General Jimmy Earned His Mach 2 Club Tie in a Hustler
On March 15th 1960, the first Convair B-58 Hustler became operational with Strategic Air Command (SAC). One of the most impressive aircraft ever built, the Hustler was also expensive to operate, equipped with complicated systems that frequently required attention, tricky to fly, limited in its payload capacity, and in the end was rendered obsolete by the surface-to-air (SAM) missile. But to anyone who ever saw one in flight, the Hustler was absolutely unforgettable.
Raw Power and Unique Design
The B-58 prototype first flew on November 11th 1956. The design premise and intended mission of the B-58 was high-altitude supersonic penetration of Soviet airspace and release of multiple atomic bombs on targets for SAC. Design highlights were its 60 degree raked delta wing, four underwing pod-mounted afterburning General Electric J79 engines, separate tandem compartments for the flight crew of three, distinctive area-ruled fuselage shape, and the large centerline fuel tank / weapon pod.
Changing Times Changed the Mission
When the Soviets began to deploy accurate surface-to-air missiles in the early 1960s, SAC was quickly convinced that the B-58 would not survive against the new generation SAMs at high altitude. The mission profile of the B-58 went from what it was specifically designed to do to what it quite simply could not do.
Whatever the limitations of the B-58 were, it was certainly revolutionary. Capable of sustained flight at Mach 2 speeds, the Hustler was so advanced that nearly all of the B-58’s systems had to be re-thought and engineered from a new sheet of paper. Coming as it did so soon after sustained supersonic flight had been achieved for the first time, B-58s were nearly otherworldly to the public.
Built for Crew Survivability
B-58 ejection seats were equipped with a protective shield or clamshell capsule that would shield the crew members- a completely new technology brought about by the prospect of ejection at Mach 2 speeds and 70,000 foot altitudes. The capsule would float in water and provide independent oxygen to its occupant. Similar systems have been incorporated into new designs ever since.
That Soothing Voice…
Many of today’s military pilots ruefully refer to the audio warning systems in their aircraft as “Bitchin’ Betty.” Audio warning systems were pioneered in the Hustler, so in large part they have the B-58 to thank for “Bitchin’ Betty”, but Hustler crews called her “Sexy Sally.” How times have changed!
Accuracy Built In
Supposedly ten times more accurate than any previous bombing / navigation system, the B-58’s collection of AN/ASQ-42 “black boxes” enabled the aircraft to be, at least potentially, the most accurate atomic bomber in the Air Force arsenal. The B-58, thankfully, never did have to perform the mission for which it was intended.
The Hustler mounted a single remotely aimed and controlled 20 millimeter Gatling gun in the tail for self-defense. The large centerline pod housed both additional fuel and a nuclear weapon that could be jettisoned in separate parts. At various times the B-58 carried up to four additional B43 or B61 atomic weapons on dedicated pylons mounted under its wing roots.