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Aviation History And Aircraft Photography

B-58 — The Hustler Survivors

Back in the 1950’s, the key factor that the Strategic Air Command was looking for was speed. Speed was the ability to deliver an H-bomb anywhere in the Soviet Union in just a few hours. Speed meant flying so fast that enemy defenses could not track you, and enemy fighters could not scramble in time to catch you. Finally, speed meant the ability to get off the ground ready to deliver a counter-strike in the event that the enemy launched a preemptive strike.

What SAC had in mind was a Mach 3 bomber that flew at 70,000 feet. This holy grail of bombers, the B-70, would fly higher than what Soviet missiles could reach, and faster than any Soviet fighter. But the B-70 would be a long time in coming. It pushed the edge on just about every system in the aircraft. It was also very controversial, especially in congress.

The result was a series of interim bombers. The B-36 was seen as interim until a jet bomber could be deployed. The B-47 was seen as an interim until a proper heavy bomber came about, namely, the B-52. Even the B-52 was seen as interim until the B-70 was ready.

B-58 Photo
One of these interim projects was a Mach 2 medium bomber. While the Mach 3 B-70 had to break new ground before it could be built, a Mach 2 bomber could be built from largely off the shelf parts. Thus was the genesis of the B-58 project.

The plan called for hauling a single atomic bomb to the heart of the Soviet Union, and return to a friendly airbase. The power to do this was available in the GE J79 engine. To haul the bomb, the plane would need to be about 60 feet wide and 90 feet long. To move this airframe, (4) of the J79’s would be needed. For supersonic flight, the wing needed to be delta-shaped. The problem was that the resulting plane was just too big and fuel hungry to have the combat range that was needed.

The innovative solution appeared when the plane was broken up into two parts. The main airplane would house the (3) crew members, engines, systems, and only the fuel for the return flight. A “mission pod” was then attached to the underside of the plane. This pod contained the atomic weapon and the fuel needed for the inbound flight. The entire mission pod would be dropped when bombing the enemy. This resulted in a much smaller and lighter airplane for the trip home, and one that was fully fueled. Add in in-flight refueling to top off the tanks after take-off, and you now have a 5000 mile combat range.

The B-58 Hustler entered service about 1960, and served 10 years. A total of 118 planes were built at a program cost of $3-billion. This meant that each plane was essentially worth more than their weight in gold. The Hustler did have a number of problems in service, especially a weak nose gear and a few loss of control crashes, and it had its share of opponents. In the end, the ICBM took away their primary mission, and the Hustler could not adapt to low level penetration flight. They were all but gone by 1970. Only 8 survive today.

B-58 Hustlers Currently On Static Display

Serial Number Aircraft Type City State Location Notes
55-663 YB-58
Peru IN Grissom Air Park Displayed outdoors.
55-666 YB-58
Rantoul IL Octave Chanute Aerospace Museum Former Chanute AFB, last photographed outdoors but now is on display indoors. Marked as 61-2059 (the SAC Museum airframe).
55-668 YB-58
Jacksonville AR Little Rock AFB Formerly at Carswell AFB in Fort Worth. Nicknamed “Wild Child II” and “Peeping Tom”.
59-2437 B-58A San Antonio TX Kelly USA Nicknamed “Firefly II” and “Rigley’s Baby”. On display in front of the administration building at the former Kelly AFB.
59-2458 B-58A Dayton OH US Air Force Museum Displayed in cold war gallery. Nicknamed “Cowtown Hustler”.
61-2059 B-58A Ashland NE Strategic Air Command Museum Display in new museum building. Nicknamed “Can Do” and “Greased Lightning”.
61-2080 B-58A Tucson AZ Pima County Aerospace Museum Displayed outdoors. Last B-58 to be delivered.
Note—click on the Serial Number to see a photo of each airplane.

B-58 Hustler Projects And Hulks

Serial Number Aircraft Type City State Location Notes
44-83884 B-58A Shreveport LA 8th Airforce Museum Displayed outdoors. Fuselage only, rebuilt as a rocket sled.
55-665 YB-58
Rosamond CA Edwards AFB Nicknamed “Snoopy”. Aircraft used as a target on the photo range at Edwards AFB. In pretty bad condition and stripped of many parts.
Note—click on the Serial Number to see a photo of each airplane.

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Authored by John A. Weeks III, Copyright © 1996—2016, all rights reserved.
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