Cold War Era

Remembering the B-58A Hustler speed records and the 1962 Bendix Trophy

On Mar. 5, 1962, Capts. Robert G. Sowers (pilot), Robert MacDonald (navigator) and John T. Walton (defensive systems operator) flew from Los Angeles to New York City in the Hustler in only 2 hours 56.8 seconds, an average speed of 1,214.17 miles per hour.

The U.S. Air Force’s first operational supersonic bomber, the B-58 made its initial flight on Nov. 11, 1956. In addition to the Hustler’s delta wing shape, distinctive features included a sophisticated inertial guidance navigation and bombing system, a slender “wasp-waist” fuselage and an extensive use of heat-resistant honeycomb sandwich skin panels in the wings and fuselage. Since the thin fuselage prevented the carrying of bombs internally, a droppable, two-component pod beneath the fuselage contained a nuclear weapon — along with extra fuel, reconnaissance equipment or other specialized gear. The B-58 crew consisted of a pilot, navigator/bombardier and defense systems operator.

Convair built 116 B-58s: 30 test and pre-production aircraft and 86 for operational service. Hustlers flew in the Strategic Air Command between 1960 and 1970. Setting 19 world speed and altitude records, B-58s also won five different aviation trophies.

The photos in this post show B-58A on display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

Convair B-58 Hustler at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

On Mar. 5, 1962, Capts. Robert G. Sowers (pilot), Robert MacDonald (navigator) and John T. Walton (defensive systems operator) flew from Los Angeles to New York City in the Hustler on display at the museum in only 2 hours 56.8 seconds, an average speed of 1,214.17 miles per hour. For this, they were awarded the Bendix Trophy for 1962 and each received the Distinguished Flying Cross. They broke two other speed records on the return flight — New York to Los Angeles and for the roundtrip.

Twenty-eight years later on Mar. 6, 1990, an Air Force crew flew an SR-71 Blackbird from Los Angeles to the east coast (Washington, D.C.) in just under 68 minutes, at an average speed of 2,124.5 mph.

The Bendix Trophy cross-country races, sponsored by the Bendix Corp., began in 1931. The award was established to encourage aviation progress. The winner of the first such race was Maj. James H. Doolittle, who flew from Los Angeles to Cleveland, Ohio, at an average speed of 223 miles per hour. The actual Bendix Trophy is nearly three feet tall and weighs approximately 100 pounds. Winners receive a smaller replica such as the one displayed near the B-58 in the museum.

This Bendix Trophy, donated by Robert Sowers of Fort Worth, Texas, is on display in the Cold War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

View Comments

  • I was a friend of Robert Sowers. He passed away on Dec 1st 2018 at age 92. He was an amazing guy. Most people don't know that he went on to become the first SR-71 instructor pilot and had to eject from one in 1967. He retired in 1968 and flew country singer Charley Pride to his concerts for 15 years. They were involved in a mid-air collision in 1980 and Sowers managed to land the plane safely saving all aboard. I have most of his Air Force things including his B-58 flight suit, his speed record certificates, the actual flight map from this flight, signed picture of the flight crew, signed books etc. I have contacted the Air Force Museum about donating these items and am waiting for a reply. Hopefully soon these things will be on display with his Bendix trophy.

    • You can watch a 2016 interview with Robert “Gray” Sowers talking about the B-58 and SR-71 if you google “Robert Gray Sowers”. He was a very humble guy and didn’t do interviews often.

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