SR-71 #955 was a test bird destined to spend her flying career in the US, primarily in Southern California. But this Blackbird had a secret life.
Like all SR-71 Blackbird spy planes with tail numbers below 958, #955 was never used for any operational missions. According to Habu.org in fact, the first 6 SR-71As were retained by the US Air Force (USAF) and Lockheed (3 each) as flight test aircraft, where new systems and configurations would be tested before being applied to the rest of the fleet. The next two aircraft produced (#956 and #957) were both SR-71B trainers, and were never flown outside of the US.
So SR-71 #955 was a test bird destined to spend her flying career in the US, primarily in Southern California.
But this Blackbird had a secret life. #955 in fact was used overseas on one occasion.
Equipped with The Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar System [ASARS-1] (is a real-time, high-resolution reconnaissance system carried on the SR-71 with all-weather, day-night, long-range mapping capabilities. ASARS-1 detects and accurately locates stationary and moving ground targets).The system can survey more than 100,000 square miles of the Earth’s surface in one hour.
The US Navy needed a way to photograph the Soviet Union’s submarines that were carrying ballistic missiles capable of flying over the North Pole and hitting targets in the US. What they needed was high resolution radar.
The #955 was flown to Beale and repainted with the tail number #962… this was to not alarm the tail watchers that would surely notice a new tail number over in Europe. She departed on Jul. 9, 1983 from Beale Air Force Base (AFB) in California. Before arriving at RAF Mildenhall she flew across the Barents Sea. The SR was able to photograph and tag the Soviet submarines. After two more missions in Europe she return to Beale on Jul. 20 where she was repainted with tail number #955 and returned to Palmdale.
Keeping her secret life to herself.
The mission was such a success that it regenerated the SR-71 program. More and more requests came from Navy and the CIA. The result was that on Apr. 5, 1984 Det 4 was given blanket clearance from the United Kingdom government to permanently assigned two SR-71s to RAF Mildenhall.
The SR’s stayed there until the end of the Cold War, a true statement can be made that the SR-71’s helped win the Cold War.
Be sure to check out Linda Sheffield Miller (Col Richard (Butch) Sheffield’s daughter, Col. Sheffield was an SR-71 Reconnaissance Systems Officer) Facebook Page Habubrats for awesome Blackbird’s photos and stories.
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin and U.S. Air Force