B-58 airframe, Edwards AFB, CA (1)



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Description Tail #55-0665 lies at the southern end of the dry lakebed, Edwards AFB CA. No information on how this aircraft ended up this way. The Convair B-58 Hustler was the first operational jet bomber capable of Mach 2 supersonic flight. The aircraft was developed for the United States Air Force Strategic Air Command during the late 1950s. Despite its sophisticated technology and Mach 2 performance, its operational flexibility was limited by high costs and changing mission requirements leading to a brief career between 1960 and 1969. Its specialized role would be succeeded by other American supersonic bombers, the FB-111A and the later B-1 Lancer.

It 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. The B-58 crews were elite, hand-picked from other strategic bomber squadrons. Due to some unique aspects of flying a delta-winged aircraft, the pilots used the F-102 Delta Dagger in their transition to the Hustler. The aircraft was difficult to fly and its three-man crews were constantly busy but the performance of the aircraft was exceptional. A lightly loaded Hustler would climb at nearly 4,600 ft/min (235 m/s), comparable to the best contemporary fighters, and it could cruise with a payload at 85,000 ft (26,000 m). Nevertheless, it had a much smaller weapons load and more limited range than the B-52 Stratofortress. It had been extremely expensive to acquire (in 1959 it was reported that each of the production B-58As was worth more than its weight in gold). It was a complex aircraft that required considerable maintenance, much of which required specialized equipment, which made it three times as expensive to operate as the B-52. Also against it was an unfavorably high accident rate: 26 aircraft were lost in accidents, 22.4% of total production. An engine loss at supersonic cruise was very difficult to safely recover from due to differential thrust. SAC had been dubious about the type from the beginning, although its crews eventually became enthusiastic about the aircraft (its performance and design were appreciated, although it was never easy to fly). 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 its introduction that the surface-to-air missile became a viable and dangerous weapon system, one the Soviet Union extensively deployed. The solution to this problem was to fly at low altitudes, minimizing the radar line-of-sight and thus detection time. While the Hustler was able to fly these sorts of missions, it could not do so at supersonic speeds, thereby giving up the high performance the design paid so dearly for. Its moderate range suffered further due to the thicker low-altitude air. Its early retirement, slated for 1970, was ordered in 1965, and despite efforts of the Air Force to earn a reprieve, proceeded on schedule. The last B-58s in operational service retired 16 January 1970, largely replaced by the FB-111A, a strategic bomber variant version of the two-seat swing wing fighter that was designed around the low-altitude attack profile, although it was much smaller and less expensive. A total of 116 B-58s were produced: 30 trial aircraft and 86 production B-58A models. Most of the trial aircraft were later brought up to operational standard. Eight were equipped as TB-58A training aircraft.

A number of B-58s were used for special trials of various kinds, including one called Snoopy used for testing the radar system intended for the Lockheed YF-12 interceptor. Several improved (and usually enlarged) variants, dubbed B-58B and B-58C by the manufacturer, were proposed, but never built.
Date 6 October 2003(2003-10-06), 08:25
Source B-58 airframe, Edwards AFB, CA
Author Jim Gordon from Biloxi, MS, USA


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