Fifty-eight years ago today, the USAF/Convair XB-58A (S/N 55-660) Hustler first attained its double-sonic design airspeed when it was flown to Mach 2.03 at an altitude of 43,250 feet. This historic achievement took place at Edwards Air Force Base on the type’s 24th test flight. The mission totaled 1 hour and 55 minutes with famed Convair test pilot Beryl Arthur Erickson at the controls.
The B-58A Hustler was the United States first supersonic-capable bomber and was originally designed for the strategic mission. The aircraft was powered by four (4) General Electric J79-GE-5A turbojets generating 62,400 lbs of sea level thrust in afterburner. Maximum take-off weight was nearly 177,000 lbs.
Convair’s stunning delta-winged bomber was 97 feet in length with a wing span of 57 feet. Wing area was roughly 1,550 square feet. Aircraft maximum height was 30 feet as measured from the ground to the top of the vertical tail.
Flight crew for the B-58A consisted of the pilot, bombadier/navigator, and defensive systems operator. The crew was arranged in tandem with each crew member seated in a separate cockpit. The type carried thermonuclear ordnance. A total of 116 B-58A aircraft were manufactured.
The Hustler’s performance was impressive then and now. It had a maximum speed of 1,400 mph and a service ceiling of 63,400 feet. The aircraft could climb in excess of 17,000 feet per minute at gross take-off weight and up to 46,000 feet per minute near minimum weight.
The B-58A had a difficult gestation due to its advanced design and demanding performance requirements. A large number of aircraft and flight crews were lost due to a variety of flight control and structural problems. First flight took place on 11 November 1956 with the type finally entering the USAF inventory on 15 March 1960.
The USAF/Convair B-58A Hustler was operational for nearly 10 years and was retired on 31 January 1970. The aircraft was never used in anger.