Jimmy Stewart Joined the Mach 2 Club in a B-58 Hustler

Official United States Air Force Photograph

When the General Dynamics / Air Force film “Champion of Champions” was produced in the early 1960s the United States Air Force (USAF) was flying several manned bomber types. Brigadier General James M Stewart, USAF (ret) did the narration and makes several appearances in the film. In fact, he climbs out of the pilot’s seat of a Convair B-58 Hustler appearing in the film’s opening scene. We’re told that Stewart joined the Mach 2 club when he flew a Hustler. Of course Stewart was still in The Air Force Reserve when the film was made and there is plenty of documentation of his flights aboard Convair B-36 Peacemakers, Boeing B-47 Stratojets, and Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bombers. He may actually have flown the B-58 before he retired from the Air Force in 1968. Either way the film is entertaining in a what-if sort of way.

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B-58s entered service in 1960 and served for a tumultuous ten years before they were retired. The film makes mention of the B-58’s low-level flight performance, which is ironic because the B-58 was originally designed for high altitude penetration missions.

Of course when in 1960 the capabilities of Soviet surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) became apparent, Strategic Air Command (SAC) was forced to change their mission parameters to low-level penetration sorties. The B-58 could not use its greatest asset (its speed) as effectively at low altitude. The change to low-level work spelled the end of the B-58 in SAC front-line service.

Official United States Air Force Photograph