Top secret Avenger Stealth Fighter revealed

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A-12 A Avenger II stealth fighter

When fully assembled, it is not hard to understand where the Avenger derived its nickname of the ‘Flying Dorito’.
/ Photo by Jim Hodgson

During the 1980′s, engineers in Fort Worth developed the A-12 A Avenger II stealth fighter in secret. After the project was scrapped in the early 90′s, however, the aircraft’s engineering mockup was kept under a tarp at Lockheed Martin until The Fort Worth Air and Space Museum Foundation unearthed it and transported it to Veterans Memorial Air Park on June 28. There It will be restored and put on display for the world to see.

“It was quite a display on the road yesterday,” said Jim Hodgson, Executive Director of Veterans Memorial Air Park. “The people who were in the convoy that brought it out said people would speed up and go by only to go up and park along the highway to get out and take pictures as they towed it down 820.”

The convoy included three semitrailers with police escorts. Wildcat Cranes in Fort Worth volunteered their equipment and services to move the aircraft.

“What we have is a full-scale engineering preproduction mockup of the A-12A Avenger II which was in development here for a number of years until the program shut down in 1991, and the mockup itself has been kind of shuttled around between Lockheed and Carswell and has pretty much been under wraps for the last 20 something years,” Hodgson said.

Hodgson said the mockup has never been available for access to the public.

“The program, when it was underway back in the 80’s and 90’s, was a top secret program,” he said. “Since then, (the Avenger) has been in back lots, and it’s been covered up with tarps. It hasn’t been anywhere the public could get out and see it.”

He agreed that some of the people who shot photos of it last week may have thought authorities had caught a UFO.

“It was actually called that at one point in time,” Hodgson said. “Without the wings on it, it looks even more like a UFO.

“The main fuselage of the plane is 36 feet wide, and the wingtips are both 17 feet, so that was another 34, so this thing is quite large at 70 feet,” he said. “Even with the wingtips off of it, it’s an imposing vehicle.

‘There was also a mockup of the engine that was built, so we have that along with the airplane,” Hodgson said. “We had the engine mockup, and then the plane, and then the two wings. It was quite an impressive little parade yesterday.

“This thing affected a lot of people,” Hodgson said. “I don’t even know how many people were involved with that project.

“The Navy contracted for the Avenger which was going to be a replacement for the A6 Intruder which was an attack bomber for the Navy and the Marine Corps,” he said. “Potentially, it was also going to replace some of the other Navy airplanes. It was a stealth design with composite materials, and so it was very early in the development of those things. It ultimately lost out to the Stealth Fighter F117, built for the Air Force and designed by West Coast Lockheed. That program continued, and the Avenger program stopped.”

The Avenger mockup still belongs to the City of Fort Worth.

“It had previously belonged to the Aviation Heritage Association which was disbanded when the Fort Worth Air and Space Museum Foundation was established a few years ago,” Hodgson said. “Through some of the work we’ve done with the City to help catalogue the collection, this item came up, and Lockheed said they needed to have it moved because they needed the space, so we worked with the city to have it brought here, and so it will be on display at the museum now.

“We have 23 aircraft now, and all of our aircraft are outdoors,” Hodgson said. “We don’t have a building large enough to put things inside. (The Avenger) has been outside, so it will be fine. We’re going to do some rehabilitation to it, and we’re going to put the wings back on it. It has a 70 foot wingspan. It’s quite large.

“We’re going to have some difficulties displaying it because it doesn’t have any landing gear,” Hodgson said. “It’s on a big dolly with big metal wheels, and those will not roll through the grass here. For now, it is on a concrete road that is right behind our facility, and that’s where it will be until we have the final disposition. We’ll probably end up putting it on a pedestal or something like that.

“It’s an impressive looking airplane. They called it the flying Dorito of because of its triangular shape. They never built a flying prototype of it. This mockup was the closest it ever got.

“It was a $5 billion program that was canceled by (Vice President) Dick Cheney,” he said. “There are still court cases ongoing yet today to determine damages from the Navy, the government, and a lot of people. They are suing the government for unpaid work that was accomplished. There is an attempt in process right now to probably settle all of this.”

The Avenger was a joint project between McDonnell Douglas and General Dynamics, and it had a General Electric engine.

“We’ve had a number of people come by here already because they were involved in the project and they hadn’t seen the mockup before, or it’s been 20-something years,” Hodgson said. “It’s going to be very interesting for people.

“It’s in remarkably good condition. It has not deteriorated badly, although the sun has beat up the paint pretty badly, but at some point we will be ready to renovate and repaint the aircraft. We are going to look at mounting it on something as part of a permanent display.

“Most of the time, mockups are used for the engineers to be able to take their drawings and put them into something real and tangible that people can look at and feel and touch and see how the pieces fit together, how pieces work together, where wiring goes, how braces work in the airplane,” Hodgson said. “It’s probably one of the last full-scale engineering mockups that were ever built because now it is all done on a computer.

“The pilots would use it to sit in the cockpit and go through procedure familiarization – where the switches are and how this and that are going to work,” Hodgson said. “It’s short of being a simulator. These don’t move, but they are procedures trainers to familiarize the (pilots) with where the switches are and how the procedures are going to work out, so that you spend less time in the actual simulator itself. For example, the 787 built by Boeing, was all built on a computer; they never built a mockup of it.

“The primary story we tell here at the museum is the history of aviation in North Texas,” Hodgson said. “It goes back 102 years now, since 1912. That is our collection policy, and we’re happy to have this. It’s integral to what took place here.”

Hodgson said that since 1941, 67,414 airplanes have been built in North Texas.

“A lot of the helicopters built in the 60’s are still flying,” he said. “The F16’s that were built here at Lockheed, F22’s, and a lot of Cobra helicopters and others that Bell built are still up. The things that got them started back in the 40’s are almost all gone. In one year in the 1940’s, 8,000 airplanes were built.

“The B36 Peacemaker Museum is there, along with the Forward Air Controllers Museum,” Hodgson said. “(The controllers) were the people who went out and found targets, and then they used naval gunfire, artillery, or other airplanes to destroy the targets. That’s how we got started 16 years ago – building a museum and displays around the OV-10 Bronco, a forward air control airplane during Vietnam.”

Over the years, they have evolved into the Veterans Memorial Air Park, concentrating on the development of aviation in North Texas.
“They have a Navy F/A18 Blue Angel Hornet that we just got a couple of months ago,” Hodgson said. “Only three of those were distributed to museums by the Naval Aviation Museum of Pensacola; the Smithsonian got one, the Pima Museum in Arizona got one, and we got one. We consider that pretty high praise.

“We have airplanes that served the longest and were built here and served here. Each one of the airplanes has a unique story; they each have a special reason for being here. The Avenger is very unique because there is not another one in the world. We feel very fortunate that we can bring these stories to the community here. We welcome anybody to come out here.

“We have a lot of things for the kids,” Hodgson said. “We have 23 airplanes now spanning from 1943 up to current (time), so it’s 60 plus years of aviation history here just in terms of the airplanes. The kids like the airplane simulator, and people learn a lot about the community they live in. Half of the population that’s here in the Metroplex didn’t live here 20-25 years ago, so they really have no idea of the rich aviation history that is here.

“Our motto here is Preservation, Inspiration and Education or PIE for short,” Hodgson said. “We like to preserve the past and then use those items to educate the community and to inspire kids to enter careers in aviation and aerospace.”