USAF Flight Test Center B-58 Hustler Model
Fly the legendary B-58 Hustler in this handcrafted wooden model. Each piece is carved from wood and hand painted to provide a piece you’ll love.
The Convair B-58 Hustler was the first operational 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 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 was notorious for 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 resulted in only a brief operational career between 1960 and 1970 when the B-58 was succeeded by the smaller, swing-wing FB-111A.
The B-58 crews were chosen 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 ($58 billion in 2016 dollars). 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 detailed maintenance for the nose landing gear, which retracted in a complicated fashion to avoid the center payload. Further, compounding this, 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 doubtful 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. 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 characteristics
While its performance and design were exceptional and appreciated, it was never easy to fly. This was caused by the 60° leading edge sweepback of its wing and was inherent in these types of delta wing platforms. 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. 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. The B-58 was very difficult to safely recover from the loss of an engine at supersonic cruise due to differential thrust.
The plane had very unusual takeoff requirements, with a 14° angle of attack needed for the rotation at about 203.5 knots (376.9 km/h; 234.2 mph) for a 150,000 pound combat weight. This poor takeoff performance was also evident with the high landing speed that necessitated a drogue parachute for braking.
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. 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 with the Military Aircraft Storage and Disposition Center (MASDC) 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.
Due to B-58 pilots being the only US Air Force pilots experienced in long duration supersonic flight, several former Hustler crew members were selected to fly the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird at the start of the program by Colonel Douglas Nelson. Thomas B. Estes and Dewain C. Vick were eventually awarded both the Harmon and Mackay Trophies after they set a new world supersonic distance record, flying an SR-71 over 15,000 miles in just 10 hours and 30 minutes.