61-7955 was outfitted for flight testing.
Donn Byrnes explains the markings below her cockpit:
"955 was my aircraft as I was the flight test engineer for that machine at Edwards. If you look very closely at those white planform silhouettes, you should see a red capitol letter H inside. The H stands for Hester. That is the name of the particular flight test route we used to simulate a real [as we saw it at the time] operational mission. It had four hot legs and three air refuelings. The mission lasted about 8 hours. There were only two aircraft at Edwards that ever attempted that mission and they were 955 and 954. I guess we tried about 25 times to get those done and the most we succeeded was three or four times. When the aircraft made it through the entire mission and the sensors got the pictures or radar images required, then one of those white silhouettes was painted on the side. It did not happen very often."
955 was used overseas on one occasion. In July 1983, she was flown to RAF Mildenhall to demonstrate the new ASARS (Advanced Synthetic Aperature Radar System) prior to fitting out the rest of the blackbird fleet. To avoid unnecessary attention from the “tail-spotters” who watched every flight from the base and recorded every tail number they saw, 955 was dressed up as 962 prior to flying out there. After the tests were completed and she was returned to Palmdale via Beale AFB, she was given back her old number and finished off the remainder of her flying career there.
Thursday, 24 January 1985
955 last flew on Thursday, January 24, 1985. At that time, the Air Force had come to the conclusion that she had been modified so many times that she no longer represented the SR-71s that were being flown out of Beale. The higher-ups figured that it would cost about $5 million to bring her up to the fleet standard. In spite of what you hear about defense spending and budget overruns, the Air Force decided it wasn’t worth the cost to modify the airframe, and chose instead to take the next aircraft due in for maintenance at the Palmdale facility and make it the new Skunkworks test bird. This is how 972 came to be graced with Senior Skunk on her tail.
AFFTC Museum, Edwards AFB, California
On Wednesday, April 3, 2002, 955 was finally towed to the AFFTC museum at Edwards AFB, California. She has been beautifully restored; unfortunately and no thanks to the terrorists of the world, the public won’t be able to see her until base security restrictions are eased. In the meantime, the museum’s director Doug Nelson has provided the following photos. He also submitted the following to the base newspaper:
"Caution: Cross Traffic Does Not Stop" Base motorists at the intersection of Rosamond and Lancaster faced a temporary delay last week while a crew towing the AFFTC Museum's SR-71A Blackbird negotiated the tight intersection. Mr Clint Guild of Guild and Co. Transport provided and operated the tractor while being guided by 2Lt Matthew Mihalick, 412 OG, right, and SrA Jason Heintz, 418th FLTS, near left wing. The towing operation was supervised by SMSgt Mark McAndrew, 412 OG with assistance from SSgt Andy White from the museum. Currently parked on the museum site, the Blackbird will be placed on permanent display as soon as concrete landing gear pads are poured.