The target is Deerfield, Mass. You’re twelve miles up, moving at twice the speed of sound. But there’s no sense of speed, of motion. You seem to be hanging high above the earth on an invisible thread strung from somewhere in the universe.
It’s calm, smooth, peaceful, quiet—in sharp contrast to the dread lethality of your bomb load. Actually, the bomb load is simulated. This is a practice strike. It could be for real. Deerfield, some 3,500 miles from home base by a circuitous exercise route, provides a particular pattern on a radar screen. There is a major target area in a potential enemy’s homeland that would yield a similar pattern.
Below is the northeastern tip of Lake Ontario. You streak toward target on a true heading of 125 degrees, roughly south-southeast. The bomber, on autopilot, is virtually flying itself. You keep your right hand on the stick, your eyes on the instruments and sky. The stick reminds you that you used to be a fighter pilot; most bombers have yokes instead. By pressing a button on the stick, you could instantly take control back from the autopilot. Behind you, the navigator-bombardier and the third crew member, the defense systems operator, read their instruments, speak a few words occasionally.
The view from the cockpit, as the three of you commence the routine of target approach, is impressive. It may not quite rival those reported by the high-altitude record setters and balloonists, or the nation’s first Astronaut, but it still covers a giant field of vision. To the right, far below, are the lights of Buffalo, N. Y., 150 miles away. You see a lot of territory from a dozen miles up—although you don’t really need to for purposes of this mission. All the information required to plunk your “electronic payload” on target is carried in black boxes in the plane. It is automatically fed to computers to keep you on course.
Yesterday, back at Carswell Air Force Base in Texas, you and the other two members of your crew studied the target and established a flight profile —how many miles, and at what speeds and altitude. To fulfill mission requirements, the route was plotted from Texas through North Dakota, back to Lake Superior, northwest of Sault St. Marie, Mich. Then the Mach-2-plus dash for target.
“Estimated release time, nine minutes,” the navigator-bombardier says quietly.
Downstairs, an Air Force radar-bomb-scoring crew, working in a trailer parked near Deerfield, has you on radar. Your course is automatically tracked with a pen that moves across a large graph without benefit of human hand. This is the record of exactly what you did—when you did it—and how well you “bombed” the simulated target in Deerfield.
From the earphones, the navigator comes in again loud and clear:
“Time-to-go meter, 240 seconds.”
The bomb-nav system is flying the airplane, sending out a clear electronic signal being heard a millisecond later in the radar-bomb-scoring trailer. When the signal stops, it means that the bomb-nav system has simulated release of the payload—starting the imaginary weapon on its trajectory toward the target.
Again, the navigator: “Time to go, five seconds.”
“Four, three, two, one—bombs away!”
A few minutes more and through the earphones from the radar-bomb-score people, 60,000 feet below, comes a coded message. In plain language, it means:
“Right in the pickle barrel!”
You’re in! You take the stick, begin your turn to “loaf” subsonically back to Carswell and the conclusion of another combat-training mission for SAC’s -58 Hustler bomber.
Hustling airmen and Hustler aircraft of SAC’s 43d Bombardment Wing (Medium), based at Carswell, fly training missions such as this around the clock. The 43d, which I commanded until recently, is presently the only USAF wing flying the B-58. A second wing, the 305th, will be activated this year at Bunker Hill AFB, Ind. About sixty of the planes are now in existence, an inclusive total of 116 programed.
What do we at Carswell think of the Convair-manufactured B-58? In terms of hardware, a few words sum it up: She’s a sweet airplane. Strategically speaking, we see the ’58 as a vital element in USAF’s mixed aerial arsenal. The Hustler is, so far as we know, the only supersonic strategic bomber in the world today—and as such a powerful swift-strike threat to any potential aggressor.
Our B-58s can hit targets anywhere in the world from great altitudes at prolonged dash speeds more than twice the speed of sound.
They can also execute cross-country bomb runs at treetop level, where ground radar is blind. Recently, one of our B-58s hedgehopped 1,400 miles across four states at 700 miles an hour. The plane was never more than 500 feet off the ground, sometimes as low as 200 feet.
