OXCART and the Roadrunners
Support aircraft began arriving in the spring of 1962. These included eight McDonnell F- 101B/F Voodoos for training and chase, a Lockheed C-130 Hercules for cargo transport, U-8A for administrative use, Cessna 180 for liaison use, and Kaman HH-43 helicopter for search and rescue. A Lockheed F-104A/G (56-0801) was supplied as a chase plane during the OXCART flight test period.
In January 1962, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expanded the restricted airspace in the vicinity of Groom Lake. The lakebed became the center of a 600-square-mile addition to restricted area R-4808N. Restricted continuously at all altitudes, the airspace occupies the center of the Nellis Air Force Range.
The prototype A-12 (60-6924) made its unofficial first flight on 25 April 1962 with Louis W. Schalk at the controls. He flew the aircraft less than two miles at an altitude of about 20 feet. The following day, Schalk made a 40-minute flight. An official "first flight" on 30 April was witnessed by a number of dignitaries including Richard Bissell (even though he had resigned from the CIA in February) and FAA chief Najeeb Halaby.
OXCART pilot Jack Weeks nicknamed the A-12 Cygnus after the constellation of the swan. Initially, all 15 A-12 aircraft were based at Groom Lake and operated by the 1129th Special Activities Squadron Roadrunners, commanded by Col. Hugh "Slip" Slater. A-12 test aircraft (60-6924, 60-6925, 60-6928), and the TA-12 trainer (60-6927) were housed in hangars at the north end of the flightline. Operational aircraft were kept in Hangars 9 through 16 at the southern end of the base. Security was paramount. Even the existence of the A-12 was a closely guarded secret.
With the assistance of the CIA, the U.S. Air Force entered into an agreement with Lockheed to build three prototypes of an interceptor version of the A-12 under project KEDLOCK. Known as the AF-12 (later changed to YF-12A), the design included a second crew position, air-to-air missiles, and fire-control radar in the nose. The first YF-12A (60-6934) made its maiden flight on 7 August 1963 with James Eastham at the controls.
After President Lyndon B. Johnson announced the existence of the aircraft in March 1964, the YF-12A test was program moved to Edwards.
Construction of the Area 51 facility was completed in 1965. The site population had grown to 1,835, and contractors were working three shifts a day. Lockheed-owned Constellation and C- 47 aircraft made several flights a day ferrying personnel from Burbank and Las Vegas to Groom Lake. Hughes and Honeywell had facilities on site, and Pratt & Whitney operated an engine test stand. Perkin-Elmer set up a special building in which to work on the equipment bays in the nose of the A-12.
During the course of the OXCART program, Kelly Johnson developed an unmanned reconnaissance drone that could be launched from a modified version of the A-12. Codenamed TAGBOARD, the drone was a ramjet-powered vehicle capable of reaching 90,000 feet at Mach 3.3. Two OXCART-type aircraft (60-6940 and 60-6941) were purpose- built to launch TAGBOARD. Each was equipped with a rear seat for a Launch Systems Operator (LSO), and a dorsal launch pylon.
The TAGBOARD was designated D-21 and the launch aircraft were given the unusual designation M-21. The first D-21 was launched 5 March 1966.