Conceived in the late 1940s at a time when the mantra ‘faster and higher’ inspired most military aircraft designs, the B-58 Hustler epitomised the belief that sheer power and speed would enable a bomber to get through punitive enemy defences. The nuclear threat necessitated a bomber that could avoid interception, reach its target in the minimum time and destroy the enemy’s offensive capability. Pushing technology to the limits and drawing on ten years of experience in building delta-wing aircraft, Convair produced the world’s first supersonic strategic bomber and (apart from the North American XB-70) the world’s noisiest aircraft. It could fly at 1000 mph for several hours, guided mainly by automatic systems and steered with a fighter-type control column.
In the mid-1950s, when maximum airspeeds were increasing almost annually, there was a determined effort made by the US aerospace industry to create a supersonic transport aircraft (SST). As explained by Peter E Davies in his book B-58 Hustler Units, because of the Hustler spectacular top speed of Mach 2.2, Convair felt that the company’s lead in creating the first relatively large supersonic vehicle should be converted into a civil transport initiative. Although it did not propose a large SST of the size that Lockheed and North American were studying, Convair initially suggested in 1957 that it could convert an MB-1C pod to take five passengers beneath a B-58 and provide some initial experience of commercial supersonic travel. It was also thought that this experiment might promote the idea of rapid transport for crucial military personnel.
Convair then proposed an enlarged, Hustler-based design known as the CV-58-9 that featured the B-58C’s four non-afterburning J58 engines and a B-58 wing combined with a fuselage that could accommodate 52 passengers on a Mach 2.4 journey. Outlined in 1960, with a potential in-service date of 1964, the CV-58-9 would have been faster but much smaller than the Anglo-French Concorde, for which the preliminary design studies had begun in 1956.
When the American SST programme received the official go-ahead in April 1961, BAC and Sud Aviation had already completed Concorde designs, using a slender delta wing that originated from prototype work with the Handley Page HP.115 research aircraft and some of the data generated by the Convair XF-92A programme — the latter had, of course, contributed to B-58 development. SST was a response to the potential threat to the US aviation industry posed by Concorde, and it led to design contracts for Lockheed and Boeing, from which the latter’s Mach 2.8 Model 2707 was selected for further development. Convair’s CV-58-9 was not in the running.
It is conceivable that America’s unwelcome experience of supersonic booms, generated mainly by B-58 flights, might have contributed to the US Congress’s withdrawal of support for the SST in 1971, when the environmental impact of overland supersonic flight was cited as a major factor in the decision. The Hustler had by then acquired a reputation as the loudest aircraft ever built. In fact, the B-58As’ supersonic flights were generally confined to a 1000-mile overwater route between Mobile, Alabama, and a point off the Texas coast near Corpus Christi.
B-58 Hustler Units is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force
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