Convair B-58 Hustler
|Convair B-58A in flight, June 1967|
|First flight||11 November 1956|
|Introduction||15 March 1960|
|Retired||31 January 1970|
|Primary user||United States Air Force|
The Convair B-58 Hustler was the first operational supersonic jet bomber capable of Mach 2 flight. The aircraft was designed by Convair engineer Robert H. Widmer and developed for the United States Air Force for service in the Strategic Air Command (SAC) during the 1960s. It used a delta wing, which was also employed by Convair fighters such as the F-102, with four General Electric J79 engines in pods under the wing. It carried a nuclear weapon and fuel in a large pod under the fuselage rather than in an internal bomb bay.
Replacing the Boeing B-47 Stratojet medium bomber, it was originally intended to fly at high altitudes and supersonic speeds to avoid Soviet fighters. The B-58 received a great deal of notoriety due to its sonic boom, which was often heard by the public as it passed overhead in supersonic flight.
The introduction of highly accurate Soviet surface-to-air missiles forced the B-58 into a low-level penetration role that severely limited its range and strategic value, and it was never employed to deliver conventional bombs. This led to a brief operational career between 1960 and 1970, when the B-58 was succeeded by the smaller, swing-wing FB-111A.
- 1 Design and development
- 2 Operational history
- 3 World Records
- 4 Variants
- 5 Operators
- 6 Aircraft on display
- 7 Specifications (B-58A)
- 8 Notable appearances in media
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 External links
Design and development
The genesis of the B-58 program came in February 1949, when a Generalized Bomber Study (GEBO II) had been issued by the Air Research and Development Command (ARDC) at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. A number of contractors submitted bids including Boeing, Convair, Curtiss, Douglas, Martin and North American Aviation.
Building on Convair's experience of earlier delta-wing fighters, beginning with the XF-92A, a series of GEBO II designs were developed, initially studying swept and semi-delta configurations, but settling on the delta wing planform. The final Convair proposal, coded FZP-110, was a radical two-place, delta wing bomber design powered by General Electric J53 engines. The performance estimates included a 1,000 mph (1,600 km/h; 870 kt) speed and a 3,000 statute mile (4,800 km; 2,600 nmi) range.
The USAF chose Boeing (MX-1712) and Convair to proceed to a Phase 1 study. The Convair MX-1626 evolved further into a more refined proposal redesignated the MX-1964. In December 1952, the Air Force selected the MX-1964 as the winner of the design competition to meet the newly proposed SAB-51 (Supersonic Aircraft Bomber) and SAR-51 (Supersonic Aircraft Reconnaissance), the first General Operational Requirement (GOR) worldwide for supersonic bombers. In February 1953, the Air Force issued a contract for development of Convair's design.
The resulting B-58 design was the first "true" USAF supersonic bomber program. The Convair design was based on a delta wing with a leading-edge sweep of 60° with four General Electric J79-GE-1 turbojet engines, capable of flying at twice the speed of sound. Although its large wing made for relatively low wing loading, it proved to be surprisingly well suited for low-altitude, high-speed flight. It seated three (pilot, bombardier/navigator, and defensive systems operator) in separated tandem cockpits. Later versions gave each crew member a novel ejection capsule that made it possible to eject at an altitude of 70,000 ft (21,000 m) at speeds up to Mach 2 (1,320 mph/2,450 km/h). Unlike standard ejection seats of the period, a protective clamshell would enclose the seat and the control stick with an attached oxygen cylinder, allowing the pilot to continue to fly even "turtled up" and ready for immediate egress. The capsule would float, and the crewmember could open the clamshell, using it as a life raft. In an unusual test program, live bears and chimpanzees were successfully used to test the ejection system. The XB-70 would use a similar system (though using capsules of a different design).
