A-12, Area 51 Project Paves Way for Oversize Loads

In an age of advanced technology, it’s refreshing to know that something so inspiring to an industry involves a project from the 1960s.

The oversize load permitting industry is fast-paced, consisting of online mobile applications and programs, advanced equipment, and 24/7 communication. The industry is a very important aspect of our nation’s $200 billion plus commercial transportation system.

Oversize loads have not only changed how our nation’s transportation carriers can haul their contents from origin to destination, but have changed what can be hauled. We see oversize loads every day—crossing bridges, traveling interstates, and even hauling contents weighing well over 100 tons.

Objects such as expired generators, fuselages, construction equipment, 340-ton boulders and mobile homes can be safely transported on streets, freeways and highways.

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Permitting oversize loads and superloads, and the planning involved, is not something recent; for many years oversize loads have been traveling the states. However, there is one load in particular which stands out.

The transportation of Lockheed’s A-12 aircrafts and YF-12s by Dorsey Kammerer and team from Burbank, California to Nevada in the early 1960s paved the way for the oversize load industry. It was one of the first oversize loads of its kind, making history due to the size of its contents, required carriage system and necessary route surveys.

The process used to prepare and transport is similar to today’s, and many believe the coordinators of the load were industry “pioneers.”

Each aircraft was transported from Burbank, CA (Lockheed “Skunk Works”) to Area 51, Groom Lake for flight-testing. These planes would later be used by the U.S. Air Force.

Even then, the transport required special travel permits, a route survey, pilot cars, high security, police escorts and detailed planning. The largest of the loads was 65-feet long and 32.6-feet wide before loaded.

The estimated route of travel was driven and assessed for obstacles such as signs, wires, bridges, trees and even the removal of a mountainside on one section of the route. The survey truck mounted poles, which were sized to the width and height of the main transport carrier trailer. This route survey was the beginning of the design and construction of the two-box carriage system for transporting the load, and the survey vehicle is the oldest documented high pole escort vehicle of which we have seen photographs.

According to an A-12 pilot and witness to the transport of this load, the larger box transported the main part of the airplane, while the smaller box was designed to carry the removable outer wing/nacelle pieces as well as the rudders and fuselage. Both boxes used a steel framework to mount the carriage wheels and tow system. The large box was 105-feet long and 35-feet wide, a superload by any standard.

The trailer was steerable and manned by a second driver when maneuvering corners and tight spots. The upper removable framework was constructed of four-inch square aluminum tubing, which allowed for loading the airplane. The airplane was carried riding on its landing gear inside the crate, which allowed for use of the airplane structure to carry the load safely on road surfaces beyond the control of Lockheed. The airplane carriage had the A-12 loaded for travel tail end forward. The load lighting system was installed last.

Finally, the route was set! The tractors dressed in oversize load signs, accompanied by California Highway Patrol and pilot cars, towed the boxes. The convoy departed from the Lockheed plant and traveled northbound on San Fernando Road to US Hwy 99 toward Gorman, East toward Mojave, then onward to Barstow & Baker. From there, the route moved North toward Death Valley to Lathrop Wells and onto US Hwy 95 to the entrance of the Nevada Test Site at Mercury and onto Area 51. The exact routing is shown in the route survey and permits which are included in the photo log.

The initial trip took three days to complete and faced struggles along the way. The trailers’ wheels sunk at one point, and the load came close to bridge abatements and signs, but mayhem was prevented.

The work put into the transportation and permitting of these loads are similar to the work and efforts necessary to move oversize loads and superloads today.

For over a decade, WCS Permits has worked hand-in-hand with specialized transportation companies to move some very unique loads. They handle permitting, including communication with local and state jurisdiction, route surveying and sell equipment such as oversize load signs and high poles.

In 2012, WCS Permits worked with heavy haul specialists, local and state jurisdiction and private organizations to permit the transportation of a 340-ton rock, which had loaded dimensions of 22-feet tall, 32-feet wide, and 300-feet long. The load was moved from Riverside County to Los Angeles County Museum of Art, escorted by pilot cars and police. Like the A-12 transport, WCS’ sister company, Right of Way Inc., removed street signs and poles along the surface street only route. The load took years to plan and the journey filled with setbacks and hiccups was documented. The film showcasing it all, “Levitated Mass,” premiered at the 2013 Los Angeles Film Festival.

WCS also permitted several 400-foot loads, nick named “road train,” weighing in at 1.6 million pounds, which were transported from California to Utah.

Another significant WCS assisted transport includes the recent Asiana Airlines plane from the runway to a hangar for investigation after the plane crash landed at San Francisco International Airport.

Although the A-12 transport is what many consider historic, the practices to successfully transport such unique aircraft are still being implemented today, including routing, permitting and engineering the proper transportation system.

Indeed, the team who transported and planned the load were pioneers of the industry.

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