Lockheed's "Skunkworks", with the now legendary Kelly Johnson at the helm,
got the green light from the CIA to go ahead with the A-12 program in late 1959. Less
than 30 months later, the A-12 made its first flight.
That A-12, tail number 06924, is now on display alongside SR-71 number 17973 at the
in Palmdale, CA.
The only 'B' model, or trainer, in the A-12 series, tail number 06927 is on display at the
California Science Center in Los Angeles, CA.
927 and 940 are the only two
Blackbirds displayed in their original black and bare titanium paint scheme.
Tail number 06940 was one of two Blackbirds purpose-built as M-21 launch platforms for the D-21
drone, and is the only surviving M-21. She is on indoor display at the
Museum of Flight in Seattle, WA, in the M/D-21 configuration, with the drone attached.
Although many A-12s and variants flew in their bare titanium skin,
927 and 940 are the
only survivors on display which haven't been painted completely black.
SR-71 tail number 17951 was never used for operational missions. She was flown primarily for testing,
and was loaned for a time to NASA to complete the YF-12A testing program. While at NASA, she wore the
tail number 06937, although the real 937 was an A-12, not an SR-71.
The only surviving SR-71B (training model), tail number 17956 was loaned to NASA for a time, and
shared for training missions by NASA and the USAF after the SR-71 line was unretired. She is now
on indoor display at the Kalamazoo Air Zoo in Kalamazoo, MI.
Before being displayed the the Air Zoo, 956 was based at Edwards AFB, and was
visible in the original Google Maps imagery outside
SR-71 tail number 17959 was retrofitted in 1975 with a 9-foot boom attached to the tail
containing a new optical bar camera and electronic counter-measures. That boom is visible in
the aerial photos of 959 on display at the USAF Armament Museum, Eglin AFB, FL.
A photo at the Online Blackbird
Museum shows the tail number 17979 on the inside of the left rudder. The rudders may have been
switched, or 960 might have worn a different tail number on occasion to confuse spies/spotters.
After the Pentagon ordered all Blackbird tooling destroyed in 1970, it was only a matter of
time before the spare parts ran out. SR-71 tail number 17961 was retired in 1977 to be parted out
for repairs to other airframes. She is now on indoor display at the
Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, KS.
SR-71 tail number 17963 was retired in 1976 and used for spare parts. She was displayed
for a time on the flightline at Beale AFB, CA upon a concrete pad shaped and painted
like the Mach 3+ patch worn by Blackbird crew members. The silhouette of the plane is still
visible on the pad.
Although 963 was not an M-21, she is displayed alongside a D-21 drone at Beale AFB, CA.
SR-71 tail number 17964 was probably the most seen Blackbird prior to her retirement in 1990, as
she was often the airframe chosen to perform at air shows. She is now on indoor display at
the Strategic Air and Space Museum in Ashland, NE.
Before moving to her current home, she was displayed at the SAC Museum at Offutt AFB, NE, as seen
in the USGS aerial photo at the Online
When the SR-71 Blackbirds were reactivated in 1995, only 4 airframes were airworthy, including
tail number 17967. All four were transferred to NASA for testing in 1999, and 967 was the
first to retire from that role.
In what can only be called a very successful test, SR-71 tail number 17968 once made a 10.5 hour,
15,000 mile flight, completing 2.5 laps around the United States and refueling in mid-air
five times. Retired in 1990, she was kept
in storage until 1999. She is now on display at the Virginia
Aviation Museum, Richmond, VA.
SR-71 tail number 17971 retired in 1990, then spent 1991-1994 on loan to NASA at the
Dryden Flight Research Center.
Back under Air Force control, she was the first Blackbird reactivated in 1995, and finally retired
again in 1998.
She was moved to the
Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, OR
in 2003, where she is now displayed alongside the Spruce Goose.
After setting the trans-Atlantic speed record in 1974, and the trans-continental speed record in
1990, SR-71 tail number 17972 was donated to the Smithsonian. The marker shows her current position
based on the museum diagram.
completion of the museum building, she was stored in this
hangar at Dulles just to the northwest of her current location, as evidenced in this
1991 USGS photo shows 972 in the same position, before the
hangar was built.