Because of heat generated at Mach 2 cruise, not only the crew compartment, but the wheel wells and electronics bay were pressurized and air conditioned. The B-58 utilized one of the first extensive applications of aluminum honeycomb panels, which bonded outer and inner aluminum skins to a honeycomb of aluminum and fiberglass.
The pilot's cockpit was fairly conventional for a large multiengine aircraft. The electronic controls were ambitious and advanced for the day. The navigator and DSO's cockpits featured wraparound dashboards with warning lights and buttons, and automatic voice messages and warnings from a tape system were audible through the helmet sets. Research during the era of all-male combat aircraft assignments revealed that a woman's voice was more likely to gain the attention of young men in distracting situations. Nortronics Division of Northrop Corporation selected actress and singer Joan Elms to record the automated voice warnings. To the men flying the B-58, the voice was known as "Sexy Sally."
The Sperry AN/ASQ-42 bombing/navigation system combined a sophisticated inertial navigation system with the KS-39 Star tracker (astro-inertial navigation system) to provide heading reference, the AN/APN-113 Doppler radar to provide ground speed and windspeed data, a search radar to provide range data for bomb release and trajectory, and a radar altimeter. The AN/ASQ-42 was estimated to be 10 times more accurate than any previous bombing/navigation system.
Defensive armament consisted of a single 20 mm (0.79 in) T-171E-3 rotary cannon with 1,200 rounds of ammunition in a radar-aimed tail barbette. It was remotely controlled through the Emerson MD-7 automated radar fire-control system only requiring the DSO to lock-on a selected target blip on his scope and then fire the gun; the system computing all aiming, velocity or heading differential, and range compensation. Offensive armament typically consisted of a single nuclear weapon, along with fuel tanks, in a streamlined MB-1C pod under the fuselage. Incurable difficulties with fuel leakage resulted in the replacement of the MB-1C with the TCP (Two Component Pod), which placed the nuclear weapon in an upper section while the lower fuel component could be independently jettisoned. This had the added benefit of allowing the pilot to "clean up" the aircraft for fuel efficiency or in case of emergency, while still retaining the (somewhat) more slim weapon.
The first prototype, serial number 55-660, was completed in late August 1956. The first flight took place in November 1956. A difficult and protracted flight test program involving 30 aircraft continued until April 1959. The final B-58 was delivered in October 1962.
From 1961 to 1963, the B-58 was retrofitted with two tandem stub pylons under each wing root, adjacent to the centreline pod, for B43 or B61 nuclear weapons for a total of five nuclear weapons per aircraft. Although the USAF explored the possibility of using the B-58 for the conventional strike role, it was never equipped for carrying or dropping conventional bombs in service. A photo reconnaissance pod, the LA-331, was also fielded. Several other specialized pods for ECM or an early cruise missile were considered, but not adopted. The late 1950s High Virgo air-launched ballistic missile was designed to be launched from the B-58 with four test launches of the High Virgo carried out by a B-58 to determine ballistic missile and anti-satellite weapon system capability.
The B-58 crews were elite, hand-picked from other strategic bomber squadrons. Due to some characteristics of delta-winged aircraft, new pilots used the Convair F-102 Delta Dagger as a conversion trainer, before moving to the TB-58A trainer. The B-58 was difficult to fly and its three-man crews were constantly busy, but its performance was exceptional. A lightly loaded Hustler would climb at nearly 46,000 ft/min (235 m/s). In addition to its much smaller weapons load and more limited range than the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, the B-58 had also been extremely expensive to acquire.
