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Convair B-58 Hustler Jet-Powered Medium Bomber (1960)

Authored By Staff Writer | Last Updated: 6/12/2015

Eventually the need for high-altitude bombers was all but gone leaving Convair B-58 Hustler production at 116 units.

The delta-wing Convair B-58 Hustler was the first United States Air Force supersonic operational bomber. The system was designed to be capable of high-altitude flight, which was a popular design concept during the early years of the Cold War and turbojet development.

The B-58's designs were, in fact, based on German data captured after the Second World War. The design concept of the B-58 revolved around a simplistic yet aerodynamic fuselage with bare minimums in terms of exterior protrusions. Thusly, the system was designed with a simple delta-dart appearance and a single rudder component at aircraft fuselage aft.

The B-58 made its initial flight on Nov. 11, 1956 and flew supersonically on Dec. 30, 1956. Distinctive features of the B-58 included sophisticated inertial guidance navigation and bombing systems. The fuselage was termed as "wasp-waist" due to its slender appearance. Extensive use of heat-resistant honeycomb sandwich skin panels were integrated into the construction of the wings and fuselage for high altitude-high velocity flight.

The thin fuselage provided some engineering issues early on as it prevented internal carriage of bombs and the required amount of fuel to power the four turbojet engines and allow for any reasonable operating radius to be achieved. As a result, a large external droppable two-component pod was affixed to the underside of the fuselage. This pod contained extra fuel and a nuclear weapon along with other mission-specific specialized gear. Later versions were fitted with reconnaissance equipment in place of the armaments in the form of the RB-58A. Crew accommodations for the B-58 Hustler consisted of a pilot, navigator-bombardier and defense systems operator - all sitting in tandem escape capsules.

The United States Air Force ordered 86 total Hustlers, which were operational in the Strategic Air Command (SAC) between 1960 and 1970. B-58s as a whole set 19 world speed and altitude records and won five different aviation trophies during their operational run - a vast engineering achievement realized. Despite these performance successes, the B-58 still suffered from limitations in operating range, payload capacity and overall series growth potential.

There were a total of 116 B-58s built that broke down as 30 test and pre-production aircraft and 86 for official operating inventory use. The last B-58 would be officially retired in January 1970, about three months after the first FB-111 Aardvark was accepted into frontline service by SAC. The simple fact remained that the B-58 Hustler came along when the high-altitude bomber concept has become a thing of the past. The aircraft was phased out of the USAF inventory after only 10 years of service. Nonetheless, the engineering feats achieved during development surely played a role in further bomber and turbojet development for decades to come.

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Specifications for the
Convair B-58 Hustler
Jet-Powered Medium Bomber

Focus Model: Convair B-58A Hustler
Country of Origin: United States
Manufacturer: Convair - USA
Initial Year of Service: 1960
Production Total: 116

Crew: 3

Length: 96.75 ft (29.49 m)
Width: 56.82 ft (17.32 m)
Height: 31.50ft (9.60 m)
Weight (Empty): 55,561 lb (25,202 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 163,001 lb (73,936 kg)

Powerplant: 4 x General Electric J79-GE-3B afterburning turbojet engines developing 15,600 lb of thrust each.

Maximum Speed: 1,321 mph (2,126 kmh; 1,148 kts)
Maximum Range: 5,124 miles (8,247 km)
Service Ceiling: 62,999 ft (19,202 m; 11.9 miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 17,400 feet-per-minute (5,304 m/min)

Hardpoints: 1
Armament Suite:
1 x 20mm T171 (M61) Gatling-style internal cannon
1 x Under-fuselage pod carrying up to 19,450 lb of conventional ordnance, nuclear ordnance, or tactical reconnaissance equipment. Supported B43 and B61 series nuclear payloads.

Model 4 - Convair Proposed Model Prototype

XB-58 - Prototype Designation of which only 2 were produced from an original 18 ordered.

YB-58A - Preproduction Model Designation of which 11 were produced.

B-58A - Production Model based on the YB-58A.

RB-58A - Reconnaissance Conversion Models of the latter-half of the YB-58A production; fitted with ventral reconnaissance pods.

TB-58A - Conversion Trainer Models of YB-58A of which 8 existed.

United States