Early Glimpse of Archangel - Original Kelly Johnson Whitepaper

A-12 Line Up

Every now and again a piece of history surfaces that reignites the kid, inventor and aeronautical engineer in all of us. Recently, Code One was provided a never-released whitepaper drafted by Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson in the late 1950’s for Archangel-1 as he and his team worked on an offering for the Oxcart program. Today, we share it with you.

This document, one of a series of papers compiled by Johnson and his team as they evolved the (then) Lockheed Archangel-1 configuration for the Oxcart program, is the first in a series that led to the final design designated A-12.

Even by today’s fast-paced standards, the configuration development for Oxcart was unbelievably rapid. From program cold-start in April 1958, Skunk Works grandfathers developed approximately 21 different designs to arrive at the basic configuration of the A-12 defined in July 1959.

This A-1 paper is just one example of Johnson living by his own rule #5: “There must be a minimum number of reports required, but important work must be recorded thoroughly.”  As you'll see in the document, Kelly includes a narrative to provide context for the technical information, as well as a recommendation.  View the Kelly Johnson Archangel-1 whitepaper.  

A-1 Configuration Shown here is Archangel-1 (A-1), the first of many configurations developed by Kelly Johnson and team in support of the CIA's Oxcart program.
Kelly Johnson To this day, Kelly Johnson’s resume of accomplishments reads like a list of the most iconic airplanes in aviation history.
A-12 Initial Configuration The A-12 was a precursor to the YF-12, M-21 and SR-71.

What Came of Oxcart?
Given slightly more than two months to submit final proposals for the Oxcart program, Convair, who at the time offered their Kingfish configuration of the Convair FISH, and Lockheed, offering the A-12, submitted their proposals on 20 August 1959. While Kingfish offered better performance and a lower radar cross section, the A-12 was lower cost and lower risk and offered a greater operational range. Lockheed won the competition on 29 August with one stipulation — it had to prove its concept for reducing the A-12’s radar cross section, which Lockheed did by mid-January 1960. The contract for twelve A-12 aircraft was signed on 11 February 1960. The first unofficial flight of the first A-12 occurred on 25 April 1962 with Lockheed test pilot Lou Schalk at the controls. Schalk also made a gear down flight on 26 April and the first official flight, which came in front of government representatives, on 30 April.

The A-12 was produced from 1962 to 1964 from the Lockheed Burbank facility, and operated by the CIA from 1963 to 1968. Its legacy lived on well after, however, as it provided the foundation for the YF-12 prototype interceptor, M-21 drone launcher and the SR-71 Blackbird. The A-12's final mission was flown in May 1968. The program was officially revealed to the public in the mid-1990s.

Read a detailed history of Archangel as shared by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Excerpt written by Danielle Epting. Code One thanks Steve Justice and the Skunk Works for their contributions and review of this article.