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Aviation History And Aircraft Photography

SR-71   A-12   YF-12A   M-21
The Blackbird Survivors

What is a SR-71 Blackbird? The Blackbird is a Mach 3 spy plane that was designed to fly so high and fast that it would be impossible to shoot down. In fact, the Blackbird was shot at over 1000 times without being hit once. The Blackbird was also the first airplane to incorporate stealth technology.

The SR-71 was a follow-on project to the U-2 aircraft, which evolved from a need for the intelligence agencies to overfly the Soviet Union to determine if the so-called 'bomber gap' was real. The Soviets quickly figured out how to bring down the U-2, so the CIA asked the Lockheed Skunkworks to come up with an aircraft that could overfly hostile territory without risk of being shot down. The airplane that emerged from designer Kelly Johnson's drawing board was a black titanium jet that could fly at Mach 3 at altitudes above 80,000 feet. The theory was very simple. Even if you saw the SR-71 coming, by the time you could launch a missile, the Blackbird would be so far away that the missile would never catch up.

The first group of Blackbirds was built for the CIA under the designation A-12. This single seat version of the Blackbird first flew on April 26, 1962. The Air Force also purchased a group of Blackbirds. They were to be called recon-strike aircraft, but due to a mix-up, the designation ended up being SR-71. The SR-71 is a two seat aircraft. It first flew on December 22, 1964. The USAF tested the Blackbird as a bomber aircraft. Two YF-12A prototypes were developed. Later, the USAF tried to operate the D-21 drone from a Blackbird. The motherships were given the designation M-21. The M-21 program ended in disaster, so the drone role was shifted to B-52 bombers.

NASA SR-71 Photo

The CIA ended its Blackbird operations in 1968. The USAF took over this intelligence gathering role, and continued to operate the Blackbird well into the 1990s. The USAF attempted to retire the Blackbirds due to the extreme cost of the program. The idea was that satellite technology could fill that role. Congress, however, felt otherwise, and continued to fund the SR-71, so the SR-71 was brought back on-line. The aircraft were finally retired a few years later, and several examples were transferred to NASA. The last NASA flight was at the annual Edwards Air Force Base Open House on October 9, 1999. Click here for a photo tour of the final Blackbird flight.

All surviving Blackbirds have now been transferred to museums. Several SR-71s were being held in flyable storage in the event that world events required that they be activated, but those aircraft were released to museums in the mid-2000s. A list of all known Blackbird survivors follows below, along with a hot-link to a page with a photo of each aircraft. So far, I have visited and photographed all but 2 surviving Blackbirds. A few more have moved to new locations since I have last seen them.

This serial number table is based on a list created by Albert Dobyns. It is used with permission. Note that SR-71 serial numbers are often listed as 64-17xxx. These numbers are incorrect, and are often used as disinformation. The correct serial numbers are 61-7xxx.

Lockheed A-12 Blackbird Survivors

Serial Number Hull Number State City Location Notes
60-6924 121 CA Palmdale Blackbird Airpark A-12 prototype aircraft. Displayed outdoors next to a SR-71.
60-6925 122 NY New York City Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum First production A-12 aircraft. Displayed outdoors on the aircraft carrier flight deck.
60-6927 124 CA Los Angeles California Science Center Two-seat trainer model nicknamed Titanium Goose. In storage at Air Force Plant #42 for many years, went on display outside of the California Science Center in Exposition Park in late 2003.
60-6930 127 AL Huntsville Alabama Space and Rocket Center Displayed outdoors in front of NASA Visitor Center, visible from I-565.
60-6931 128 VA Langley Central Intelligence Agency Museum Displayed outdoors on pylon near CIA HQ, off limits to visitors.
60-6933 130 CA San Diego San Diego Air & Space Museum Mounted on pylon outside of museum front entrance.
60-6937 131 AL Birmingham Southern Museum of Flight Displayed outdoors on the east side of the Birmingham airport.
60-6938 132 AL Mobile Battleship Memorial Park Displayed indoors in the new aircraft pavilion next to the USS Alabama battleship. Reported to be heavily damaged in Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005.
Note—click on the Serial Number to see a photo of each airplane.

