Every time I do one of these “Guess whos” I end up dropping a clue that gives it away. I’m going to have toughen up. I definitely made this one too easy dropping that last hint. Siddy, didn’t know about this aircraft and so asked for a “RKSL history lesson” so here we go… if you aren’t interested there are pretty pictures too.
May I present the A-12 Avenger II. This is one of the most controversial and interesting aerospace projects of the last 30 years. It’s one of the few 80’s era Stealth programmes that came out of the Black world and into the White, public view. It’s been the subject of several books and in the Defence Procurement Industry it’s held up as a perfect example of mismanagement. It’s also responsible for ending the careers or more than a few managers, business men, lobbyists and the odd US Senator.
A-6E Intruder Replacement
Intended to be the replacement for the A-6E Intruder if it had continued into production it would have given the USN a stealthy strike platform to massively exceed the USAF’s F-117A combat capability. The A-12 was a subsonic aircraft capable of carrying internal weapons but unlike the F-117A, the Avenger II was fitted with radar and was capable of air-to-air combat.
“Aircraft that never flew”
The A-12 has been one of my favourite “Aircraft that never flew” projects for a very long time. Personally, I have always had a soft spot for unique and exotic aircraft. When I worked at Bae Eurofighter my boss gave me a book for my birthday many years ago; “The 5 Billion Dollar Misunderstanding: The Collapse of the Navy's A-12 Stealth Bomber Program” by James Perry Stevenson. The A-12 Programme much like the Nimrod MR4 project and the Nimrod AEW3 before it was marred by spectacular cost over runs, design changes and incredibly bad mismanagement. So much so that the cancellation of the programme resulted in a reform of the US Procurement system and the end of several high-power people from the halls of the Pentagon.
Stealthy Strike Platform
Carrying a wide variety of ordinance, the A-12 was primarily a subsonic carrier based strike aircraft just like the A-6 it was designed to replace. It was subsonic and had two missile bays intended for Short or Medium Range Air-to-Air missiles and two larger “bomb” bays that could house up to 6000lbs of ordinance on four stations. Two of which were intended for, but not limited to, AMRAAMs. There was also facility to attach two external pylons; mainly designed to carry fuel tanks but also capable of carrying 2500lbs of weapons on each station. Giving a max payload of just over 11,000lbs.
A-6E Intruder Replacement
All up, this wasn’t quite the same punch as the A-6E (18,000lbs) but the A-12 was much Stealthier and therefore able to penetrate further into enemy airspace undetected. Making the Avenger a perfect “First day of War” aircraft capable of exploiting its Anti-Radiation capability to remove the threat of enemy SAMs from the battlefield. The exact same mission the F-117A was designed for.
Just as a bit of trivia: The A-12’s cancellation in 1991 led to Lockheed proposing a Navalised F-117 to the USN in 1993 - The design itself being quite a radical difference to the existing F-117A.
UAV and UCAVs
What makes the Avenger particularly interesting to me is not only the unusual shape of the airframe, but the technology that came from it. If you look carefully you can see the A-12 design influences in later aircraft. There is the also the uncanny similarity to the large number of UAV and UCAVs we are now starting to see come into the light. The design and development work done on the A-12 wasn’t really wasted. It spun off into many other projects and most notably the later models of the F-18 series benefited from the Cockpit design improvements born from the Avenger II project. There were also composites manufacturing techniques developed together with new and different Radar Absorbent Materials (RAM) that changed the US Aircraft industry permanently.
Another point of trivia. The XF-32 JSF contender actually used the same type of structural composites developed for the A-12. Patents for which Boeing acquired when McDonnell Douglas merged with Boeing in 1997.
The A-12 sadly only ever made it to full scale mockup stage. In the age before full scale 3D CAD modelling there were several versions of the cockpits made to help with ergonomics and development and PR. The cost of building a special hanger and creation of these mockups was also a major feature of the subsequent investigation into the excessive spending. Something McDonnell Douglas were very heavily criticised for.
Back to the Games.
I made the first A-12 model in the OFP era. And again, in ArmA1 and 2. Resulting in a ‘meh’ model and a complicated mess of scripted weapons bays and poor textures. The older game engines aren’t as friendly as A3 is today. (and A3 isnt *that* friendly).
Despite what appears to be a fairly simplistic shape, like many other stealthy planforms it’s a pain in the arse to model properly. Since the A-12 never made it into the air there really isn’t a huge variety of reference pictures out there. Without decent references, its actually quite a difficult shape to make and it look good. Fortunately, I stumbled upon some of the production drawings on http://www.aerospaceprojectsreview.com
Iif you are into Space and aviation History its worth spending some time browsing the site. It’s really interesting. Scott – the author – has some brilliant sources and sells some really good high res and vellum prints of aerospace design blueprints. (I’m not on commission Just a huge fan.)
The current model is probably the 5th or 6th version of the model but represents about 12 attempts to get it in game and working.
There still a lot of details to do. Textures to polish, Instruments to finish, HUD and MFD work. Oh and lots and lots of Baking.
Crashing on Tonoa
So I’ve been somewhat successful. The beta is ingame. There is still quite a bit of texture work to do and I’ve got a tonne of work to do with the Air Weapons pack too. So, we are making good progress. And despite crashing on Tonoa so often that I’ve removed about 20% of the tree coverage the flight model and weapons delivery development is proceeding well.
Oh yeah. Have I mentioned that I really hate the PhysX implementation on planes.
17 Sept 17.