One of the most amazing designs in aviation history, the Blackbird was a great achievement of the Skunk Works, headed by Clarence “Kelly” Johnson.
1. 61-7955 was based at Edwards AFB, Ca., and used as a flight test aircraft by Lockheed and the Air Force, to test new systems and configurations for the rest of the Blackbird fleet.
As I mentioned earlier, I completed this drawing by making this top view. I usually don’t do any, but it is particularly interesting in the case of the SR-71, with its unusual and very elegant design.
2. 61-7968 was built in 1965 and was one of the few Blackbirds to be reactivated in the 1990s.
3. 61-7974 was one of the first operational SR-71 deployed to Kadena AFB in 1968 and flew the most missions during that deployment. To show which Blackbird was the best, it was given the name “Ichi Ban”, Japanese for “number one” and received its famous tail art of a Habu and a large “1”. The Habu is a small pit viper found in South-East Asia, which the inhabitants of Okinawa thought the Blackbird resembled. Ichi Ban also carried a Habu symbol for each operational mission flown.
4. “978” was nicknamed “Rapid Rabbit” and carried the Playboy magazine rabbit on both rudders throughout its career. It was lost in an accident on July 20, 197 2, when its braking chute failed to deploy correctly upon landing.
5. 956 was the first of only two SR-71B trainers built, and first flew on 18 November 1965. The only other B-variant trainer, 61-7957, crashed on approach to Beale AFB on 11 January 1968. It was probably the most famous Blackbird as well, having been photographed numerous times. It is now on display at the Kalamazoo Aviation History Museum in Kalamazoo, Mi.