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Convair B-58 Hustler


Convair B-58 Hustler

B-58 Hustler
Convair B-58A in flight, June 1967
Role Supersonic strategic bomber
Manufacturer Convair
First flight 11 November 1956
Introduction 15 March 1960
Retired 31 January 1970
Primary user United States Air Force
Number built 116
Unit cost
US$12.44 million[1]

The Convair B-58 Hustler was the first operational supersonic jet bomber capable of Mach 2 flight.[2] 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.[3] 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 five nuclear weapons; four on pylons under the wings, and one nuclear weapon and fuel in a combination bomb/fuel 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.[4]

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.[5]


  • Design and development 1
    • Weapons systems 1.1
  • Operational history 2
    • Excessive program expenditure 2.1
      • Adverse flight characteristics 2.1.1
      • Operational wings and retirement 2.1.2
      • Test aircraft 2.1.3
  • World records 3
  • Variants 4
  • Operators 5
  • Aircraft on display 6
  • Specifications (B-58A) 7
  • Notable appearances in media 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
    • Notes 10.1
    • Bibliography 10.2
  • External links 11

Design and development

Ejection pod undergoing testing

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.[6] 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.[6]

RB-58A with two component pod (TCP)

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[7] 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.[8]

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.[9][10] In an unusual test program, live bears and chimpanzees were successfully used to test the ejection system.[11] The XB-70 would use a similar system (though using capsules of a different design).

B-58 crewmember escape capsule
Convair YB-58A-1-CF Hustler, (AF Ser. No. 55-0661), the second aircraft built

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.[12]

The pilot's cockpit was fairly conventional for a large multiengine aircraft.[13] 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."[14][15]

Weapons systems

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.[16] The AN/ASQ-42 was estimated to be 10 times more accurate than any previous bombing/navigation system.[16]

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.[16][17] 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.[16] 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.[18] 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.[19] The first flight took place in November 1956.[20] A difficult and protracted flight test program involving 30 aircraft continued until April 1959.[21] The final B-58 was delivered in October 1962.[21]

From 1961 to 1963, the B-58 was retrofitted with two tandem stub pylons under each wing root, adjacent to the centreline pod,[22] 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.[23]

Operational history

B-58A in flight

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.[24] 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).[25] 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.[26][27] 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.[28] The B-58 also cost three times as much to operate as the B-52.[29] The cost of maintaining and operating the two operational B-58 wings equaled that of six wings of B-52s.[30] 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 number of aerial refuelings to complete a mission.[31] 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.[32][33]

Adverse flight characteristics

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 aircraft, up to 9.4° at Mach 0.5 at low altitudes. If the angle of attack was too high, in excess of 17°, the bomber could pitch up and enter a spin. Several factors could prevent a successful 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), recovery might not be possible. 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.[30] 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.[34] 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).

XB-58 prototype during takeoff

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.[35] 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.[36][37] 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.

Test 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.

World records

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, this record still stands.[38][39] 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.[40] This B-58 was called "Greased Lightning" - the codename for the record attempt.

Some of the record winning aerospace trophies the B-58 won were the Bleriot trophy, the Thompson trophy, the Mackay trophy, the Bendix trophy and the Harmon trophy.[41]

Singer John Denver's father, Colonel Henry J. Deutschendorf, Sr., USAF, held several speed records as a B-58 pilot.[42]


  • 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.[34][43] A prototype B-58B was ordered (S/N 60-1109), but the entire project was canceled before construction began, due to budgetary considerations.[44] 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.[45] 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.[46][47]
  • 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.[48]


 United States

United States Air Force

Strategic Air Command
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

B-58A Hustler (AF Serial No. 59-2458), the "Cowtown Hustler," in front of the National Museum of the United States Air Force's restoration facility at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH
B-58A BuNo 61-2080 at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona.

Today there are eight B-58 survivors:[49][50]


Specifications (B-58A)

Orthographically projected diagram of the B-58 Hustler
Cutaway of an air start system of a General Electric J79 turbojet. The small turbine and epicyclic gearing are clearly visible.

Data from Quest for Performance[59]

General characteristics




Notable appearances in media

Jimmy Stewart, a bomber pilot during World War II and a brigadier general in the Air Force Reserve, appeared in an Air Force film, flying in the back seat of the B-58 on a typical low-altitude attack in the film B-58 Champion of Champions.[67]

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.[68] This would have given the fictional bombers the appearance of the canceled B-58B (see Variants).

In George Clooney, the fictional Vindicator bomber was again represented by the B-58 Hustler.