Excessive program expenditure
Through FY 1961, the total cost of the B-58 program was $3 billion. A highly complex aircraft, it also required considerable maintenance, much of which required specialized equipment and ground personnel. For comparison, the average maintenance cost per flying hour for the B-47 was $361, for the B-52 it was $1,025 and for the B-58 it was $1,440.  The B-58 also cost three times as much to operate as the B-52. The cost of maintaining and operating the two operational B-58 wings equaled that of six wings of B-52s. This included special maintenance issues with the nose landing gear, which retracted in a complicated fashion to avoid the center payload. Further compounding these issues, the B-58 had an unfavorably high accident rate: 26 B-58 aircraft were lost in accidents, 22.4% of total production. The SAC senior leadership had been dubious about the aircraft type from the beginning, although its crews eventually became enthusiastic about the aircraft. General Curtis LeMay was never satisfied with the bomber and after a flight in one declared that it was too small, far too expensive to maintain in combat readiness and required an excessive amount of aerial refuelings to complete a mission. Although the high altitude ferry range of the B-58 was better than the B-47, the lack of forward basing resulted in a requirement for more KC-135 tanker support.
Adverse flight problems
While its performance and design were exceptional and appreciated, it was never easy to fly. This was caused by the 60 degree leading edge sweepback of its wing and was inherent in these types of delta wing planforms. It required a much higher angle of attack than a conventional airplane, up to 9.4 degrees at Mach 0.5 at low altitudes. If the angle of attack was too high, in excess of 17 degrees, the bomber could pitch up and enter a spin which had several factors that could mitigate against recovery - if the pilot applied elevon, if the center of gravity was not correctly positioned or if the spin occurred below 15,000 feet (4,600 metres). The B-58 also had stall characteristics that were not conventional. If the nose was elevated, the bomber maintained forward motion without pitching down. Unless large amounts of power were applied, the descent rate increased rapidly. Another problem pilots faced was called "fuel stacking" and took place when the B-58 accelerated or decelerated. It was due to fuel moving in the tanks and causing sudden changes in the center of gravity. This could cause the aircraft to pitch or bank and subsequently lose control. Most notably, the B-58 was very difficult to safely recover from in the loss of an engine at supersonic cruise due to differential thrust.
Operational wings and retirement
Two SAC bomb wings operated the B-58 during its operational service: the 43d Bombardment Wing, based at Carswell AFB, Texas from 1960 to 1964, and Little Rock AFB, Arkansas from 1964 to 1970; and the 305th Bombardment Wing, based at Bunker Hill AFB (later Grissom AFB), Indiana from 1961 to 1970. The 305th also operated the B-58 combat crew training school (CCTS), the predecessor of the USAF's current formal training units (FTUs).
By the time the early problems had largely been resolved and SAC interest in the bomber had solidified, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara decided that the B-58 was not going to be a viable weapon system. It was during the B-58's introduction that high-altitude Soviet surface-to-air missiles (SAM) became a viable threat, especially the SA-2 Guideline, a SAM system the Soviet Union extensively deployed. The "solution" to this problem was to fly at low altitudes, minimizing the radar line-of-sight and reducing exposure time.
Because of the denser air at low altitudes, the B-58 could not fly at supersonic speeds and its moderate range was reduced further, thereby negating the high-speed performance the design paid so dearly for. In late 1965, Secretary McNamara ordered the B-58's retirement by 1970. Despite efforts of the Air Force to earn a reprieve, the phaseout proceeded on schedule. The last B-58s were retired in January 1970 and placed in storage in AMARC at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. The fleet survived until 1977, when nearly all remaining aircraft were sold to Southwestern Alloys for disposal. The B-58 as a weapons system was replaced by the FB-111A, designed for low-altitude attack, more flexible with the carriage of conventional weapons, and less expensive to produce and maintain.
A total of 116 B-58s were produced: 30 trial aircraft and 86 production B-58A models. Most of the trial aircraft were later upgraded to operational standard. Eight were equipped as TB-58A training aircraft.
A number of B-58s were used for special trials. One was specially modified to test the Hughes radar system intended for the Lockheed YF-12 interceptor and the North American F-108 Rapier, which had an extended nose to accommodate the radar and was nicknamed "Snoopy" (see Aircraft on Display). Several improved (and usually enlarged) variants, named B-58B and B-58C by the manufacturer, were proposed but never built.
