An A-12 Oxcart. The predecessor to the SR-71 Blackbird, Lockheed’s Skunkworks built the A-12 for the same purpose: strategic, high-altitude reconnaissance.
The A-12 was shorter and lighter than the SR-71, but even faster. In fact, the A-12, which started flying in 1963, still holds the record (Mach 3.29 at 90,000 feet) for air-breathing, jet piloted aircraft.
However, the SR-71 featured a considerably longer range, which led to the A-12’s retirement in 1968. The SR-71 flew until 1999.
On January 5, 1967, Walter Ray, a pilot for the CIA, took off from Area 51 in his plane, an A-12 Oxcart. Ray’s aircraft experienced a rapid fuel loss, resulting in the shutdown of the aircraft engines. The pilot attempted to bail out but failed.
Lockheed built just 15 A-12s in total, and the tiny fleet lost two planes to crashes, including the one that took Ray’s life.
Although the U.S. government located the remains of both aircraft and pilot, the location of the crash site was considered a secret.
After a lengthy search, an urban explorer found the wreckage of an A-12 Oxcart that crashed outside of Area 51.
Here is the story of an urban explorer who finally uncovered the crash site of an A-12 Oxcart near Area 51.
Story Link: A CIA spy plane crashed outside Area 51 a half-century ago. This explorer found it.
Details Of A-12 #928’s final flight
Walter L. Ray, an employee of the CIA, joined Lockheed as a civilian pilot on November 07, 1962. During #928’s final flight, Ray did not received a full fuel load from the tanker due to a second aircraft (chase plane) requiring fuel.
He determined that he had sufficient fuel to return to Groom Lake. He could have diverted to Albuquerque, NM. He declared an emergency but the aircraft ran out of fuel only minutes before landing at Groom Lake.
The official accident report attributed the crash to a malfunctioning fuel quantity gauge. However, in his radio transmission prior to ejecting he stated “I have a loss of fuel and I do not know where it is going; I think I can make it (Groom Lake)”.
CIA pilot Walter L. Ray was forced to eject.
Unfortunately the ejection seat separation sequence (which should have occurred at 16,000 feet) malfunctioned and Ray was killed on impact with the ground, still strapped to his seat.
The automatic sequence for separating the pilot from the seat even though the pilot may be unconscious definitely was defective. Additionally, the pilot was not wearing his fitted pressure suit but rather one that was larger which may have been a contributing factor.
LAC #125 (928) flew 202 flights for 334.9 hours total flight time prior to the crash. Walter L. Ray was the first CIA pilot killed in the line of duty and is so honored in the “Book of Honor”, CIA Headquarters in McLean, Va. Tom Mahood has an excellent web page dedicated to his quest for the crash location of this aircraft. Go here to read his story: “The Hunt for 928”