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Lockheed YF-12 SR-71 Blackbird Interceptor Version

Lockheed YF-12 (SR-71 Blackbird Interceptor Version) ~ 1974 NASA - USAF

The Lockheed YF-12 was an American prototype interceptor aircraft, which the United States Air Force evaluated as a development of the highly-secret Lockheed A-12 that also spawned the SR-71 Blackbird...

In the late 1950s the United States Air Force (USAF) sought a replacement for the F-106 Delta Dart. As part of the Long Range Interceptor Experimental (LRI,X) program, the North American XF-108 Rapier, a Mach 3 interceptor, was selected. However, the F-108 was canceled in September 1959. During this time Lockheed's Skunk Works was developing the A-12 spy plane for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) under the Oxcart program. Skunk Works' Kelly Johnson proposed a version of the A-12 called AF-12 by the company and the USAF ordered three AF-12s in mid-1960s.

The AF-12s would take the seventh through ninth slots on the A-12 production line... The main changes involved modifying the aircraft's nose to accommodate the Hughes AN/ASG-18 fire-control radar originally developed for the XF-108, and the addition of a second cockpit for a crew member to operate the fire control radar. The nose modifications changed the aircraft's aerodynamics enough to require ventral fins to be mounted under the fuselage and engine nacelles to maintain stability. Finally, four bays previously used to house the A-12's reconnaissance equipment were converted to carry Hughes AIM-47 Falcon (GAR-9) missiles. One bay was used for fire control equipment.

The first YF-12A flew on 7 August 1963... The YF-12A was announced in part to continue hiding the A-12, its still-secret ancestor; any sightings of CIA/Air Force A-12s based at Area 51 in Nevada could be attributed to the well-publicized Air Force YF-12As...

On 14 May 1965 the Air Force placed a production order for 93 F-12Bs for its Aerospace Defense Command (ADC). However, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara would not release the funding... Then in January 1968, the F-12B program was officially ended...

During flight tests the YF-12As set a speed record of 2,070.101 mph (3,331.505 km/h) and altitude record of 80,257.86 ft (24,462.6 m), both on 1 May 1965, and demonstrated promising results with their unique weapon system. Six successful firings of the AIM-47 missiles were completed. The last one launched from the YF-12 at Mach 3.2 at an altitude of 74,000 ft (22,677 m) to a JQB-47E target drone 500 ft (152 m) off the ground. One of the Air Force test pilots, Jim Irwin would go on to become a NASA astronaut and walk on the Moon.

The program was abandoned following the cancellation of the production F-12B, but the YF-12s continued flying for many years with the USAF and with NASA as research aircraft.

NASA testing

The initial phase of this program included test objectives aimed at answering some questions about implementation of the B-1. Air Force objectives included exploration of its use in a tactical environment, and how AWACS would control supersonic aircraft. The Air Force portion was budgeted at US$4 million. The NASA tests would answer questions such as how engine inlet performance affected airframe and propulsion interaction, boundary layer noise, heat transfer under high Mach conditions, and altitude hold at supersonic speeds. The NASA budget for the 2.5-year program was US$14 million.

Of the three YF-12As, #60-6934 was damaged beyond repair by fire at Edwards during a landing mishap on 14 August 1966; its rear half was salvaged and combined with the front half of a Lockheed static test airframe to create the one and only SR-71C...

YF-12A #60-6936 was lost on 24 June 1971 due to an inflight fire... YF-12A #60-06935 is the only surviving YF-12A; it was recalled from storage in 1969 for a joint USAF/NASA investigation of supersonic cruise technology, and then flown to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio on 17 November 1979.

A fourth YF-12 aircraft, the "YF-12C", was actually the second SR-71A (61--7951). This SR-71A was re-designated as a YF-12C and... operated by NASA until September 1978, when it was returned to the Air Force...

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