The Cold War was an era filled with geopolitical strife. Tensions escalated as changes in leadership, mounting espionage, and the threat of nuclear aggression cast a shadow across the globe. During this turmoil, Lockheed’s famed Skunk Works development team was tasked with developing a strategic reconnaissance plane that could not be shot down. Their work launched several innovative aircraft, including the SR-71 Blackbird, which remains to this day the fastest manned, air-breathing aircraft ever. It was an exciting moment, then, when MotoArt owner Dave Hall found out about an SR-71 in his own backyard. Get notified when the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird collectible PlaneTag™ is available for presale.
In 1959, the CIA awarded Lockheed the OXCART contract, an ambitious project to create a new high speed, high altitude reconnaissance aircraft that could avoid interceptors and missiles. Lockheed’s advanced development group “Skunk Works”, led by aerospace engineer Clarence "Kelly" Johnson, was no stranger to difficult tasks. Johnson had designed innovative aircraft before, including the U2 which was invaluable in the intelligence received from its high altitude flyovers. It was becoming clear that the Soviets were ever improving their ability to track it
The work on the ultra-secret OXCART led to new technologies in titanium fabrication, jet engines, navigation and flight control, radar stealth, electronic countermeasures and many more innovations, some which are used today. It led to the A-12, the U.S.’s first stealth plane, and the SR-71, which was used by the U.S. Air Force from 1964 to 1998.
The SR-71 was named “Blackbird” because its special paint, which helped to camouflage the high flying plane and release heat. Its stealthiness came from radar absorbent structures. It was longer than its A-12 predecessor and it added a second seat for a Reconnaissance Systems Officer. It set and broke records for speed, its radar profile was just bigger than a bird - it more than met the mandate for a fast plane that could not be shot down. It was a vital part of intelligence gathering for years, helping the United States to craft its foreign policy at a crucial time in history. 32 were eventually built, with 12 lost in accidents but none ever lost to enemy action.
“At 85,000 feet and Mach 3, it was almost a religious experience,” said Air Force Colonel Jim Wadkins. “Nothing had prepared me to fly that fast… My God, even now, I get goose bumps remembering.”
Fast Facts about S/N 61-7967 (17967)
On December 11, 2003, 2nd Security Forces Squadron escorted 17967 to its final location at the Eighth Air Force Museum, in Barksdale, LA. It was reassembled and dedicated on December 17, 2003. See photos of the disassembly here .
Always looking for unusual or interesting airplanes, Dave Hall, owner of MotoArt, was ecstatic to find out that there was a SR-71 stabilizer available. “I jumped at the opportunity to get this incredible piece of history. This was an amazing find,” says Dave.
When MotoArt acquires a plane, much care by the team goes into its preparation to be upcycled into PlaneTags™ decor, or furnishings. This includes careful research about the airline or plane, and the history of the tail number. Dave was concerned when his internet searches showed that the plane tail number 61-7967 was located at the Barksdale Global Power Museum at Barksdale AFB in Louisiana. He called the museum and spoke with the director. Between the two of them and their research, they found that the original stabilizer on the museum’s SR-71 was damaged and had been replaced with another part for display in the museum. The stabilizer that MotoArt had was the original damaged one, which had somehow made its way to Torrance, CA.
The stabilizer was transported to MotoArt Studios where it was meticulously disassembled. The honeycomb sandwich panels, designed to evade radar detection, were interesting to see up close and work with. “I’ve always been fascinated by this plane,” says Dave. “To be able to touch and own this amazing slice of history, which very few have ever seen this closely, wow… It almost takes my breath away.”
Composite honeycomb sandwich skin panels, some more than one inch thick, were fastened to the underlying titanium framework and easily removed for maintenance or replacement. These were applied to areas that typically experienced 400 to 750 °F during high-speed cruise. Design and Development of the Blackbird: Challenges and Lessons Learned - NASA.gov
Each Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird tag is a one-of-a-kind memento. They are cut out of the honeycomb sandwich skin panels which had been fastened to the titanium framework. Each one is unique, and most are varying shades and textures, with imperfections and all.
The PlaneTags™ made from 61-7967 are a special limited edition and are numbered up to 2,250. They come with a sturdy metal loop which can be attached to keys or luggage, or displayed on the accompanying attached card. They make a perfect gift for avgeeks, pilots or airplane enthusiasts. Whether purchased for a personal collection or given as a gift, this piece of aviation history is truly one of a kind and something to cherish and be passed down to the next generation.