CONVAIR B-58 Hustler Supersonic Dela-Winged Jet-Powered Medium Bomber
Eventually the need for high-altitude bombers was all but gone, leaving CONVAIR B-58 Hustler production at just 116 total units.
Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
The delta-wing CONVAIR B-58 "Hustler" was the first operational supersonic-capable bomber of the United States Air Force (USAF). The product was designed for high-altitude flight at considerable speeds, popular qualities for early Cold War bombers intended to simply "outfly" enemy air defenses including interceptors and ground-based fire. Captured wartime German data concerning jets and high-speed flight influenced the B-58 program leading to a heavily streamlined, aerodynamically-sound fuselage with little protrusions - leaving the finalized B-58 form akin to an arrowhead.
A prototype B-58 made its first flight on November 11th, 1956 and flew supersonically for the first time on December 30th, 1956. Distinct features of the aircraft included a then-sophisticated inertial guidance navigation and bombing system and "wasp-waist" fuselage. Extensive use of heat-resistant honeycomb sandwich skin panels were integrated into the construction of the wings and fuselage for the necessary high altitude-high, high-speed flight. The thin fuselage did provided some engineering challenges early on as it prevented internal carriage of bombs and the required amount of fuel to feed the four turbojet engines (thus restricting operational ranges). As a result, a large external droppable, two-component pod was added under the fuselage and contained extra fuel and a nuclear weapon along with other mission-specific gear. Later versions were fitted with reconnaissance equipment in place of the armament to form the "RB-58A" mark. Crew accommodations for the B-58 Hustler consisted of a pilot, navigator / bombardier, and defense systems operator - all sitting in tandem within escape capsules.
The USAF contracted for 86 total Hustlers which were operational in the Strategic Air Command (SAC) between 1960 and 1970. B-58s, as a whole, went on to set some nineteen 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 limited operating ranges and a limited payload capacity which hampered series 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 service. The last B-58 would be officially retired in January of 1970, about three months after the first General Dynamics FB-111 "Aardvark" swing-wing fighter-bomber (detailed elsewhere on this site) was accepted into frontline service by SAC. The simple fact remained that the B-58 Hustler came along when the high-altitude bomber concept had become a thing of the past and the aircraft was phased out of the USAF inventory after only 10 years of service. Nonetheless, the engineering accomplishments seen during development surely played a role in future bomber and turbojet concepts for decades to come.