The first SR-71 to fly an operational mission in 1968, tail number 17976 retired with
dignity by flying to her final destination. She is on indoor display in the new Kettering Gallery at the
National Museum of the USAF
in Dayton, OH.
According to The
Blackbird Archive, she has been kept indoors and intact since arriving at the museum. If only all
of the surviving Blackbirds had been shown the same respect.
Nicknamed 'The Bastard', tail number 17981 was the only SR-71C ever built. She is a hybrid
of the aft section of YF-12A number 06934, whose internal systems were damaged beyond repair,
and a static test model of a cockpit. After 951,
one of the two SR-71 trainers, crashed, 981
was cobbled together to replace her. 981 is currently on indoor display at
Hill AFB Museum in Roy, UT.
A-12 tail number 06926 was lost in the first blackbird crash on 24 May 1963 about 14 miles
south of Wendover, UT. CIA pilot Ken Collins escaped unharmed, and his
account of the
crash is online. Peter Merlin also shares the account of his
of the crash site in 2003.
Larger pieces of the wreckage were returned to Groom Lake Test Facility, where they are
presumably buried. The marker location is the approximate crash site.
A-12 tail number 06928 ran out of fuel while returning to Groom Lake Test Facility on 05 Jan, 1967.
A malfunctioning fuel gauge was at fault. CIA pilot Walter Ray ejected, but was killed when he did
not separate from his seat, and his parachute failed to deploy.
Tom Mahood conducted a multi-year
search for the remains of 928, and has written a fascinating account of his
discovery of the crash site. The marker
location is approximate.
Due to an improperly installed Stability Augmentation System, A-12 tail number 06929
crashed 7 seconds after takeoff from Groom Lake Test Facility 28 Dec 1965. CIA pilot Mele Vojvodich
Marker placement is approximate, based on minimum takeoff speed and duration of flight.
I can't find a crash scar on the 1968 USGS photo, but the base saw a lot of construction
around this time and the site may have been scraped over by then.
A-12 tail number 06932 crashed at sea near the Philippines on 04 Jun 1968 (05 Jun local).
Onboard sensors reported overheating and fuel flow problems in the starboard engine. No
trace of the plane or pilot Jack Weeks was ever found.
Marker location approximate, based on a
newspaper article stating the
"search was concentrated ... about 600 miles south of Okinawa and 500 miles east of Manila".
A ruptured fuel line caused a fire in the right engine that led to the 24 Jun 1971 crash
of YF-12A tail number 06936 on approach to Edwards AFB. Both pilot Lt Col Ronald Layton and
RSO Billy Curtis ejected safely.
Peter Merlin and Tony Moore of the X-Hunters have more
information on the crash and their discovery of the site.
The wreckage was presumably returned
to Edwards and buried. Marker shows a disturbed area just south of the landfill at Edwards.
A-12 tail number 06939 crashed 09 Jul 1964 on final approach to Groom Lake Test Facility
due to malfunctioning servos for the starboard control surfaces. Lockheed test pilot Bill Park ejected
safely at an altitude of 500 feet.
Marker location is approximate, based on altitude at
time of ejection. I can't find a crash scar on the 1968 USGS photo, but base construction
may have hidden the scar by that time.
M-21 tail number 06941 was destroyed 30 Jul 1966 when the D-21 drone it was launching
bounced off the inside of the mothership's shockwave and struck 941 near the wing root.
Lockheed test pilot Bill Park and Launch Control Officer Ray Torick ejected safely over the Pacific, but
Torick drowned when his flight suit took on water.
941 was the only Blackbird ever to launch a D-21, having done so three times prior to the crash.
All future D-21 launches were from underwing pylons on B-52s.
The first SR-71, tail number 17950, flew her maiden voyage on 22 Dec 1964. She was
destroyed 10 Jan 1967 at Edwards AFB during a braking system test when tire failure caused a fire
that engulfed the plane. Lockheed test pilot Art Peterson survived the accident.
