Each bird in the Blackbird family of aircraft tells a different story. Some convoluted, some straight-forward. This SR-71A, #17967, on display at Barksdale Global Power Museum on Barksdale Air Force Base near Shreveport, Louisiana, first flew on August 3, 1966. She was deactivated, along with the rest of the fleet, in 1990.
After a hiatus of the program, #17967 was one of three birds reactivated in 1995. In July of 1999, the Air Force transferred its four flying Blackbirds to NASA, for research operations out of Dryden Flight Research Center, now called Armstrong Flight Research Center, in honor of the recently late Neil A. Armstrong.
#17967 flew for NASA, performing experimental research flights, along with four remaining Blackbirds, until 1999, when those four aircraft were transferred to museums. Of that group, this bird was the first to retire, with a total of 2765.5 hours of flight time. But, she didn’t move to the museum immediately. Instead, she sat in a hangar at Dryden until 2003, while the museum raised money for transportation of the aircraft. She was the last Blackbird aircraft to be transported from her base to a museum, finally resting here on December 17, 2003. She wears the paint scheme that was current when the Air Force last flew the Blackbird aircraft.
We’re offered a unique view inside the engine nacelle (shown in the second-to-last photo), as the engines have been removed. Before the Blackbird, nobody had ever built an aircraft out of titanium. It was too difficult to work with. The titanium struts, shown in that photograph, are a reminder of the Skunk Works team who meticulously milled the insanely tough material. The word, “tough” would be a good way to describe the materials used, pilots who dared to fly the bird, and the engineers who thought such an aircraft could be designed, and set out to make it happen.