Thursday, November 01, 2007

Col. Ronald 'Jack' Layton 1927-2013 'Dutch 27'

Jack Layton was born in 1927 and raised in the White Mountains region of Arizona. His interest in aviation began at a very young age. Too young for military service during WWII, Jack enlisted in the U.S. Air Force Aviation Cadets program in 1950 in order to learn to fly
After earning his silver wings, Jack was assigned to the 79th Fighter Squadron of the 20th Tactical Fighter Wing, and it was not long before Jack was forced to bail out of an airplane, the first of three emergency bailouts over his career. Jack spent the next eight years or so flying Republic F-84s at Shaw AFB in South Carolina, Langley AFB in Virginia, and Woodbridge AFB in England. He then flew North American F-89s and McDonnell F-101s at Hamilton AFB in California. It was during this time that Jack had his second bailout ,ejecting from an F-101B out over the Gulf of .
For some military pilots, two emergency bailouts over a career would be exciting enough, but for Jack the excitement was just beginning. In the early 1960s, he was selected for screening to join a top secret CIA program called Project Oxcart. Project Oxcart was developed after a perceived need to replace the Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance airplane. The U-2 dated from as far back as 1952, when development on the aircraft began under the direction of a CIA initiative headed by Richard M. Bissell. Within just a few years of U-2 operational flights over the Soviet Union, CIA officials found that a replacement was needed, one that could fly higher and much faster. A very competitive race between Convair and Lockheed erupted to design the U-2's replacement. By 1960 Lockheed was given the green light to produce Kelly Johnson's radical new design, designated the Archangel 11, or A-11. This was later changed to A-12 when the aircraft underwent structural changes to decrease its radar signature. The A-12 was highly advanced for its time, designed to cruise at three times the speed of sound at over 90,000 feet.
Pilots for the Oxcart Project had to meet a very demanding set of CIA and Air Force specifications. Air Force files were screened for possible candidates that were qualified in the newest high performance jet fighters, emotionally stable, and extremely well motivated. They had to be between 25 and 40 years of age, less than six feet tall, and weigh no more than 175 pounds. By November of 1961 the initial five pilots were selected, and by February 1963 another eleven were picked by the Agency. Jack was in the second group. He was sent to Groom Lake, Nevada, better known as Area 51, for intensive flight-testing of the new airplane.
Jack was brought in very early on the A-12 program, the A-12 being the forerunner of the SR-71 Blackbird. He tested it for a little over four years before they became operationally ready.
By 1966 the A-12 was ready for operations, but it would be some time before actual missions were flown. During those same years the A-12 was being test flown, development of the SR-71 reconnaissance plane and YF-12 interceptor were well underway. While the A-12 was a CIA aircraft flown by Air Force pilots under contract with the CIA, the SR-71 was a less sophisticated airplane than the A-12, but with the same reconnaissance mission, only under Air Force control. The YF-12 was developed as a missile-carrying interceptor for the Air Defense Command of the Air Force, but only two prototypes were completed and no orders were made. Jack had the opportunity to fly all three aircraft over his career.
In May 1967 Jack was selected to fly one of three of the twelve A-12s manufactured by Lockheed to Kadena airfield at Okinawa for Project Black Shield. Project Black Shield had a number of purposes, foremost being reconnaissance flights over Southeast Asia, North Korea, and the Soviet Union. A secondary purpose was the permanent establishment of an Air Force base on Okinawa. The rest of that year was spent flying missions over North Vietnam. A year later, Jack flew the last known mission ever flown by an A-12 on May 8, 1968. The last mission of the A-12 was flying over Wonsan harbor looking for the Navy ship USS Pueblo that the North Koreans had captured earlier that year. That was the last operational mission of the A-12.
Jack returned to the U.S. and on June 26, 1968 was awarded the CIA "Intelligence Star for Valor" for his service during the Black Shield project. Jack spent the next three years flight-testing SR-71s and the two YF-12s, which had been turned over to NASA for testing at Edwards AFB. Jack spent six months flying the NASA planes, and it was during this time that he experienced his third emergency bailout. In June of 1971 whilst flying a regular mission for NASA his aircraft had a bad explosion in the right engine nacelle. The right engine caught fire and burned fiercely, which resulted in him having to eject .