Marker shows a disturbed area just south of the landfill at Edwards, where 950 is presumably buried.
SR-71 tail number 17952 suffered an engine failure during a Mach 3.2 turn on 22 Jan 1966.
She broke apart in mid-air. Lockheed pilot Bill Weaver was thrown clear and survived, but RSO Jim Zwayer
died instantly. A newspaper
article gives the location of the crash as "about 30 miles east of Roy [UT]".
The recovered wreckage was buried at Edwards AFB. Marker shows a disturbed area just south of
the landfill at Edwards.
SR-71 tail number 17953 suffered a loss of control and broke apart in mid-air 18 Dec 1969.
Although the cause was not determined with certainty, a fouled pitot tube may have caused
the Stability Augmentation System to fail. Pilot Lt Col Joe Rogers and RSO Lt Col Gary Heidelbaugh
The marker location is based on photographs on the X-Hunters
website. According to the same source, the forward fuselage fell across California 178 from the marked location.
Tire failure during maximum takeoff weight testing caused a fire which destroyed SR-71 tail
number 17954 at Edwards AFB 11 Apr 1969. Pilot Lt Col Bill Skliar and his RSO Major Noel Warner
survived the accident.
Marker location shows a disturbed area just south of the landfill at Edwards, where the wreckage is
SR-71B tail number 17957 suffered a double generator failure over Washington 11 Jan 1968.
She managed to stay airborne nearly 1000 miles before crashing less than 10 miles short
of the runway at Beale AFB, CA. Both student pilot Capt David Fruehauf and his instructor,
Lt Col Robert Sowers ejected safely.
Marker location is approximate, based on a
newspaper article giving location
as "about two miles north of Hwy 20 and half a mile east of Loma Rica Road".
SR-71 tail number 17965 suffered an Inertial Navigation System failure during a night
flight 25 Oct 1967. With malfunctioning instruments and no external frame of reference, there
was no way to control the plane. Both pilot Capt Roy St Martin and RSO Capt John Carnochan
Peter Merlin and Tony Moore discovered the crash site in 1999. Merlin reports, "Today, the crater
is gone. Only scattered debris remains to mark the site." X-Hunters
has more information.
Marker location is approximate,
based on a newspaper article giving
location as "13 miles west of Rye Patch Dam".
SR-71 tail number 17969 suffered a dual engine flame-out due to turbulence caused by
heavy thunderstorm activity while on an operational mission 10 May 1970. Both pilot Maj William Lawson
and RSO Maj Gil Martinez ejected safely. 969 crashed near Korat RTAFB, Thailand.
A starboard engine explosion severed hydraulic lines on takeoff from Kadena AFB, Okinawa 21 Apr 1989,
causing severe flight control damage. SR-71 tail number 17974 crashed at sea off the coast of Luzon
Island in the Philippines. Both pilot Lt Col Dan House and RSO Blair Bozek ejected safely and were
rescued by fishermen.
The wreckage of 974 was recovered and buried at Kadena AFB. She was
the last Blackbird to be lost.
SR-71 tail number 17977 suffered a brake failure while rolling out for takoff from Beale AFB
10 Oct 1968. Pieces of the brake assembly punctured fuel cells, causing a fire which
destroyed the drag chute. 977 skidded off the end of the runway and burned.
RSO Maj James Kogler ejected safely. Pilot Major Gabriel Kardong stayed with the aircraft
but was safely extracted.
The nose and cockpit were eventually recovered and restored, and are now on indoor display at
the Boeing Museum of Flight in
SR-71 tail number 17978, nicknamed 'Rapid Rabbit', skidded off the runway the second attempt at landing during heavy
crosswinds at Kadena AFB 20 Jul 1972. Both pilot Capt Dennis Bush and RSO Cap James Fagg
survived, but the plane was totalled.
The wreckage of 978 is buried under a berm at the
end of the runway at Kadena AFB. Marker location is approximate.