The Museum’s M-21 Blackbird first flew in 1964 and is the sole surviving example of its type.
Taken in 1991, the impressive picture in this post features disassembled M-21 Blackbird being transported to the Museum of Flight in Seattle. The aircraft was put together under a tent in the gravel parking lot that is now the Museum’s Wings Café.
The M-21 is the first of the rare two-seat variants of the early A-12. Built for a CIA program code-named “Tagboard,” the M-21 carried an unpiloted D-21 drone for intelligence gathering. These drones were intended for launch from the M-21 “mothership” for flights over hostile territories. The Lockheed M-21 Blackbird mothership was designated M/D-21s when the D-21 “daughter” drone was mounted on top. Design features of the M-21 include the second seat for the Launch Control Officer and the launch pylon on which the drone is mounted. Two M-21 airframes were manufactured; the second was lost in a D-21 launch accident in 1966 during the fourth flight test.
Actually, the D-21 experienced an “asymmetric unstart” as it passed through the bow wake of the M-21 causing the mothership to pitch up and collide with the D-21 at Mach 3.25. Crewmembers Bill Park and Ray Torick ejected from the M-21, but Torick’s flight suit became ripped and filled with water when he plunged into the ocean where he drowned.
After the accident, the M-21 launch program was cancelled but testers still believed the D-21 would make a valuable reconnaissance vehicle and decided to launch the drone from B-52Hs under a top-secret test program named Tagboard. The new code name for the D-21 project became Senior Bowl.
The Museum’s M-21 first flew in 1964 and is the sole surviving example of its type. According to the Museum of Flight website, the Blackbird was acquired in 1991 and, with its mounted D-21 drone, is the centerpiece aircraft of the Great Gallery.
This aircraft is on loan from the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
Photo credit: unknown