Seth Kettleman makes a living buying and selling surplus aircraft machinery on the web. In late November, a strange item popped up on GovDeals.com: an A-12 Avenger II fighter canopy. Kettleman had never heard of the A-12, but he was intrigued so he started Googling. He read that the highly classified A-12 had been canceled in 1991. He also read that the A-12 was canceled before McDonnell Douglas and General Dynamics assembled the first aircraft.
Kettleman decided it was worth a gamble, and won an online auction with a $2,300 bid.
After examining the merchandise, Kettleman decided it was the real thing. To his mind, Kettleman now owned the only known artifact of the A-12 programme. Sure, there is a wooden mock-up languishing on the back-lot of a military airport in Forth Worth, Texas, but this canopy may be the real thing. Kettleman has seen small panels of the Lockheed SR-71 sell for more than $500,000 in online auctions. But he doesn't own a small panel. He owns an entire canopy of the A-12 (maybe). [UPDATE: Kettleman says: "The canopy has now been verified as authentic. It was a production unit for the A-12 Avenger II manufactured by McAir (Division of McDonnell Douglas). The canopy must have a hundred or so individual serial numbers and manufacturing data marked on it. These numbers and individual pieces have been verified as authentic parts from the program."
Kettleman's canopy is now for sale on eBay for $620,238. (Note: If you are still looking for our Christmas present, this would be really perfect. Just saying.)
That, of course, assumes Kettleman owns the real thing. And that's where the story gets complicated.
GovDeals told us that the canopy was posted by the aviation department of Purdue University. That's where the canopy has been for more than 15 years. Nobody in Purdue's aviation department knows how it got there. The canopy didn't even belong to the aeronautical engineering department, which operates research wind tunnels. The aviation department teaches students how to become pilots, not design canopies for stealthy fighter jets. One day it just showed up in the back of the hangar, and nobody touched it for more than 15 years. A couple months ago, the department decided to get rid of it, a Purdue spokesman said. They thought about selling it for scrap worth about $700, but decided it may be worth more at auction on the relatively obscure GovDeals site.
Litigation for the A-12 cancellation likely made a lot of lawyers very rich. But nobody will make a better return on the A-12 than Kettleman, if he finds a buyer. He may never snag a $620,000 offer, but he will surely get a lot more than $2,300.