The aircraft for today is the one that was built during the Cold War era and served the USAF’s (United States Air Force) branch named SAC (Strategic Air Command) back in the early 1950s. The name of the said bomber aircraft is CONVAIR B-58 Hustler which was developed to be a high-speed bomber by the US-based aircraft manufacturing company named CONVAIR. The CONVAIR B-58 Hustler holds the title for being the first operational service bomber aircraft that achieved the Mach 2 flight speed.
The project of the CONVAIR B-58 Hustler was started back in the early 1950s of which CONVAIR designed the aircraft around the massive delta wing design which was also used for its contemporary fighter aircraft such as the CONVAIR F-102. The aircraft was powered by 4 of the General Electric engines that were fitted in the pods located under the wings. The aircraft was not made to have any bombing bay; instead, it was made to fly with a single nuclear weapon. In later models, 4 additional hardpoints were added so that aircraft could be made to carry about 5 weapons in total.
The aircraft entered the service of SAC back in 1959 and was made to serve until 1970 and was considered to be one of the most difficult aircraft to be operated by a 3-man crew. The aircraft entered the service by replacing the previous generation Boeing B-47 Stratojet as a strategic bomber. The main role of the CONVAIR B-58 Hustler was to fly at the high altitudes in order for it to avoid any Soviet interceptor aircraft. The aircraft got its notoriety among the enemies due to its unique sonic boom which was heard by the people below it when it flew above them for a supersonic flight.
Origin & First Flight:-
The USAF issued the contract proposal for the development of a new bomber aircraft that could fly at high speeds and at high altitudes back in 1949. Many aircraft manufacturing companies such as Boeing, Convair, Douglas Martin, North American Aviation and Curtiss came forward with their designs. Out of these USAF selected the designs of CONVAIR and Boeing and ultimately in August of 1952, the contract was won by the Convair upon having the superior design.
The first prototype of the CONVAIR B-58 Hustler was designated as XB-58 with serial number being 55-660 which was presented for evaluation back on August 31st, 1956 and on November 11th, 1956; the aircraft achieved its maiden flight during which the CONVAIR B-58 Hustler achieved the Mach 1 speed.
Distinct features of CONVAIR B-58 Hustler:-
The distinct features for the CONVAIR B-58 Hustler included the aircraft having the heat resistant honeycomb styled skin panels that were fitted into its construction of the wings as well as the fuselage for making the high speed and high altitude flights better.
The fuselage section of the CONVAIR B-58 Hustler was thin which caused challenges for the engineers related to internal weapons carrying capability as well as the fuel tanks for feeding its turbojet engines., this was why the engineers of the aircraft design team came up with the massive external and droppable 2-component pod which was fitted under the fuselage for containing the extra fuel for the aircraft along with carrying nuclear weapons and other mission-specific gears.
The standard armament configuration of the CONVAIR B-58 Hustler was consistent with the aircraft having single 20mm T171 Gatling-type internal cannon which was of automatic nature. In addition to this, the aircraft had a pod under the fuselage which could carry about 20000 lbs of the conventional ordnance payload which included the following weapons as per the mission needs.
- Drop bombs
- Nuclear ordnance
- Tactical reconnaissance mission equipment
Powerplant & Performance:-
The CONVAIR B-58 Hustler was fitted with 4 of the General Electric J79-GE-3B afterburner turbojet engines which would generate a thrust of about 15600 lbs each. This much power generation would allow for the aircraft to fly at a top speed of about 1321 mph for a combat radius of 5124 miles at a maximum service ceiling of 63000 feet.
The aircraft was one of the largest operational bombers with length reaching about 97 feet, the width being 57 feet and height to be about 31.0 feet. The aircraft once empty would weigh about 25202 kg while the MTOW (Maximum Take-Off Weight) for the aircraft was 73936 kilograms.
Service with SAC (Strategic Air Command):-
In September of 1960, the CONVAIR B-58 Hustler was entered into the operational service of SAC where it first participated in the SAC’s annual Combat Competition held at Bergstrom. The aircraft competed well enough to be proven far superior to competitors like the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress and the Boeing B-47 Stratojet. The aircraft went on to secure the first place in the competition of its low-level radar bombing and the high-level bombing exercises.
Used as Test aircraft:-
A few of the CONVAIR B-58 Hustler aircraft were also sued for test purposes as well. One of the CONVAIR B-58 Hustlers was modified especially for the sake of testing out the new Hughes radar system at that time which was to be soon fitted in the aircraft like the North American F-108 Rapier and the Lockheed YF-12. Both these aircraft would feature a long nose section for accommodating the large radar system. The CONVAIR B-58 Hustler which was sued for this purpose was nicknamed as Snoopy.
World records set by B-58 Hustler:-
During the time when the aircraft was completed till the time it was retired, the CONVAIR B-58 Hustler went on to break nearly 19 world records for aerial speed with notable ones being the coast-to-coast flight and the longest supersonic flight in the aviation history. Back in 1963 one CONVAIR B-58 Hustler took off from Tokyo and landed in London via Alaska as it completed a distance of about 12920 kilometers where it was refueled in air 5 times. The aircraft completed that flight in a time period of 8 hours, 35 minutes and 20.4 seconds and this was the record that stood fast until 2016.
Retirement & Replacement:-
The USAF and its branch SAC retired their last unit of the CONVAIR B-58 Hustler back in January of 1970 and following that all of them were placed with the MASDC (Military Aircraft Storage and Disposition Center) located at the Davis-Monthan Air force Base. They were kept until 1977 after which they were sold for disposal to a company named Southwestern Alloys.