The CIA greenlit the A-12 program in late 1959, and the Lockheed Skunkworks with Kelly Johnson at the helm wasted no time. Less than 30 months later, the A-12 made its first flight. An amazing photo sequence at Roadrunners Internationale shows a partially assembled aircraft being crated and trucked to Area 51 prior to begin the testing program. In a 10-minute video, Lockheed test pilot Lou Schalk narrates footage of the first liftoff test and the first stable flight.
That A-12, tail number 06924, is now on display alongside SR-71 number 17973 at the Blackbird Airpark 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 bare titanium and black paint scheme.
A-12 tail number 06931 was on display at the Minnesota Air Guard Museum in St. Paul, MN. She was flown to the museum on board an Air Force C-5 Galaxy, after having her wings amputated by acetylene torch.
According to the 'more info' link below, 931 is now at CIA Headquarters in McLean, VA, and is not accessible to the public.
Only three YF-12A interceptor variants were built, and tail number 06935 is the only one surviving.
She is on indoor display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton Ohio. She is located in the R&D Hangar on the active part of Wright Patterson AFB.
935 is not listed in the museum’s collection, and is presumably not accessible to the public.
A-12 tail number 06937 is on display at the Southern Museum of Flight in Birmingham, AL.
Before being moved to her present location, she was stored at Lockheed’s Skunkworks in Palmdale, CA, and may be one of the 3 black Blackbirds shown in this 1994 USGS photo
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 Boeing 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.
951 is now on display at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, AZ.
The only surviving SR-71B (training model), tail number 17956 was loaned to NASA for a time, and shared by NASA and the USAF for training missions 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 this hangar.
Interestingly, the aircraft outside this hangar in 2013 imagery include an experimental delta-winged F-16XL, and an experimental F-15 STOL/MTD equipped with canards. Both of these aircraft, and the T-38 next to them, are have also been flown for NASA programs, so this hangar is likely associated with joint NASA/Air Force programs
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.
SR-71 tail number 17960 is on display at Castle Air Museum in Atwater, CA.
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 pad was demolished in 2011, and the only thing left in 2013 imagery is a vague diamond shape in the grass.
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 Blackbird Museum.
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.
She is now on display at the 8th Air Force Museum in Barksdale, LA.
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 in Richmond, VA.
Special thanks to Paul Kucher of The Blackbird Archive for correcting my location for 968.
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 for the last time 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 National Air and Space Museum.
Prior to 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 photo. A 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.
USGS photos show 981 --- years apart.
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 discovery 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 ejected safely.
There is no visible 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".
The internal systems of YF-12A tail number 06934 were damaged beyond repair by overheating during a test flight 14 Aug 1966. Pilot Col Vern Henderson and FCO Capt Jim Cooney landed safely.
The aft section of the airframe was mated with a static test nose and cockpit to construct SR-71C #64-17981, the only 'C' model ever built. Marker points to 981.
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. Pilot Lt Col Ronald Layton and RSO Billy Curtis both 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 AFB and buried. Marker shows 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. There is no visible 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 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 at altitude. 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 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 ejected safely.
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 the landfill at Edwards, where the wreckage is presumably buried.
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 ejected safely.
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." The X-Hunters site 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 17966 stalled after in-flight refueling 13 Apr 1967. Pilot Capt Earle Boone and RSO Capt Richard Sheffield ejected safely.
The crash site was located by Robb Magley in 2001 after several years of research and searching. His account of the discovery of the crash site is excellent reading.
Marker location is approximate, based on crash reports giving location as “eight nautical miles southeast of Las Vegas, NM”.
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.
Marker shows Korat RTAFB.
SR-71 tail number 17970 collided with a KC-135 tanker just after in-flight refueling. Both Lt Col Buddy Brown and RSO Maj Mortimer Jarvis ejected safely. The tanker managed to limp back to Beale AFB, but 970 crashed “about 20 miles east of El Paso [TX] near US Highways 62 and 180”.
Marker location is approximate.
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. Marker location is approximate.
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 Seattle, WA.
SR-71 tail number 17978, nicknamed ‘Rapid Rabbit’, skidded off the runway during the second landing attempt 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.
Now that the SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft are retired — this time permanently — we can turn the tables on these beautiful Mach 3+ marvels.
As the Blackbirds used to capture images from above, we now use images from above to capture the Blackbirds themselves. This page lists the location of every A-12, YF-12A, M-21, and SR-71 in existence, plotting those locations on aerial photographs provided by Google Maps. For those planes that were destroyed, we give either the location of the crash, or of the wreckage, whichever seems most pertinent.
If you enjoy spying on the once-classified, you may also enjoy my Area 51 page, with aerial photographs from different decades. See how the 'secret' base has grown.
Paul Kucher of The Blackbird Archive corrected several of my locations and provides absolutely the most comprehensive Blackbird site out there.
Email tmangan via the gmail service.
Google Maps implementation copyright ©2005-2013 by Thomas C Mangan.