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Just how do you move a secret aircraft overland to a secret base?
April 25, 2013 8:52 AM   Subscribe

How did Lockheed move the A-12 from the Skunk Works to Area 51 for flight testing without the vehicle being seen? Here's how.
posted by Rob Rockets (61 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite

 
I am deeply disappointed at the noticeable lack of aliens.
posted by Avenger at 9:02 AM on April 25, 2013


The business card shown in the article is amazing. On one hand, I'm surprised that they let someone create it. On the other hand, who would believe that such a thing was real if you saw it? I'd assume it was a joke.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:03 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why was there a human pacer in front of the carriage?
posted by JujuB at 9:03 AM on April 25, 2013


This is like a weird cross of Smokey and the Bandit with the Transformers in the 1960s. It almost seems steampunky.
posted by srboisvert at 9:04 AM on April 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


The Sled! I had no idea they were built in 1959. I really gotta get on that slide-rule post...
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:05 AM on April 25, 2013


Such epic levels of engineering done with pencils and slide rules. I think about our modern CAD and modelling systems and the magnitude of computing power in my pants pocket right now and compare it to that and am in awe of the engineering skill (and fearless boldness of implementation) involved, there.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:08 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I love seeing the (still) hyperfuturistic looking A-12 next to those old timey police cars.
posted by BeeDo at 9:09 AM on April 25, 2013 [9 favorites]


I don't get what's surprising about the business card.

What I find amazing is that let someone take photos of the inside of the factory and of the plane that supposedly no one should be able to see. And they guy had the photos at home?
posted by DU at 9:09 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Engineers are engineers.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:10 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Holy, holy crap. That was astounding.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:12 AM on April 25, 2013


Wow, this is amazing. Why did I think there were no roads into Area 51?

I was just in that area but didn't have time to do the full top secret tour thing, definitely have to make time for it next time.
posted by Skorgu at 9:14 AM on April 25, 2013


Such epic levels of engineering done with pencils and slide rules.

Mental giants. Truly amazing.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:14 AM on April 25, 2013


So everyone in southern California watched the truck with surveying poles on it drive through town, and then watched the earth-moving equipment widen the road cuts, and then watched a large, flat thing on a truck surrounded by police cars come through town at night.... And someone complained that the people of Watertown, Mass., were too compliant last Friday?!
posted by wenestvedt at 9:16 AM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


Such epic levels of engineering done with pencils and slide rules.

I'd be curious to see employment figures between then and now for engineering departments. I was talking to an older coworker awhile ago and he mentioned that, before computers, you would have a fleet of engineers just working on (for example) the wing - each engineer would get a 1-foot section of the wing to be in charge of and do all the calculations for, and that was how the design was formed. Nowadays you can do the same thing with one guy and a CFD package.
posted by backseatpilot at 9:18 AM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Still the sexiest looking plane ever developed.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:18 AM on April 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


"He says the sun came out last night. He says it sang to him."
posted by Fizz at 9:20 AM on April 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


the magnitude of computing power in my pants

That pickup line never works.
posted by kmz at 9:23 AM on April 25, 2013 [9 favorites]


Just transporting those things looks like piles and piles of cash, just raining down all over the place to support massive operations like that.

I've had money on my mind lately.
posted by lostburner at 9:24 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


So everyone in southern California watched the truck with surveying poles on it drive through town, and then watched the earth-moving equipment widen the road cuts, and then watched a large, flat thing on a truck surrounded by police cars come through town at night.... And someone complained that the people of Watertown, Mass., were too compliant last Friday?!

Yes, because "they're driving a big truck down the road slowly" is totally the same thing as "they're searching my house without a warrant."
posted by The World Famous at 9:25 AM on April 25, 2013 [9 favorites]


Awesome pics. Also love the CIA crash/coverup story. That'll go down well with the Roswell fans.
posted by marienbad at 9:28 AM on April 25, 2013


And someone complained that the people of Watertown, Mass., were too compliant last Friday?!

You're right, nowadays they would just put an exclusion zone around the whole area and confiscate everyone's cameras.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:28 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


This was really not a disappointment (when I saw the text at the beginning, I was afraid there wouldn't be pictures so was worried)

This is like a weird cross of Smokey and the Bandit with the Transformers in the 1960s.

