FAST HISTORY: THE A-12 AVENGER II’s COCKPIT WAS AHEAD OF ITS TIME

image0101 copyCheck out this awesome image of the McDonnel Douglas/General Dynamics A-12 Avenger II’s cockpit concept circa the late 1980′s. The A-12, dubbed the ”flying Dorito” by detractors, was most likely developed from the “Sneaky Pete” stealth flying wing penetrator concept of the early 1980′s. It is not clear if a classified Sneaky Pete actually flew as a technology demonstrator during the 1980′s but many believe that it did. The A-12 program, also known as the Advanced Tactical Aircraft (ATA) initiative, was intended to replace the ageing A-6 Intruder as the Navy’s attack aircraft. The flying wing design allowed for a much lower radar and infra-red signature than a traditional airframe. In the end the A-12 design was struggling to reach its performance goals. The composite win and its cost was escalating rapidly. A-12-Avenger-II-Experimental-Stealth-Bomber-Side-View-AngleWith this in mind, paired with the end of the Cold War and shrinking defense budgets, then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney cancelled the A-12 outright, and the Navy’s gaze turned away from a purpose built, stealth technology-centric precision attack platform, over to evolving potential multi-role platforms already in service. The Super Hornet and a few very promising derivatives of the F-14 were proposed to fill the sudden gap left by the A-12′s cancellation. In the end the Super Hornet was chosen and the rest is history. None-the-less, a good portion of the concept for the A-12′s cockpit, an outgrowth of the F-15E and the “legacy Hornet’s” cockpit design, looks like it made its way to the F/A-18F Super Hornet a decade after the Avenger’s cancellation. Of particular note is the large “situational display” screen in the center of the rear and front cockpit pedestals as well as the touch screen up front controls.

2Fast forward over 20 years after the Avenger II’s cancellation, and only in the latter half of this decade might the Navy actually fulfill the low-observable attack capability in the form of the F-35C. Still, the F-35 is quite conceptually inferior to the A-12 when it comes to deep strike alone. The A-12 was to have close to double the range of the F-35C and far greater payload potential (figures found on the net regarding both these design parameters are misleading). Apparently, the composite wing spar structures were a major issue during the prototyping phase for the A-12, the technology simply was not there to make these structures reliably strong and light enough to meet the design’s goals. The Avenger also had composite skin durability issues, center of gravity problems, and an elaborate wing folding mechanism that was taking a lot of time and money to make work. Additionally, the jet lacked thrust in a big way. Fully loaded it was said that only 16 runways in the world could accommodate the A-12′s long takeoff roll. a12_k08Whether this statement is actually true is really beside the point, the A-12 needed more powerful motors.

Like so many other past combat aircraft designs, one has to wonder what the platform could accomplish using today’s material science, avionics, and powerplants. I have a feeling that if the A-12 were designed today, with its ample fuel supply, large radar apertures, low observable potential and sizable payload, it would be a fantastic aircraft for the current operational realities of the Pacific. Also, the original A-12 concept saw the aircraft as being multi-role, with air to air, electronic attack and reconnaissance capability being strong, but periphery elements of the aircraft’s menu of capabilities.. Additionally, I would argue that with emerging Distributed Aperture Technology and lock on after lock short range missiles, you do not even need a maneuverable fighter at all to dominate the skies. Less dependence on very non-stealthy tankers, longer on-station times, and a larger payload of air to air missiles would arguably offer a better air superiority capability than a short legged, 9g capable superfighter.

UCLASS_DeckEvening-1200-thumb-560x246-175588Then again, in some ways, a marginally downsized and highly modernized version of the A-12 is being tested on carriers today, in the form of the unmanned X-47B. Eventually its production successor, the UCLASS, will fill the role that the A-12 aspired to fill decades ago, although without a human being on-board….

photo 2

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8 Responses to FAST HISTORY: THE A-12 AVENGER II’s COCKPIT WAS AHEAD OF ITS TIME

  1. aerodawg says:

    Ahh the A-12. Boondoggle of boondoggles. That’s an aircraft that really could have been a nice aircraft with reasonable requirements and proper management of the development program.

  2. Jetcal1 says:

    They killed the A-6F for this. Maybe not stealth, but still reasonably viable 20+ years later. (Oh-yeah and they would have had composite winged tankers now.)

    • aviationintel.com says:

      I am a HUGE fan of the A-6F, long legs, lower MX, and a huge bomb load as well as respectable multi-role capability for self escort. That thing would have been an all-star in Afghanistan and iraq for persistent CAS.

  3. Jetcal1 says:

    Just caught the F-14 link. Rumor has it that Cheney killed Grumman out spite from a failed merger when he was with LTV. The -18 mafia did the rest. I had the temerity to suggest that the -14 be retained as a SEAD platform to a congressman and Captain escorting him through my shop about freaked out. The -14D still has a greater payload over a longer distance then the -18G

    • aviationintel.com says:

      Right, just as the F-15 would have been a fantastic wild weasel instead of the F-16CJ. I CAN believe that story about Cheney, he is notorious for his grudges and they often crossed from the political world into the public world.

  4. esmoore5 says:

    Boeing, General Dynamics reach $400 million A-12 settlement with U.S. Navy:

    “Boeing Co (BA.N) and General Dynamics Corp (GD.N) on Thursday each
    agreed to give the U.S. Navy $200 million in aircraft and services to
    settle an epic, 23-year legal dispute over cancellation of the $4.8
    billion A-12 stealth aircraft in 1991.

    The agreement resolves the last of series of legal cases spawned in 1991
    when then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney canceled the A-12 Avenger II
    program after it ran into major schedule delays and cost overruns in the
    1980s.”

    See:

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/24/us-boeing-generaldynamics-settlement-idUSBREA0M22820140124

    23 years ….. Egad!

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