In 1958 the Lockheed Advanced Development Projects 'Skunk Works' began work on a successor to the U-2 spy plane. It had to fly higher and faster to evade improved Soviet air defence missiles. The aim was to achieve a speed of Mach 3 with long range, great height and low radar visibility. The result was the Blackbird which made its maiden flight in 1962.
The SR-71A two-seat version became operational in the US Air Force in 1968. Two squadrons of SR-71s formed the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing. They were based at Beale Air Force Base in California, although detachments were sent all over the world to undertake specific operations.
The aircraft on display first flew in April 1966 and was delivered to the USAF in May 1966. It operated from Beale Air Force Base, Kadena Air Base in Okinawa and RAF Mildenhall in the UK during its service career. It made its last flight in February 1990. It came to Duxford in 2001 from the USAF Plant 42 at Palmdale, California and is on loan from the US Air Force Museum. It is the only Blackbird on show outside the USA.