10 year old Mike is super excited to hear about this movie.

(Okay, present day Mike also would be.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:30 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Incredible. Thanks!
posted by Freen at 9:33 AM on April 25, 2013


I like the part where Barney and Gomer got it stuck in the mud.
posted by I'm Doing the Dishes at 9:34 AM on April 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


Wow!
posted by OmieWise at 9:36 AM on April 25, 2013


Something about the FPP text had me honestly expecting some David Copperfield-type sleight of hand. You know the government has to be sitting on a big ol' pile of classified magic tricks that just totally outdo anything civilians have access to.
posted by invitapriore at 9:43 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Everything about the A-12, YF-12, and SR-71 was just so extreme! 50 years old, and they still look like the future!
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:55 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


1) Cut a hole in a box.
2) Put your plane in a box.
3) Make her drive the box to area 51.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:57 AM on April 25, 2013 [12 favorites]


Why did I think there were no roads into Area 51?

There are - you can go as far as the boundary with the "DON'T GO PAST THIS OR WE'LL KILL YOU" (paraphrasing) signs and wave to the guys in the white Jeep Cherokees up on the hill. The actual guard shack is not visible from the border. There's a commuter flight for workers there that flies out of Las Vegas every day, though, and flies to the facility.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:05 AM on April 25, 2013


BeeDo: I love seeing the (still) hyperfuturistic looking A-12 next to those old timey police cars.

Just makes me ache to know what the planes they are working on now look like.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:07 AM on April 25, 2013


Just makes me ache to know what the planes they are working on now look like.

They are virtually indistinguishable from a 1961 Chrysler Town & Country.
posted by The World Famous at 10:12 AM on April 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


There's a commuter flight for workers there that flies out of Las Vegas every day, though, and flies to the facility.

That is so boss. That is Black Mesa boss.
posted by invitapriore at 10:13 AM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Interestingly that factory where they built the top secret aircraft was demolished in the 1990s and is now a parking lot.

Makes you wonder if one day many years from now when Las Vegas has lost its glamour and the Nellis Range is closed, a group of entrepreneurs buys Groom Lake from the U.S. government and sets up the next giant resort city -- at Area 51. Maybe we'll have a 50th anniversary MeFi meetup there at the Intergalactic Hotel.
posted by crapmatic at 10:24 AM on April 25, 2013


What makes you think there are not already secret MeFi meetups there?
posted by The World Famous at 10:26 AM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


invitapriore: There's a commuter flight for workers there that flies out of Las Vegas every day, though, and flies to the facility.

Seems like possibly the worst place on Earth for your Top Secret Alien Level Security Clearance employees to be living, though, no?
posted by Rock Steady at 10:34 AM on April 25, 2013


Seems like possibly the worst place on Earth for your Top Secret Alien Level Security Clearance employees to be living, though, no?

In Vegas they can bring their work home and nobody will notice.
posted by rongorongo at 10:41 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


The business card shown in the article is amazing. On one hand, I'm surprised that they let someone create it.

Well, nowadays the Skunk Works is a huge building easily visible from the highways with a big skunk on it, so I don't think the fact of the skunk works was ever terribly secret.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:48 AM on April 25, 2013


Seems like it would have been a lot easier to just fly the plane where they wanted it to go. Still, very impressive logistics and effort.
posted by dgran at 10:49 AM on April 25, 2013


dgran, it would have... but the thing wasn't even tested yet.
posted by azpenguin at 10:54 AM on April 25, 2013


Can't tell if joke, but just in case: the plane couldn't fly at that point, nor could it be flight-tested in Palmdale. It needed lots of open (secure) space to do taxi tests, etc.
posted by introp at 10:54 AM on April 25, 2013


The is awesome. I love logistics like this.

If I recall they actually changed the design of the original Minuteman missile to account for the tunnels and bridges on the way to all the potential silo sites.

