Aircraft #61-7971 rolled off the assembly line on August 16th, 1965 and first flew on November 17th, 1966. As with all SR-71s, #971 was assigned to the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing based at Beale AFB, CA. In 1990, the SR-71 program was officially cancelled and the majority of airframes were prepared for a life as static display pieces in museums around the United States. #971 was one of three Blackbirds to be spared however, and was delivered to NASA for high-speed/high-altitude flight testing. The USAF markings we replaced with NASA markings and the aircraft was assigned NASA serial #832.
Fate intervened once more in 1995 when the USAF was tasked with resuming SR-71 operations with the three flightworthy airframes that had been loaned to NASA. #61-7971 was the first SR-71 to be reactivated and the NASA markings were once again replaced with muted USAF markings. The SR-71s were operated by Detachment 2 of the 9th RW out of Edwards AFB but the they were still assigned the red "BB" (Beale Bandits) tailcode with four iron crosses of their home base at Beale. Sadly, the reactivation was short lived and the three remaining SR-71s were permanently retired.
#971 flew for the final time on September 30th 1997 and ended her career with a total of 3512.5 flight hours. This aircraft is currently on display at the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Oregon, still wearing the Beale Bandits tail markings.
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