Convair B-58 Hustler Bomber: from world records to early retirement – The advent of jet aircraft has not only made fleets of combat vehicles with piston engines obsolete. It has shown that in the near future, the very methods of airpower may change as well.
Convair B-58 Hustler Bomber
MilitaryEzyInfo.com – Of course, the first jet fighters fought like piston-powered fighters, and in bomber aviation, the propellers didn’t even immediately give way to turbines.
But planes were already being designed that would create the face of new-age aviation. One of them was the Convair B-58 supersonic bomber.
History of Development
After World War II, the U.S. military aviation conducted so-called “generalized bomber research” to determine the path of aviation development. During the second phase of this program, in 1949, it was possible to formulate the requirements for a medium-range supersonic bomber.
In the next year, the company “Convair”, which worked during the years of “generalized research” several thousand projects, proposed the creation of the future “Hustler” – a four-engine aircraft – tailless with a triangular wing. And at the time it was supposed to make it launchable from a carrier plane.
Later that idea was dropped – the complex was too expensive and vulnerable, but the technology of aerial refueling was perfected and improved. Finalized terms of reference for the development of a bomber and a strategic spy took place in late 1951, and in 1952 it won the project “Convair”.
The first sketches of the bomber, made during the work on the “suspended” aircraft, provided for dropping over the target, not only the bombs but also three engines, along with the remnants of fuel. The jettisoned engines had to be abandoned and the payload transferred to an overhead container.
Tests of the Hustler models nearly buried the program, because even the estimated performance was lower than it had been declared. The Strategic Air Command first recommended that the B-58 be transferred to tactical aviation, and then advocated abandoning the bomber. The ordered series was going to be fully experimental aircraft.
This did not happen, but for several years development of the B-58 almost came to a standstill. Although the Hustler made its first flight in the fall of 1956 and doubled its speed of sound in the summer of 1957, its production was not officially supported until 1959. In 1960, the Air Force received its first operational B-58.
Design of Convair B-58 Hustler Bomber
The B-58 fuselage was divided into several compartments. The space between the first and fifth bulkheads was taken by the crew cabins, and most of the fuselage volume of the Hustler was taken by the fuel reserve. Behind the nineteenth bulkhead were compartments with a parachute braking system, electronic equipment, and defensive armament.
The cladding of the bomber – made of cellular duralumin panels, attached to the power set of titanium rivets. Four General Electric J79-GE-5A engines were mounted in underwing nacelles. The bomber’s engines had variable boost ratio, adjustable supersonic nozzles, and, of course, air intakes.
The struts of the “Hustler” made very high because of the large size of the suspended container with arms. A pneumatic system was provided for their emergency release. The bomber’s landing gear could also be released in flight when the struts functioned as aerodynamic brakes. The B-58 autopilot provided altitude, heading, and speed control. The bomber’s hydraulic system was redundant.
The original drafts of the B-58 called for a crew of two (for the sake of weight reduction), but the production Hustlers were three-person. The air-conditioned cockpit had a pilot, navigator, and gunner in sequence (one behind the other).
A unique feature of the plane was escape pods used instead of conventional ejection seats. Because the control stick remained inside the capsule and the cowling had a porthole, the pilot could control the plane before ejecting. The B-58 also received, as one of the first, a voice-activated warning system. In case the crew intercom broke down, a system was provided for transmitting notes.
The Hustler’s onboard electronics were unprecedentedly powerful. The AN/ASQ-42 navigation and the bomber system included the AN/APN-113 Doppler radar, the KS-39 star sensor, a radio altimeter, and an analog computer. The B-58’s more than 5,000 radio tubes of electronic equipment required constant cooling, which was provided by air conditioning.
The gun was remotely controlled by a third member of the bomber crew, guided by the MD-7 radar. The B-58 was also equipped with a radar warning system and active jammers, dipole deflector firing systems and heat traps.
The main armament of the aircraft were thermonuclear bombs. Because of the lack of an inner bomb compartment, they were suspended under the fuselage of the Hustler in an MB-1C container that simultaneously served as an additional fuel tank. Due to insoluble problems with fuel leaks, it was replaced by a “composite” TCP container in which the lower section containing fuel could be independently dropped. In 1961 the bomb load of the Hustlers was increased by installing under-wing bomb pylons on the aircraft.
The B-58s set 19-speed records, and one of them – a flight from Tokyo to London in 8 hours and 35 minutes – was not broken as of 2018. The record was set on a line bomber, which is preserved in a museum.
Of the 116 Hustlers built, two “bomber wings” made up the 43rd and 305th. The planes proved to be very difficult to operate – requiring highly skilled ground maintenance. As all of the external panels of the airplane’s skin were force-fed, the damaged parts had to be removed with great care on the slipway.
Some elements of the bomber’s radar could only be replaced by taking the escape pod out of the plane, and the radar could only be tested when the pod was put back in place.
Nevertheless, accidents and catastrophes remained uncommon. The bomber’s range without air refueling was short, despite the extra tank in the bomb container.
Originally the B-58 was supposed to drop bombs from high altitude, but the development of Soviet anti-aircraft missiles forced the search for other uses. The way out was seen in low-altitude flights. However, because of the air density at low altitudes, the Hustler could not achieve supersonic speeds, and the small range of the B-58 decreased even more. In addition, the electronics perfected in the late 50’s were hopelessly outdated and could not withstand low-altitude flight overloads.
The combat capabilities of the B-58 did not meet the changed requirements either. They tried to convert it into a cruise missile carrier or a conventional frontline bomber, but they were unsuccessful. Just 10 years after entering service, the last Hustler was scrapped in 1970.
Two “Hustler” prototypes were designated as XB-58, the pre-production run of 11 planes was designated as YB-58. Most of the 86 which were built were of the B-58A modification. The pre-production batch was later rebuilt as TB-58A trainer aircraft and the J93 engine testing lab was designated NB-58A.
The 17 RB-58A scouts differed from the bombers in that they carried additional radar and aerial photographic equipment in an outboard container.
The B-58B and B-58C variants of the Hustler were never built. They were to have new engines, increased fuel capacity, and the ability to use non-nuclear weapons.
Convair B-58 Hustler Bomber: Flight Specifications
After the Hustlers were removed from service, the niche of supersonic medium-range nuclear weapons carrier was occupied by the FB-111, developed on the basis of a fighter-bomber. here are detailed specifications:
Length: 29.5 m
Wingspan: 17.3 m
Maximum takeoff weight: 80 tons
Max speed: 2126 km/h
Service ceiling: 19 km
Practical range: 2500 km (at the surface)
Combat load: 7.7 tons
The FB-111 proved to be a much more practical aircraft. It was well suited for low-altitude flight, carried a large bomb load, and could use conventional missiles and bomb armament.
The groundbreaking Hustler remained in service for only ten years. And the B-52 bomber of comparatively traditional design developed before it was not only used successfully in many wars but remained in service in the 21st century.
Was it an unsuccessful aircraft? In many ways, yes.
But it should be understood that the designers while solving the very specific tasks of creating a high-altitude bomber for nuclear strikes, could not foresee that military doctrine would soon change to the exact opposite. Besides, they had to do a lot of things for the first time in the world, with no models to follow.
There was a lot of experience in building the Hustler, but probably the decision to keep it an experimental aircraft would have made more sense.