Combining these two capabilities, the Hustler could make an intercontinental approach at high altitude and Mach 2, then drop down under the enemy’s electronic shield for approach to target and departure. The B-58’s comparatively small size would add to the enemy’s radar detection problem.
With the assistance of midair refueling, the ’58 can make a nonstop round trip to any spot on the surface of the globe. The 43d Wing some months ago recorded a mission of 11,000 miles.
Underlining the plane’s potentials, our B-58s have performed spectacularly through their first year as operational aircraft. They achieved this status last summer, four years after the plane’s first flight.
• In September of 1960, a 43d Wing B-58 piloted by Lt. Col. Harold F. Confer won the bombing event at the annual SAC Combat Competition—usually known as the SAC World Series. The Carswell Hustler outscored a dozen other SAC planes—B-52s, B-47s, and one other B-58—in both high- and low-level bombing, radar and visual. It was the first time out in the annual competition for a B-58. The cream of SAC’s combat-ready crews from around the world annually take part in this World Series.
• Then, in January of this year, two B-58s of the 43d brought home a hatful of closed-course speed-payload records. The first, flown by Major Henry J. Deutschendorf, Jr., set six marks on January 12 by zooming at an average 1,200.194 mph for 1,000 kilo- meters and at an average 1,061.808 mph for 2,000 kilometers. One thousand kilometers is about 621 miles; 2,000 km, about 1,242 miles. The plane carried a 4,400-pound, or 2,000-kilogram, payload; records were set in the no-payload, 1,000-kilogram, and 2,000-kilogram categories in this one flight. Five of the records were held previously by the Russians; one was set in a USAF F-101 in 1959.
Two days later, on January 14, Colonel Confer and his crew raced 1,000 kilometers at an average 1,284.73 mph to break the three new speed-payload records for that distance. Colonel Confer’s plane received the Thompson Trophy, privately awarded annual symbol of supremacy in closed-course speed flying. Both planes in the January flights flew over a course that began at Edwards AFB, Calif., and covered portions of a number of states in the Southwest.
• New glories came to the Hustler on May 10, when one of our 484 Wing planes established what we believe to be a world record for sustained speed. Piloted by Maj. Elmer E. Murphy, a B-58 averaged 1,302 miles an hour in a flight lasting more than half an hour. The speed run took place over a closed course of 669.4 miles, also in the Southwest. USAF thus became eligible to receive permanent possession of the
Aero Club of France’s Bleriot Trophy. The award, named for the great French aerial pioneer, was to go permanently to the first aircraft to average at least 1,243 mph (2,000 kilometers per hour) for thirty minutes.
• Two weeks after that, on May 26, another of our aircraft flashed nonstop from Carswell to Paris, France, in the dazzling three-record-breaking time of six hours and fifteen minutes. Time from New York to Paris was three hours and twenty minutes, two hours and twenty-five minutes faster than the previous mark set by a Boeing 707 commercial jet. In addition to the Transatlantic mark, the ’58 set a Carswell-Washington record of two hours and sixteen minutes and a Washington-New York fastest-ever mark of nineteen minutes. It refueled twice en route.
With their flight, pilot Maj. William R. Payne and crew commemorated the thirty-fourth anniversary of Charles A. Lindbergh’s Atlantic crossing of May 20-21, 1927. That first nonstop hop took thirty-three and one-half hours. This new transatlantic dash also spectacularly celebrated the opening of the twenty-fourth Paris International Air Show.
Sadly, tragedy also entered the picture in Paris. The three men who set the May 10 record—Major Murphy, navigator-bombardier Maj. Eugene E. Moses, and defense systems operator Capt. Raymond R. Wagener—crashed and were killed while taking part in an aerial demonstration event of the Paris show on June 8. They were flying the ’58 that established the transoceanic mark a week previously.
The B-58 is an unconventional, far-ahead aircraft. It is unconventional in size, in appearance, in its mission techniques. In one giant step, the B-58 has achieved a greater speed increase over the fastest previous strategic bomber than was reached in the preceding fifty years of aircraft design and manufacture. At dash speed, it is more than twice as fast as the next fastest bomber now in service.