The B-58 set no less than 19 world speed records, including coast-to-coast records, and one for longest supersonic flight in history. In 1963, it went from Tokyo to London (via Alaska), a distance of 8,028 miles (12,920 km) in 8 hours, 35 minutes, 20.4 seconds, averaging 938 miles per hour (1,510 kilometres per hour). As of 2015[update], this record still stands. The aircraft was serving in an operational unit, and had not been modified in any way besides being washed and waxed. One of the goals of the flight was to push the limit of its new honeycomb construction technique. The speed of the flight was limited only by the speed at which they believed the honeycomb panels would delaminate. This B-58 was called "Greased Lightning" - the codename for the record attempt. (see Aircraft on Display)
- XB-58: Prototype; two built.
- YB-58A: Pre-production aircraft, 11 built.
- B-58A: Three-seat medium-range strategic bomber aircraft, 86 built.
- TB-58A: Training aircraft, eight conversions from YB-58A.
- NB-58A: This designation was given to a YB-58A, which was used for testing the J93 engine. The engine was originally intended for the North American XB-70 Valkyrie Mach 3 bomber.
- RB-58A: Variant with ventral reconnaissance pod, 17 built.
- B-58B: Unbuilt version. SAC planned to order 185 of these improved bombers which had uprated J79-GE-9 engines, a stretched fuselage for extra fuel capacity, canards and could carry conventional weapons. A prototype B-58B was ordered (S/N 60-1109), but the entire project was canceled before construction began, due to budgetary considerations. The B variant was also planned to be the "mothership" for a Mach 4 parasite called the FISH (for First Invisible Super Hustler). Because It was to be faster and larger than the B-58A, it could carry the FISH instead of the external pod. At an altitude of at least 35,000 feet (11,000 metres) at speeds in excess of Mach 2 the FISHs three ramjet engines could be started. The Super Hustler would then disengage from the B-58B and climb up to 90,000 feet (27,000 metres) and accelerate to Mach 4.2 to complete its mission.
- B-58C: Unbuilt version. Enlarged version with more fuel and 32,500 lbf (145 kN) J58, the same engine used on the Lockheed SR-71. Design studies were conducted with two and four engine designs, the C model had an estimated top speed approaching Mach 3, a supersonic cruise capability of approximately Mach 2, and a service ceiling of about 70,000 ft (21,300 m) along with the capability of carrying conventional bombs. Convair estimated maximum range at 5,200 nautical miles (6,000 mi; 9,600 km). The B-58C was proposed as a lower cost alternative to the North American XB-70. As enemy defenses against high-speed, high-altitude penetration bombers improved, the value of the B-58C diminished and the program was canceled in early 1961.
- 63d Bombardment Squadron, Medium
- 64th Bombardment Squadron, Medium
- 65th Bombardment Squadron, Medium
- 3958th Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron (1958-1960)
- 364th Bombardment Squadron, Medium
- 365th Bombardment Squadron, Medium
- 366th Bombardment Squadron, Medium
- Air Force Flight Test Center - Edwards AFB, California (1956-58)
- 6592d Test Squadron
Aircraft on display
- 55-0663 - Grissom Air Museum, Grissom Air Reserve Base (former Bunker Hill AFB/former Grissom AFB), Peru, Indiana. This is the oldest remaining aircraft and the fourth B-58 built.
- 55-0665 (Snoopy) - Edwards Air Force Base, California. This aircraft is a photo target on the Edwards AFB range and is in extremely poor condition.
- 59-2437 (Firefly II) - Lackland AFB/Kelly Field Annex (former Kelly Air Force Base), San Antonio, Texas.
- 59-2458 (Cowtown Hustler) - National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio. This aircraft flew from Los Angeles to New York and back on 5 March 1962, setting three separate speed records, and earning the crew the Bendix Trophy and the Mackay Trophy for 1962. The aircraft was flown to the Museum on 1 March 1969. The aircraft is on display in the Museum's Cold War gallery.