Lockheed M-21 Blackbird Survivors

Serial Number Hull Number State City Location Notes
60-6940 134M WA Seattle Museum of Flight Only surviving M-21 designed to launch a ramjet-powered D-21 drone which was mounted on a pylon above the empennage. Displayed inside museum building.
Note—click on the Serial Number to see a photo of each airplane.

Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird Survivors

Serial Number Hull Number State City Location Notes
61-7951 2002 AZ Tucson Pima Air Museum Displayed outdoors, but under a canopy.
61-7955 2006 CA Rosamond Air Force Flight Test Center Museum, Edwards AFB Museum closed to pubic since 9/11.
61-7956 2007 MI Kalamazoo Kalamazoo Air Zoo Last surviving original SR-71B two-seat trainer. Recently went on display indoors at the Kalamazoo Air Zoo. Formerly was used as a trainer at NASA Dryden Flight Flight Research Center at Edwards AFB.
61-7958 2009 GA Warner Robins Museum of Aviation Displayed indoors.
61-7959 2010 FL Valparaiso Air Force Armament Museum, Eglin AFB Big-Tail version that carried extra sensors and cameras. Displayed outdoors.
61-7960 2011 CA Atwater Castle Air Museum Site of the former Castle Air Force Base. Displayed outdoors.
61-7961 2012 KS Hutchinson Kansas State Cosmosphere & Space Center Displayed indoors in the new museum atrium.
61-7962 2013 UK Duxford American Air Museum Moved indoors to the new American Air Museum in late 2002/early 2003. Was outdoors at the Imperial War Museum, and previously in storage at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, CA.
61-7963 2014 CA Marysville Beale AFB Museum Displayed outdoors in a restricted area near the flightline.
61-7964 2015 NE Ashland Strategic Air Command Museum Displayed in new museum building atrium just off of I-80 in Ashland, Nebraska. Formerly was outdoors at SAC Museum at Offutt AFB.
61-7967 2018 LA Shreveport 8th Air Force Museum Went on display in Dec, 2003. Previously in storage in CA.
61-7968 2019 VA Richmond Virginia Aviation Museum Holds the world record for endurance flying, set on April 26, 1971, with a 10 hour, 15,000-mile nonstop flight. Displayed outdoors.
61-7971 2022 OR McMinnville Evergreen Aviation Museum Now on display at Evergreen Aviation Museum as of early 2003. Formerly on loan to NASA as tail number 832.
61-7972 2023 DC Washington National Air & Space Museum Set four new speed records on its retirement flight, 6 March 1990. This Blackbird is now on public display at new NASM museum annex near Dulles International Airport, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.
61-7973 2024 CA Palmdale Blackbird Airpark Displayed outdoors next to an A-12.
61-7975 2026 CA Riverside March Field Museum, March AFB Displayed outdoors.
61-7976 2027 OH Dayton U.S. Air Force Museum, Wright-Patterson AFB Displayed in the Cold War gallery.
61-7979 2030 TX San Antonio History & Traditions Museum, Lackland AFB Displayed outdoors on the base parade grounds.
61-7980 2031 CA Rosamond NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards AFB On display at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center marked as NASA 844. Due to 9/11, this area is not open to the general public.
61-7981   UT Ogden Hill AFB Museum Only SR-71C. Hybrid trainer aircraft from salvaged parts of YF-12A, 60-6934 (rear half) and functional engineering mockup of the SR-71A forward fuselage. Displayed in museum building.
Note—click on the Serial Number to see a photo of each airplane.

Lockheed YF-12A Blackbird Survivors

Serial Number Hull Number State City Location Notes
60-6935 1002 OH Dayton U.S. Air Force Museum, Wright-Patterson AFB Sole surviving YF-12A. Located in Museum Annex.
Note—click on the Serial Number to see a photo of each airplane.

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Authored by John A. Weeks III, Copyright © 1996—2016, all rights reserved.
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