Blackbird Airpark in Palmdale, California is an annex of the Air Force Flight Test (AFFT) Museum at Edwards AFB and was officially dedicated on September 27, 1991. It is the only airpark in the world where you can see top-secret US spy aircraft of the Cold War era together. As an added bonus, the Joe Davies Heritage Airpark at Palmdale Plant 42 is located right next door.
The Lockheed U-2 Dragon Lady (#56-6721) on display at the Blackbird Airpark was originally built in 1957 as a U-2A model by the Lockheed’s Advanced Development Projects division, better known as “Skunk Works”. While undergoing repairs after a belly-landing in 1959, it was upgraded to a model U-2D by adding, among other things, a second crew seat. After its retirement in 1980, the airframe was put on display at the March Field Museum in Riverside, California. In 1996, it returned to Lockheed’s Palmdale facility at Plant 42 for restoration and was eventually placed on display at the airpark in 2001.
On January 26th, 1960 the CIA formally placed an order for 12 Lockheed A-12 high-speed, high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft to replace the U-2. Their revolutionary design required significant quantities of titanium which was acquired using third parties and dummy companies from Soviet Union. In 1962, the first A-12 (#60-6924), known as Article 121, was transported by truck, in pieces, from the Burbank factory to the Groom Lake test facility where it first officially flew on April 30th. After completing 322 flights, the plane was retired in 1968 and stored at Lockheed’s facility at Air Force Plant 42. It was placed on permanent display at the Blackbird Airpark 23 years later in 1991.
The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird was a long-range, Mach 3+ strategic reconnaissance aircraft developed in 1960s from the Lockheed A-12 by Lockheed’s “Skunk Works” division. A total of 32 aircraft were built with 12 lost in various accidents. The 24th SR-71 airframe, which is on display at the Blackbird Airpark since 1991, took to the skies for the first time on February 9th,1967. It flew 62 training missions and 45 operational sorties over Southeast Asia between 1969 and 1971. In May 1987, it was overstressed during an air show in the UK and retired as the cost of repairs was too high.
The last aircraft on display is actually a supersonic reconnaissance drone. Originally, the Lockheed D-21 was designed to be launched from the back of a M-21 carrier aircraft, a customized version of the Lockheed A-12. Following a fatal accident during a test flight, the drone was modified to be launched from a Boeing B-52H Stratofortress. After four unsuccessful operational flights over the People’s Republic of China, the program was canceled in 1971. The drone on display was a 25th airframe built but never flew an actual mission.
The airpark also exhibits a Pratt & Whitney J57 Engine which was used in the U-2 planes and Pratt & Whitney J58 Engine from the A-12 & SR-71 aircraft. A Lockheed YF-117A Nighthawk used to be a part of the collection, but it is currently undergoing renovation at the AFFT restoration hangar. An extra 40-minute drive north can take to the West Gate of the Edwards AFB where a Century Circle exhibit is located. This will also be the location for the new Air Force Flight Test Museum that is currently under construction.