Almost every large project I've worked on has treated deployment as an afterthought, with some memorable side-effects like having to ship special one-time use carts along with routers so that the customer could get the device the 15 feet from the machine room door to the rack without the floor collapsing. And still people look at me funny when I suggest we think these things through.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:00 AM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


The first thing they transported wasn't even a plane, it was an aerodynamic model. Unfortunately it was also too big for the cargo planes of the day.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:02 AM on April 25, 2013


Such epic levels of engineering done with pencils and slide rules.

Mental giants. Truly amazing.



"It is by will alone I set my mind in motion..."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:21 AM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Damn that was just soooo cool. I especially enjoyed the simple-yet-effective use of a "clearance pole".

Love this stuff. Thanks for the post.
posted by kinnakeet at 11:24 AM on April 25, 2013


Everything about this is amazing to me. The SR-71 Blackbird remains my favorite flying object ever built - and by association the A-12. There is so much in those pictures that the words in the story are almost not necessary but they're very well written and add so much.

If anybody ever wonders why kids (yeah I'm still a kid. 36 is a kid right?) want to be (and might think they can be) Batman just point them to this.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 12:08 PM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


I love seeing the (still) hyperfuturistic looking A-12 next to those old timey police cars.

That was the contrast that got me too. Still an incredibly futuristic and beautiful plane.
posted by arcticseal at 12:08 PM on April 25, 2013


That is Black Mesa boss.

I think they had a tram instead.
posted by mrgoat at 12:12 PM on April 25, 2013


I wonder if, in 1959, the now-familiar military and black-ops style of opaque naming ("article 21") carried with it the same sense of foreboding that it does today, or if that association was only cultivated through decades of government spooks using it on dread secrets like this.
posted by Western Infidels at 12:16 PM on April 25, 2013


Magnificent - absolutely magnificent! Thank you Rob.
posted by speug at 12:20 PM on April 25, 2013


Almost every large project I've worked on has treated deployment as an afterthought, with some memorable side-effects like having to ship special one-time use carts along with routers so that the customer could get the device the 15 feet from the machine room door to the rack without the floor collapsing. And still people look at me funny when I suggest we think these things through.

My friend used to make furniture and cabinets and he'd ask me to come along to help him transport and install whatever and let's just say deployment is often an afterthought on small projects, too.
posted by notyou at 1:40 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Less people would have noticed if they just flew it in the middle of the night.
posted by gjc at 2:21 PM on April 25, 2013


The did fly it in the middle of the night once it could fly. Oddly enough, more people reported unidentified flying objects than reported unidentified big trucks.
posted by The World Famous at 2:41 PM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Anyone who likes ladders will love this scene

Now that's a photo caption.
posted by brain_drain at 3:05 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Anyone who likes ladders will love this scene

Now that's a photo caption.


Typical ladderwank fan service.
posted by passerby at 3:23 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is great; thank you for posting it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:02 PM on April 25, 2013


Well I guessed smoke and mirrors, but appears I was wrong.
posted by Merlin The Happy Pig at 5:58 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm amazed at the clearance lighting on that large trailer unit (I counted 92 marker and tail lights on the trailer alone). Chrysler didn't even bring out the alternator until 1960 so if that lighting was powered by the truck it was getting it's juice from a generator. The generator to get that much power would be huge! I wonder if they had a portable gen set on the trailer just to run the lights.
posted by Mitheral at 8:58 PM on April 25, 2013


As a lad I was entranced by the SR-71 Blackbird. I think I built three different models of it over the years. Got to see one at an air show and could not be pulled away by my mom to go look at the other stuff. I must have lapped that beauty thirty times. I still love the futuristic lines of it. I was disappointed that they never built an interceptor version. I thought that nothing would be cooler than firing a couple missiles at an opponent and then sticking your tongue out at them as you outran their missiles AND bullets. Damn those things are cool.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 9:43 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is just overflowing buckets of neat.
posted by hypersloth at 9:50 PM on April 25, 2013


I find it interesting that they didn't want the guys building the A-12s to see the YF-112 like it wouldn't occur to anyone that putting a couple air to air missiles on one of these would make for an interceptor that would engage far enough out to give you a second at bat if you missed.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:37 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


That was amazing; the scale of the work just to shift it was immense!

Now, if they'd had it designed by Ikea it would have all fit into 2 or 3 flatpacks.
posted by tracicle at 1:13 AM on April 26, 2013


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