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The A-12, like its successor the SR-71, was an exercise in extremes.
It was literally faster than a rifle bullet, capable of hitting speeds in excess of three times the speed of sound and 2,000 miles an hour.
Extensive research went into reducing the so-called radar cross section of the A-12 (that is, how big it "looks" to radar) and great effort went into optimizing the general shape of the aircraft, and developing specific technology such as the use of special radar-absorbing paint, to make the A-12 as hard as possible to find and track in hostile skies.
Workload for the A-12 pilot was exacting; deviating even slightly from the correct flight angle (angle of attack) at high speeds could cause the aircraft to "depart from controlled flight" with potentially catastrophic results.The project was code-named OXCART, a name chosen from a random word list of secret project names, but as the A-12 took shape, those working on the project at Skunk Works became more and more disenchanted with using such a clumsy name for such a groundbreaking aircraft, and the name Cygnus (the Swan, a constellation) was adopted at Lockheed.The name is now little known however, and the aircraft is generally remembered simply as the A-12.The skin of the A-12 was made of titanium and it was the very first aircraft ever to be made entirely of the metal.Prior to this titanium had only been used for certain parts and the supplier to Lockheed did not have access to sufficient quantities for Project OXCART.
Like the Blackbird, the A12 was made by Lockheed's famous Skunk Works division, which handled – and handles – classified aircraft development programs for the U. The need for the A-12 and SR-71 programs was born from the shortcomings of yet another secret aircraft project: the high-flying photo reconnaissance aircraft known as the U-2, operated by CIA as well as the Air Force, and nicknamed "Dragon Lady." The U-2 was designed for missions over the Soviet Union and was designed to fly at such high altitudes as to be unreachable by Soviet surface-to-air missiles.