For a strategic bomber, the B-58 is surprisingly small. The B-36, the B-47, and the B-52, older members of the strategic family, have all been large airplanes. The wingspan of the Hustler, for example, is about twenty-five percent of the span of the B-36, about forty percent of the span of the B-47, about thirty percent of the span of the B-52. Like the B-47, the ’58 carries a crew of three. The B-52 has six in its crew. The B-36 had sixteen, five of them relief crewmen.
The gross weight of the B-58 is over 160,000 pounds. The span of its deltawing is fifty-six feet, ten inches. The plane is ninety-six feet, nine inches long. It stands thirty feet high. Powering it are four General Electric J79 turbojets, mounted on wing pods, each of which is in the 15,000-pound-thrust class with afterburners. The B-58 can carry more than 15,000 gallons of fuel in a disposable pod carried under the fuselage.
The disposable pod is an important element of the B-58 concept. It provides broad mission flexibility. Fuel and payload are stored in the pod. After an actual attack, the B-58 would drop its pod and return home “clean” without waste volume contained in an empty bomb bay and without waste weight and volume in an empty fuel tank. An improved two-component pod is now being tested.
The B-58 is a highly integrated, highly automated weapon system.
The bombing and navigation system, designed, tailored, and built by the Sperry Gyroscope Company, plays a major role. At the B-58’s speed, there is no man in the world who could quickly enough go through the old navigation procedures involving logging and charting with a pencil, manual celestial fixing with hand-held sextant, and correlation of bits and pieces of instrument readings and electronic data. So far as bombing is concerned, the high speed at which targets are approached means that the weapon must be released at a considerable distance from target and at a very precise instant. The integrated bomb-nay system does this complex job.
One feature of this system is the in-flight automatic printer. As aircraft increase speed and the data required of the navigator becomes more complex, the task of recording all necessary information accurately becomes extremely difficult—if not humanly impossible. If, for example, an aircraft is flying in an easterly direction at seventy degrees north 1atitude with a ground speed of 1,400 knots, you couldn’t possibly usefully read the longitude counter, since it would be changing seventy minutes of arc per minute of time.
In the B-58, the in-flight printer can print a complete eight-line sequence containing information such as time, aircraft position, heading, track, airspeed, ground speed, and so on at the speed of one complete sequence per second.
Other B-58 black boxes control electronic countermeasures gear certain to give enemy radar a bad time, the plane’s potent T-171E3 twenty-millimeter aerial cannon, and extensive air-conditioning equipment. The cannon automatically locks on and fires at an attacking interceptor. Air-conditioning maintains a steady seventy-five-degree cabin temperature at any altitude over the Arctic or the tropics. Electronic devices and crewmen are thus kept quite comfortable.
The B-58’s large-surfaced deltawing, along with its unique pods, give it a striking appearance. The optimum lift-drag-ratio wing makes the Hustler a very stable airplane from slow takeoff and landing speeds to Mach 2 at 60,000. The pilot can vary approach and landing techniques without suddenly meeting deadly surprises—often the price of straying from optimum speed, rate of descent, or angle of attack with other high-performance craft.
Another important development in the B-58, this one not apparent to the naked eye, is in the material used for its heat-and-fatigue-resistant skin. At twice the speed of sound, external temperatures on an aircraft rise to about 300 degrees. To meet this problem, a Fiberglas, aluminum, and stainless-steel-honeycomb material, sandwiched between two layers of metal, was designed. This honeycomb-sandwich material is used extensively. It comprises about ninety percent of the wing surface.
Sixteen industrial concerns produce major items for the B-58 under the prime contractor, Convair (now General Dynamics/Fort Worth). More than 4,700 participating suppliers and subcontractors provide parts. Two out of every three dollars spent in building the Hustler are paid to subcontractors.
We think that here is another case where the Air Force-industry team has turned out a really fine weapon system. We’re proud to fly it.—End
The author, Col. James K. Johns, is now Director of Operations of SAC’s 19th Air Division at Carswell AFB, N. M. The B-58-equipped 43d Bomb Wing, which he commanded until recently and of which he writes above, is a component of the 19th Division. New 43d Commander is Col. Everett W. Holstrom. Colonel Johnson was a World War II fighter pilot, a double jet ace in Korea, has been in SAC since 1956. He took command of SAC’s first B-58s in 1959.