955 flies in full afterburner, showing 9 shock diamonds in the left engine's exhaust and 10 in the right. According to Donn Byrnes, co-author of Blackbird Rising, "If you want to see how good an engine you have, count the shock diamonds --- if you can get 9 or better, you have got yourself one hell of an engine." - Lockheed photo by Bill Flanagan, via John Stone
Like all SR-71s with tail numbers below 958, 955 was never used for any operational missions. The first 6 SR-71As were retained by the Air Force 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 United States.
An early photo of 955, taken February 29, 1968, with the Outstanding Unit Citation above her tail number. This was prior to ever getting the Skunk logo. She is shown at Edwards Air Force Base, returning from another flight. - Lockheed photo via Tony Landis
Donn Byrnes explains the markings below her cockpit:
"955 was my aircraft as I was the flight test engineer for that machine at Edwards. If you look very closely at those white planform silhouettes, you should see a red capitol letter H inside. The H stands for Hester. That is the name of the particular flight test route we used to simulate a real [as we saw it at the time] operational mission. It had four hot legs and three air refuelings. The mission lasted about 8 hours. There were only two aircraft at Edwards that ever attempted that mission and they were 955 and 954. I guess we tried about 25 times to get those done and the most we succeeded was three or four times. When the aircraft made it through the entire mission and the sensors got the pictures or radar images required, then one of those white silhouettes was painted on the side. It did not happen very often."
|955 in a banking turn over Edwards AFB (click on the image above for higher resolution)- USAF photo|
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