See also

Related development
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
Related lists



  1. ^ Knaack, Marcelle Size. Post-World War II Bombers, 1945-1973. Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History, 1988. ISBN 0-16-002260-6.
  2. ^ Wilson 2000, p. 38.
  3. ^ Martin, Douglas. "Robert H. Widmer, Designer of Military Aircraft, Dies at 95." The New York Times, 2 July 2011.
  4. ^ "B-58's Sonic Boom Rattles Kentuckians." Chicago Daily Tribune, 19 December 1961. Retrieved: 2 November 2009.
  5. ^
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  7. ^ Miller 1985, p. 26.
  8. ^ Miller 1985, p. 28.
  9. ^ On display at the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum.
  10. ^ 2008 p. 107.
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  12. ^ Loftin, Laurence K. Jr. "Quest for Performance: The Evolution of Modern Aircraft. Part II: The Jet Age. Chapter 12: Jet Bomber and Attack Aircraft. Two Pioneering Explorations." National Aeronautics & Space Administration, 2004. Retrieved: 1 December 2014.
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  14. ^ "Voice warning systems message priority." Retrieved: 14 September 2015.
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  19. ^ Miller 1985, p. 39.
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  22. ^ Hansen 1988, pp. 158, 161.
  23. ^ "Designation systems." Retrieved: 8 December 2009.
  24. ^ Miller 1985, p. 62.
  25. ^ Higham 1975, p. 31.
  26. ^ Miller 1985, p. 48.
  27. ^ Hall, R. Cargill. "To acquire strategic bombers - The case of the B-58 Hustler." Air University Review, Research Division, at the Albert F. Simpson Historical Research Center, Maxwell AFB, Alabama, September–October 1980. Retrieved: 15 February 2015.
  28. ^ Converse 2012, p. 517.
  29. ^ Miller 1985, p. 69.
  30. ^ a b Hall, R. Cargill. "The B-58 Bomber." Air University Review, Research Division, at the Albert F. Simpson Historical Research Center, Maxwell AFB, Alabama, November–December 1981. Retrieved: 14 February 2015.
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  32. ^ "B-58 Hustler United States Nuclear Forces." (Federation of American Scientists, 29 May 1997. Retrieved: 15 February 2015.
  33. ^ "B-58 final construction.", 2015. Retrieved: 15 February 2015.
  34. ^ a b Slade 2012, p. 238.
  35. ^ Sorenson 1995, p. 131.
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  37. ^ Veronico and Strong 2010, p. 112.
  38. ^ QUALA MATOCHA. "Former Hillje man holds longest supersonic flight record after 50 years" El Campo Leader News, October 23, 2013. Accessed: December 15, 2013.
  39. ^ Comstock, Charles. "The B-58's record flights." (456th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, Seymour Johnson Air Field North Carolina. Retrieved: 2 January 2015.
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  41. ^ "Trophies won and records set by the B-58." B-58 Hustler Association HomePage. Retrieved: 2 January 2015.
  42. ^ Tope, Jessica. "Pope Air Force Base Record Breaking Day." Pope Air Force Base, 12 January 2007. Retrieved: 5 September 2007.
  43. ^ Goebel, Greg. "The General Dynamics B-58 & North American XB-70.", 1 August 2014. Retrieved: 26 January 2015.
  44. ^ "Factsheet: Convair B-58B." (National Museum of the United States Air Force). Retrieved: 26 January 2015.
  45. ^ "Convair Super Hustler, Fish & Kingfish.", 2012. Retrieved: 11 December 2014.
  46. ^ Hehs, Eric. "Super Hustler, FISH, Kingfish, and Beyond (Part 1: Super Hustler)." (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company), 15 March 2011. Retrieved: 11 December 2014.
  47. ^ Burrows, William E. "The Real X-Jet.", 1 March 1999. Retrieved: 13 December 2014.
  48. ^ "Factsheet: Convair B-58C Hustler." National Museum of the United States Air Force. Retrieved: 5 September 2007.
  49. ^ "B-58 Aircraft History - serial numbers and summary." The B-58 Hustler Association. Retrieved: 4 December 2014.
  50. ^ Brewer, Randy A. and Alex P. Brewer. "The B-58 Hustler Page - Surviving Inventory.", 2014. Retrieved: 18 December 2014.
  51. ^ "B-58 Hustler/55-0663." Grissom Air Museum. Retrieved: 4 December 2012.
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  55. ^ "B-58 Hustler/59-2437." Retrieved 4 June 2015.
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  57. ^ "B-58 Hustler/61-2059." Strategic Air and Space Museum. Retrieved 4 June 2015.
  58. ^ "B-58 Hustler/61-2080." Pima Air & Space Museum. Retrieved: 4 December 2012.
  59. ^ Loftin, Laurence K. Jr. "SP-468: Quest for Performance: The Evolution of Modern Aircraft". NASA. Retrieved: 4 April 2006.
  60. ^ a b c d Grant and Dailey 2007, p. 293.
  61. ^ Gunston 1986, p. 162.
  62. ^ "AN/APA to AN/APD - Equipment Listing." Retrieved: 3 July 2010.
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  65. ^ a b "AN/APR to AN/APS - Equipment Listing." Retrieved: 3 July 2010.
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  67. ^ "Convair B-58 Hustler, Champion of Champions." YouTube (United States Air Force), 3 December 2014.
  68. ^ "1962 ... Failsafe." Flickr, 2015. Retrieved: 16 February 2015.


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External links

  • (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
  • profile of the B-58
  • B-58 photographs from the Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company hosted by the Portal to Texas History
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