- 61-2059 (Greased Lightning) - Strategic Air and Space Museum near Ashland, Nebraska. It averaged 938 nmph flying 8,028 nmi. from Tokyo to London in 8 hours and 35 minutes in October 1963.
- 61-2080 - Pima Air & Space Museum (adjacent to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base) in Tucson, Arizona. It was the last B-58 to be delivered.
Data from Quest for Performance
- Crew: 3: pilot; observer (navigator, radar operator, bombardier); defense system operator (DSO; electronic countermeasures operator and pilot assistant).
- Length: 96 ft 10 in (29.5 m)
- Wingspan: 56 ft 9 in (17.3 m)
- Height: 29 ft 11 in (8.9 m)
- Wing area: 1,542 ft² (143.3 m²)
- Airfoil: NACA 0003.46-64.069 root, NACA 0004.08-63 tip
- Empty weight: 55,560 lb (25,200 kg)
- Loaded weight: 67,871 lb (30,786 kg)
- Max. takeoff weight: 176,890 lb (80,240 kg)
- Powerplant: 4 × General Electric J79-GE-5A turbojet
- Zero-lift drag coefficient: 0.0068
- Drag area: 10.49 ft² (0.97 m²)
- Aspect ratio: 2.09
- Maximum speed: Mach 2.0 (1,319mph) at 40,000 ft (12,000 m)
- Cruise speed: 610 mph (530 kn, 985 km/h)
- Combat radius: 1,740 mi (1,510 nmi, 3,220 km)
- Ferry range: 4,100 nmi (4,700 mi, 7,600 km)
- Service ceiling: 63,400 ft (19,300 m)
- Rate of climb: 17,400 ft/min (88 m/s) at gross weight
- Wing loading: 44.0 lb/ft² (215 kg/m²)
- Thrust/weight: 0.919 lbf/lb
- Lift-to-drag ratio: 11.3 (without weapons/fuel pod)
- Guns: 1× 20 mm (0.79 in) T171 cannon
- Bombs: 4× B43 or B61 nuclear bombs; maximum weapons load was 19,450 lb (8,820 kg)
- AN/APB-2 Bombing radar
- AN/APN-110 Doppler navigational radar (part of Sperry AN/ASQ-42 Navigation & Bombing System)
- AN/APN-170 Terrain-following radar
- AN/APR-12 Radar warning receiver
- Hughes Aircraft AN/APQ-69 podded Side looking airborne radar (mounted on RB-58A)
- Goodyear AN/APS-73 podded synthetic aperture radar (mounted on RB-58A)
Notable appearances in media
Jimmy Stewart, a bomber pilot during World War II and the early cold war period, made a film for the Air Force, flying in the back seat of the B-58 on a typical low-altitude attack in the film B-58 Champion of Champions.
The B-58 has also appeared in the 1964 film Fail-Safe, where stock footage of B-58s was used to represent the fictional "Vindicator" bombers which attacked Moscow. Interestingly, the art used in the original magazine publication of the novel had depicted the "Vindicator" bombers—itself the recycling of the name of a World War II American dive bomber—as almost identical to B-58s but equipped with canards. This would have given the fictional bombers the appearance of the canceled B-58B (see Variants).
- Related development
- Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
- BAC TSR-2
- Boeing XB-59
- Dassault Mirage IV
- Myasishchev M-50
- North American A-5 Vigilante
- Tupolev Tu-22 'Blinder'
- Related lists
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- Miller 1976, p. 24.
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- On display at the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to B-58 Hustler.|
- (1959) T.O. 1B-58A-1 Flight Manual USAF B/RB-58A Aircraft
- "Champion of Champions (1962)" on YouTube
- B-58 Hustler Association Homepage
- Convair B-58 Hustler Rendezvous
- Aviation-history.com profile of the B-58
- B-58 photographs from the Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company hosted by the Portal to Texas History