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The A12 Blackbirds, flown by CIA pilots were the first to operate out of Kadena AB, Okinawa in 1967. The unit was deployed from the 1129th SAS (Special Activities Squadron) out of Groom Lake "Area 51", Nevada. They were also known as "The Road Runners".
The 1129th SAS was a joint USAF/CIA Operation
A12's at Groom Lake, Nevada
The CIA On Okinawa-1967
On 17 May 1967, the first Blackbird support components were airlifted to the island. The mission was called "Black Shield"and was formally sanctioned by President Johnson. The first A12 Article #131 arrived at Kadena on May 22 after a 6 hour, 6 minute flight from Groom Lake, Nevada. A second A12 Article #127 arrived on May 24th and the third aircraft, Article #129 arrived on May 27th after a delay due to INS problems at Wake Island. The Oxcart Detachment unit, with 260 personnel and under the command of Colonel Hugh Slater was declared operationally ready on 29 May 1967. The Black Shield team received authorization for its first Operational Mission the following day.
932 on the field at Wake Island, May 26, 1967
- On 31 May 1967, Mel Vojvodich (CIA) flew A12 #937 out of Kadena on the First Operational Black Shield Mission. Over North Vietnam and the DMZ, the A12 photographed 70 of the known 190 SAM missile sites. The flight lasted 3 hours and 39 minutes and was flown at Mach 3.1 and an altitude of 80,000 feet.
- From 31 May to 15 August, 1967 seven more Black Shield Missions were flown over North Vietnam. In a typical A12 mission the Blackbird was over the target area for only twelve minutes. However, with a Mach 3 turn radius of 86 miles, intrusion into China airspace was carefully avoided. The photo film package was processed at an Air Force Center in Japan and was delivered to Vietnam Commanders within 24 hours of the Black Shield flight and shortly thereafter to the President of the United States.
- Between 15 August and 31 December, 1967 fifteen Black Shield Missions were flown.
- Between 01 January and 31 March 1968, six missions were flown: four over North Vietnam and two over North Korea. The first flight over North Korea was flown on January 26th by Frank Murray (CIA) to assess the seizure of the USS Pueblo by North Korean gunboats. A-12 reconnaissance aircraft based from Kadena Air Base, Japan were dispatched to survey North Korea to determine where the Pueblo was being held. The first mission over North Korea on 25 January was aborted due to a malfunction, but on the second mission On January 26, the A-12 photographed the Pueblo being held 11 miles north of Wonson harbor.
Declassified A12 Imagery of the USS Pueblo in Wonson Harbor
Photos and story is here at this URL: http://www.globalsecurity.org/intell/library/imint/pueblo-imagery-1.htm
- On 08 May 1968, Jack Layton (CIA) flew one mission over North Korea. It was to be the last operational mission flown by the CIA on Okinawa. The SR-71 was prepared to take over mission responsibilities. The SR-71's began arriving in March of 1968. There was an overlap of approximately 90 days in the phase out of the A12's from Kadena.
- On June 04, 1968, an A12 piloted by Jack Weeks (CIA) took off from Kadena for a functional check flight due to an engine change. He was last heard from 520 miles East of Manila, Philippines. Investigation revealed no clue as to the disappearance of the A12 and pilot Jack Weeks. It remains a mystery to this day.
- During June of 1968 the A12's flew back to Groom Lake Test Facility and all 15 A12's were placed in storage at Palmdale, Plant 10, California.
- On 21 June 1968, pilot Frank Murray (CIA) flew #131 on the final A12 flight to Palmdale. The entire A12 program lasted 10 years.. from 1957-1968. A total of 29 Operational Sorties were flown out of Kadena. They remained in storage for a decade and then distributed to various museums in the United States.
- On 26 June 1968, The CIA Intelligence Star for Valor was awarded to CIA Pilots:Mel Vojvodich; Jack Layton; Frank Murray, Ken Collins and Dennis Sullivan. The posthumous award to Jack Weeks was accepted by his widow. The CIA Legion of Merit was presented to the Oxcart Detachment Commander Colonel Hugh "Slip" Slater and his Deputy Colonel Amundson. The Air Force Outstanding Unit Award was also presented to Detachment Oxcart members of the 1129th SAS.
A12 Oxcart Combat Pilots
Recipients of the CIA Intelligence Star for Valor
Mel Vojvodich, Dennis Sullivan, Jack Layton, Frank Murray, Ken Collins
and Jack Weeks (posthumously)
A12 at Groom Lake, Nevada
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USAF SR-71 Kadena Operations
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