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In fact, Lockheed was developing an (eventually cancelled) interceptor version of the Blackbird which would have carried the GAR-9. “The old friend was noticeably startled and changed the subject which Pearson took as another clue,” the CIA recorded in a document listing examples of industry suspicions of the Blackbird project.
In any case, Pearson knew his stuff — and he knew that a long-range, high-speed and high-altitude surveillance plane was exactly what the Pentagon needed given the growing vulnerabilities of the U-2. Never Underestimate A November Old Lady Who Loves Dogs Shirt, hoodie, tank top
In January 1963, a manager named William Clegern at a Denver technology firm speculated that “Lockheed was working on a super U-2,” according to the CIA history. Like Pearson, Clegern had made an educated guess, although he had some help from an “unrecalled source” during a visit to Los Angeles.
In a tightly-knit industry with overlapping suppliers of hardware and spare parts, word got around —and traveling vendors were often a source of grist for the rumor mill.
Robert Widmer, then vice president of Convair, reported that it was “generally known” in the industry, particularly on the West Coast, that Lockheed was working on a similar but more advanced successor to the U-2.
Pearson and his colleagues at North American Aviation were also aware that the Pentagon was pouring millions of dollars into developing the huge J-58 turbofan engine — of which the SR-71 fitted two.
“They observed that the funds allotted to developing the J-58 did not seem to them justified unless there was some high altitude airplane available in which to utilize the J-58,” the CIA noted.
By March, Pearson and his coworkers studied shipments of liquid hydrogen and oxygen fuel, movements of test pilots and even subcontractors working on specialized precision valves to deduce not only the existence of a new spy plane, but guess its specifications. They weren’t dead-on accurate, but they were close.
Taxi drivers shuttling Lockheed contractors from Los Angeles’ airport to the company’s terminal started asking questions. Even airline crews had spotted the A-12 Oxcart — a shorter version of the SR-71 flown by the CIA — in flight.