Century Wings seems to have fallen into a pattern in recent years, releasing a pair of F-14 Tomcats for every SR-71 they make. We were kind of hoping that this time around they consider expanding their horizons, so-to-speak, and go the strategy a bit further, perhaps releasing any of the variants that were contemplated by Lockheed some fifty years ago. For starters, there’s the D-21, which was an American reconnaissance drone with maximum speed in excess of Mach 3. The D-21 was initially designed to be launched from the back of a M-21 carrier aircraft, a variant of the Lockheed A-12 aircraft. Development began in October 1962. Originally known by the Lockheed designation Q-12, the drone was intended for reconnaissance deep in enemy airspace.
The D-21 was designed to carry a single high-resolution photographic camera over a preprogrammed path, then release the camera module into the air for retrieval, after which the drone would self-destruct. Following a fatal accident when launched from an M-21, the D-21 was modified to be launched from a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress. Several test flights were made, followed by four unsuccessful operational D-21 flights over the People’s Republic of China, and the program was canceled in 1971.
Then there’s the Lockheed A-12, a reconnaissance aircraft built for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) by Lockheed‘s Skunk Works, based on the designs of Clarence “Kelly” Johnson. The aircraft was designated A-12, the 12th in a series of internal design efforts with the A referring to “Archangel”, the internal code name of the aircraft. It competed in the CIA’s Oxcart program against the Convair Kingfish proposal in 1959, and won for a variety of reasons.
The A-12’s specifications were slightly better than those of the Kingfish, and its projected cost was significantly less. Convair’s design had a smaller radar cross-section, however, and CIA’s representatives initially favored it for that reason. The companies’ respective track records proved decisive. Convair’s work on the B-58 had been plagued with delays and cost overruns, whereas Lockheed had produced the U-2 on time and under budget. In addition, it had experience running a “black” project.
And, finally there’s the YF-12, a prototype interceptor aircraft evaluated by the United States Air Force. The YF-12 was a twin-seat version of the secret single-seat Lockheed A-12 reconnaissance aircraft, which led to the U.S. Air Force’s Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird twin-seat reconnaissance variant. The YF-12 set and held speed and altitude world records of over 2,000 mph and over 80,000 ft (later surpassed by the SR-71), and is the world’s largest manned interceptor to date.