun 20, 2008 08:47 AM