Oxcart was one of its kind, a sophisticated aircraft designed during the Cold-War era. Its body was made up of titanium. Titanium was only found in substantial quantities in the then Soviet Union. The USA brought huge amounts of titanium from the Soviets (as told in Net Geo's documentary: Inside: Area 51's secret)

Now, how did the USA get the titanium from the Soviets? Didn't the Soviets know about it? If it knew, why were no actions implemented?

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    At first I read: “why was titanium transported from the Soviet Union to Area 51 in an oxcart?”
    – Wrzlprmft
    Mar 29, 2015 at 21:33
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    Per Wikipedia (and basic geochemistry) titanium is actually quite common, and useable ores are found in many places: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Titanium#Occurrence As of 2011, only about 20% of production is from countries that were a part of, or strongly influenced by, the former USSR. Of course this says nothing about actual metal production in those days.
    – jamesqf
    Mar 30, 2015 at 5:53
  • @jamesqf yes that's the situation today, not the same as 50's or 60's. IIRC, the chemical process for refining TiO2 (one of the most common compounds in the Earth's crust!) was not invented/discovered until the early 90's.
    – DrZ214
    Aug 1, 2015 at 5:13
  • Titanium is a very common and ubiquitous element. The statement that is "was only found in substantial quantities in the then Soviet Union" is false. Apr 1, 2016 at 17:04
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    @TylerDurden It's technically false. More accurate is: Titanium Ore, such as Ilmenite or Rutile, was only found in USSR, and I think Manchuria (China), back in the 1960's. Such ores have extremely high concentration of Titanium and were thus the only practical mineable Titanium sources on the planet at that time. Titanium Dioxide also exists, in much much lower concentrations, almost everywhere in the ground or sand, but we've found several more Rutile and Ilmenite deposits around the world and it's way more economical to mine them. I'ma open a question in History.SE about this.
    – DrZ214
    Apr 2, 2016 at 8:36

1 Answer 1


The Soviets did not know they were supplying the CIA, because Americans are adept at corporate shenanigans. From the book Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of my Years at Lockheed:

Our supplier, Titanium Metals Corporation, had only limited reserves of the precious alloy, so the CIA conducted a worldwide search and using third parties and dummy companies, managed to unobtrusively purchase the base metal from one of the world's leading exporters - the Soviet Union. The Russians never had an inkling of how they were actually contributing to the creation of the airplane being rushed into construction to spy on their homeland.

More on the development of the Lockheed A-12 at Wikipedia.

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    I did not know the answer (thanks, two sheds!) but I know how titanium was smuggled when SU started collapsing and after the collapse. Private enterpreneurs made shovels of titanium and exported the showels.
    – Alex
    Mar 30, 2015 at 2:07
  • I could have sworn the dummy corporation was either Noratom or a Swedish corporation that I can't remember the name of. After scanning Wikipedia's entry on the A-12, YF-12, and SR-71, I could not find it :( I could very well be confabulating something, however, and it would make sense to get the titanium from multiple dummy corps so as not to draw suspicion to one huge order.
    – DrZ214
    Aug 1, 2015 at 5:16
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    @DrZ214: Noratom was the purported intermediary in Britain's sale of heavy water to Israel, which could be what you're thinking
    – two sheds
    Aug 1, 2015 at 11:31
  • @twosheds ah yes, now I just have to track down that Swedish one. Kinda hard to google for it when you don't know it's name tho :/
    – DrZ214
    Aug 1, 2015 at 20:10
  • "because Americans are adept at corporate shenanigans" reminded me of Enron, lol Jan 27, 2016 at 11:55

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