61-7956 was outfitted as a trainer.
After the blackbirds were retired in 1990, the B-model trainer and two SR-71As (971 and 980) were loaned to NASA for high-speed flight research. When the SR-71 was unretired in 1995, the USAF and NASA shared #956 (aka NASA 831) for training missions. In early July 1999, the US Air Force transferred ownership of all four flyable SR-71s to NASA (click here for a NASA press release).
If you’ve seen a blackbird fly since 1990, chances are it was 956. At last look she had logged more than 3400 flight hours (more than twice the total of 959 and 981 combined). Without a doubt this is the single most often photographed blackbird of all time. She is also unique in that she is the only 2-pilot trainer still flying (957 was lost in an accident in 1968; 981 did not see as much use as 956, and was retired with the majority of the fleet in 1990).
14 October 1997
Air Zoo, Kalamazoo, Michigan
In March of 2003, the last flyable blackbird trainer was disassembled and taken from Edwards AFB, California to the Kalamazoo Air Zoo in Michigan. She left Edwards on Monday, March 24, 2003, taking with her any chance of ever resurrecting the blackbird program. While it’s admirable that all surviving blackbirds will have homes in museums, the fact remains that grounding the last trainer grounds the fleet for good, and no amount of wishful thinking or Kentucky millionaires can change that.
Tony Landis was the only photographer on hand to record the somber event.
956, also known as NASA 831, was towed to South Base for disassembly by the team from WorldWide Aircraft Recovery. The WWAR team has done this once or twice before; in fact they’ve moved all but 5 of the blackbirds that weren’t flown or towed to their final destinations.The convoy of seven tractor-trailers arrived in Michigan four days later, on March 28, 2003.