Natural History Museum  12            9-2013

This is the back of the building and the original structure, what is known today as the '1913 Building' (the year it was built) has a different blend of styles such as Spanish Renaissance ornamentation is seen in the terracotta trimmings and Romanesque style in the arched windows and the brick walls.



The building has undergone a few renovations and a seismic retrofit through the years. The amount of detail and craftsmanship is stunning which you rarely see today.



This is the A-12 Blackbird trainer that sits next to the Science Center parking area which we looked at right before we went home. At first glance I mistook it for the SR-71 which is understandable because they're both nearly identical in almost everyway. The A-12 and SR-71 were both built by Lockheed Skunk Works and were both reconnaissance aircrafts. The A-12's first official flight in front of government representatives was on April 30th, 1962.



The main difference between the two aircrafts is that the A-12 was used by the CIA and the SR-71 by the Air Force. There's no mistaking those huge Pratt and Whitney engines that propel this stealthy aircraft to greater than Mach 3.




After doing a little reconnaissance of my own, the A-12 'is' a single seat aircraft, not two like you see here. The reason this aircraft has two seats is because it's a 'trainer', one for the instructor and one for the pilot in training. This is why I thought this was the SR-71 because that aircraft has two seats, one for the pilot and one for the reconnaissance systems officer. The dark color paint kept the sunlight from blinding the pilot.

Cover-ups and Secrecy

The A-12 was born in absolute secrecy at the end of the 1950's to replace the U-2 which had become vulnerable to Soviet SAM defenses. Officially the program was known as Oxcart, a terrible name if there ever was one. Since no self-respecting pilot wanted to fly something as un-sexy as an "Oxcart", Lockheed unofficially dubbed them "Cygnus", named after the constellation of Cygnus the swan.
When the request for a strategic reconnaissance aircraft was put in by the C.I.A., Lockheed Skunk Works were the first to respond with a radical design. Proposed was an airframe that could reach an extreme velocity of Mach 3.5 at near space altitudes, while having an exceptionally low cross-radar signature that would make it almost impossible for the Soviets to spot. The C.I.A. created several cover up companies which were used to purchase the required titanium for the construction of Blackbirds from the Soviet Union, which is quite ironic considering a lot of the missions consisted of relaying information about the country that the materials were purchased from.



The aircraft was subjected to high temperatures by kinetic heating from the surrounding air. At cruise speed the leading edges and intakes would be exposed to 800F, most of the wings and fuselage would face 450-500F. Outer skin temperatures around the rear of the engine would reach 900-1,100F, with the jet pipes glowing white hot even on minimal afterburner settings while cruising. To cope with these temperatures more than 90% of the fuselage was built of titanium alloy.

A cold Blackbird fuselage has many leaks, leading to fuel spillage while sitting so ground crews had to be protected from exposure of the fuel, but those leaks close-up as the skin temperature rises while in flight. Lubricant oils designed for this type of aircraft must be preheated before take off as well. The A-12 was slightly better than the SR-71 in almost every category, but not by much.

Lockheed A-12 Blackbird specs.

Maximum Speed: Mach 3.35 at 85,000 feet (Estimated)
Maximum Operational Ceiling: 95,000 feet
Maximum Unrefueled Range: 2,500 miles
Wing Span: 55.6 feet
Wing Area: 1,795 square. feet
Length: 98.75 feet
Empty Weight: 60,000 lbs.
Gross Takeoff Weight: 120,000
Sensor Payload: 2,500 lbs.



Click for larger image.



Click for larger image.


If you ever get the chance to visit the California Science Center or the Los Angeles Natural History Museum you won't be disappointed... but watch out for all sharp teeth.


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