The McDonnell Douglas/General Dynamics A-12 Avenger II was a proposed attack aircraft. The program was cancelled after the expenditure of approximately $5 billion and the aircraft never reached production.

In 1983, the US Navy began the Advanced Tactical Aircraft (ATA) program. The goal was to develop a replacement for the Grumman A-6 Intruder using stealth technology. In November 1984, design contracts were awarded to two teams: McDonnell Douglas / General Dynamics and Northrop / Grumman / Vought. McDonnell Douglas/General Dynamics team was selected in 1988 to continue development. The Northrup/Grumman/Vought team dropped out and did not bid. The goal of first flight was planned for December 1990. The A-12 was named Avenger II after Grumman TBF/TBM torpedo bomber from World War 2.

Initially the Navy wanted 620 A-12s, the Marines wanted 238, and the Air Force considered 400 A-12 variants. The A-12 was considered as a replacement for the retiring F-111s. Designers envisioned a flying wing design shaped like a triangle. It was this triangular shape that earned the A-12 the nickname of “Flying Dorito” after the Frito-Lay brand triangular corn chip.

As with many new technologies, delays and cost increases plagued the project. The planned use of composite materials was problematic. Weight and maintainability was also a concern. The design review was completed in October 1990. However, the Department of Defense declared that contractors could not complete the program as proposed. The A-12 program was cancelled in 1991. The contractors were ordered to return about $2 billion spent on the program. Claims were in court for years until the US Supreme Court ordered the DOD to return payment to the contractors.

The A-12 I did terminate. It was not an easy decision to make because it’s an important requirement that we’re trying to fulfill. But no one could tell me how much the program was going to cost, even just through the full scale development phase, or when it would be available. And data that had been presented at one point a few months ago turned out to be invalid and inaccurate.

Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense, 1991.

So, when a new, high-tech program is cancelled, is it a failure? Not really. A whole generation of new engineers learned how to build composite and stealth aircraft that are the norm today in the F-22 and F-35. A variant of the F404 engine proposed for the A-12 was used in the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet – the aircraft chosen to replace the A-6 Intruder and the F-14 Tomcat.

Manufacturer:  McDonnell Douglas/General Dynamics
Crew:  2
Length:  37 feet 10 inches
Wingspan (unfolded):  70 feet 3 inches; (folded) 36 feet 3 inches
Height:  11 feet 3 inches
Empty weight:  39,000 pounds
Maximum takeoff weight:  80,000 pounds
Powerplant:  2 × General Electric F412-GE-D5F2 non-afterburning turbofans, 13,000 pounds thrust each
Maximum speed:  580 mph
Range:  800-920 miles
Service ceiling:  40,000 feet
Armament:  5,160 pounds of in internally stored weapons bay including: 2× AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles; 2× AGM-88 HARM air-to-ground missiles, and/or unguided or precision-guided bombs.

The Fort Worth Aviation Museum is very pleased to be the steward of the original and only A-12 mockup. The A-12 program and aircraft were secret and remained so for years. During production a full-size A-12 mockup was constructed and used at the General Dynamics Plant in Fort Worth. The mockup remained behind locked doors until it was first shown to the public at JRB Fort Worth/Carswell Air Force Base in June 1996. The aircraft was moved around the base for years and was eventually donated to the City of Fort Worth as a historic aviation asset. The A-12 was moved by truck from JRB Fort Worth (Carswell) in June 2013 to the museum and is on loan from the City of Fort Worth.

You will note the striking similarities between the A-12 and the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit and the Northrop Grumman X-47B.



     A-12 Avenger II

Stevenson, James P. The $5 Billion Misunderstanding: The Collapse of the Navy’s A-12 

Stealth Bomber Program. Naval Institute Press. 2001. ISBN 1557507775. 512 pages.