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08 October 2007

OXCARTs and ARCHANGELs in the night

With the installation of the new display up at the main campus, there has been a lot of interest and discussion of the old OXCART program. We think this comes about not only from the inherent technical coolness of the aircraft and its mission, but from the deep desire of the new generation to connect with their Cold War predecessors – and the more recognizable operations of the past. Today’s activities, even those conducted in the far flung corners of the globe, are more likely to involve commercial off the shelf items and kludged and duct-taped solutions than the things of precision and beauty that were the bespoke instruments of the community’s past.

To be sure, there is still – and always will be – a certain amount of specialized hardware, and a few new cutting edge platforms. But this new age is a very different one – dominated by Small Stuff, and dual use. The community as a whole has not yet figured out how to build monuments to those efforts. We do frequently wonder, for example, how the historians of tomorrow may look back to commemorate the major events of the present day, such as the detention and rendition program. But those are questions that can only be answered by another generation.

We have no doubt, however, that the historians – at least those inside the community - will do so to their usual standard of excellence. Thankfully, great efforts are being made to ensure the preservation of unique history regarding programs such as OXCART, including the recent release of an excellent study looking at the trials and successes of the unique aircraft, its designers, and its crews. In addition, we look forward to the eventual product of the oral history program that has been diligently recording the memories and observations of those that were there at the beginning.

There remains yet plenty of research for those in academic intelligence studies that would seek to assist the current generation in finding its roots in the community’s history. We hope to see more work soon emerge to serve this need – and particularly in the areas where there might not be a large or photogenic monument with which to start a story.

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