Cold War Warriors of Area 51 Gather In Las Vegas
Discuss Top Secret Spyplane Program
Contributed by: Connie Pardew
They operated in secret protecting us in silence during the days of Leave it to Beaver, soda fountains and hula hoops. Now, 50 years later, members of the Roadrunners Internationale shared their tales of working, testing and flying the CIA’s Mach 3 A-12 spyplane (predecessor to the SR-71). Mission planners, pilots, engineers and contract personnel met with the public at the Atomic Testing Museum where they shared stores on their work at the secret military base at Groom Lake aka Area 51, located about 100 miles north of Las Vegas.
These heroes whether pilots, enlisted, contract or support personnel were an integral part of our Cold War history. Many of them accepted their respective assignments under a veil of secrecy, initially not knowing what they were volunteering for.
The program (codenamed Oxcart) became operational in 1967 and a detachment of 260 personnel was deployed to Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa for ‘Operation Black Shield’. The A-12 flew 25 operational missions, 20 over North Vietnam, two against Cambodia and three over North Korea. CIA A-12 project pilot Brigadier General B. Dennis Sullivan recounted his experience of six missiles being fired at him while making a second pass over North Vietnam in 1967. “I witnessed three missile detonations and the post flight inspections revealed a piece of metal had penetrated the lower wing fillet area,” he said. “It was not a warhead pellet, but possible debris from one of the detonations.” No A-12 was ever lost due to enemy fire.
Throughout their short, secret life, the A-12 garnered 4,800 flight hours. Only nine remain of the 15 built-one of which is proudly displayed in front of CIA Headquarters in Virginia.
For more information: www.roadrunnersinternationale.com
Here's an A-12 story from the Roadrunners: