SR-71 Blackbird: Gone but not forgotten... Published Jan. 26, 2016 By Staff Sgt. Robert M. Trujillo 9th Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Twenty-six years ago today, Beale said goodbye to the fastest air-breathing jet in the world, the SR-71 Blackbird. The Blackbird was an advanced, long-range, supersonic strategic reconnaissance aircraft that called Beale Air Force Base home from January 1966 to January 1990. But for Master Sgt. Floyd Jones (ret.) and a local group of former Blackbird maintainers, the mission continues, not with turning wrenches, but with the same elbow grease. "It's not glamorous but it needs to be done," said Jones, who worked on the Blackbird for nearly 20 years. Floyd and members of The Blackbird Maintainers group wash and scrub down the SR-71 periodically to ensure the static display is looking its best. "It's a beautiful aircraft," said Master Sgt. (ret.) John Olp, a 10-year Blackbird veteran. "But some of the local wildlife prefer to roost on it." Local birds, weather, wind and dust are all contributing factors that lead to the Blackbird getting an occasional bath. "We try not to let it get too dirty," Jones said. "We take a pressure washer to it and scrub it down, it takes a couple of hours but we have a goodtime with it." In addition to the Blackbird Maintainers, the 9th Maintenance Squadron intermittently performs spot cleaning on the aircraft. Jones said that for many former maintainers it's just another way to reconnect with fellow servicemen and trade "war stories" about the Air Force and the aircraft they enjoyed working on. "It's a rare plane," Jones said. "We have to take care of it for future generations to cherish." Developed in secrecy by Lockheed's Skunk Works division in Palmdale, California, only 32 were built. None were ever lost to enemy action. "This jet was ahead of its time," Jones said. "We all love this aircraft and none of us mind taking care of her into the retirement years."