The Convair Water-Based B-58: the story of the Hustler seaplane strategic bomber that never was

The Convair Water-Based B-58: the story of the Hustler seaplane strategic bomber that never was

By Dario Leone
May 28 2024
Sponsored by: Mortons Books
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The Hustler

The US 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 or other specialized gear. The B-58 crew consisted of a pilot, navigator/bombardier and defense systems operator.

The Convair Water-Based B-58

As told by Scott Lowther in his book US Supersonic Bomber Projects 2, in 1956 Convair-San Diego issued a report on the feasibility of seaplanes as strategic bombers. Included here was the idea of creating a water-based version of the B-58 to use as a medium-range, medium-payload strike system for the Strategic Air Command.

Modifying the B-58 to operate from the water was not as simple as just bolting on a couple of floats. Instead, virtually the entire aircraft needed to be redesigned, to the point where the result only vaguely resembles the original B-58. For starters the engines needed to be relocated, moving from below the wings to two of them mounted above the wings and two more in a single nacelle above the rear fuselage. The wing engines used pylons that could hinge upwards to move the inlets further still from the water… 45° upwards for water taxi and runup, 30° for the actual takeoff run and horizontal for flight.

The landing gear was removed, with the main landing gear replaced with two hydroskis. The wing aspect ratio was increased by reducing reducing leading edge sweep to 50°, and it appears that the leading-edge camber was removed. The vertical stabilizer was redesigned and given a horizontal stabilizer at the tip to improve takeoff performance. The crew was reduced to two, the defensive systems operator being declared irrelevant as there was no longer a gun in the tail.

The “Advance Base Force”

The main weapon of the water-based B-58 remained a pod located under the centreline. Unlike the conventional B-58, though, here the pod would need to be designed so that the weapon could be safely submerged for extended periods of time. The basic weapon was a single large missile with a range of 300 miles. An internal weapons bay was also to be provided, along with the provision to carry two underwing jettisonable fuel tanks.

Two alternate configurations were studied. The first exchanged the two underwing hydroskis for a single larger fuselage-mounted hydroski. This change negated the possibility of the large centerline weapons/fuel pod, so a single solid propellant air-to-surface missile would be carried in a weapons bay in the forward fuselage. A more radical still configuration change was considered… a V-bottomed boat hull with swept wings rather than delta; the wing turbojets were installed in fixed nacelles above the wing tailing edges. The inlets for the fuselage engines were extended much further forward; the internal weapons bay was much smaller.

Along with longer fuselages for all configurations, the ‘water-based B-58s’ ended up not having a whole lot in common with the standard B-58. In actual practice these would be very different aircraft, just with similarities in appearance, a few systems in common and a similar mission… apart from the small detail of where they were based. Operationally, Convair suggested that there be 28 wings of these new water-based medium bombers in the “Advance Base Force.” Each wing would be composed of three squadrons, with 15 bombers per squadron: 1,260 bombers in total. The squadrons would be split into three flights of five aircraft, dispersed for safety reasons.

Logistics for Water-based B-58 bombers

The Advance Base Force would be split into non-war-ready components safely in continental US bases, and war-ready components in numerous theatre bases.
These latter bases would be split into rear-area support complexes and forward area bases. The rear area bases would be semi-permanent with a main base and satellite bases, and would be capable of carrying out maintenance of the aircraft as well as staging tankers for in-flight refuelling of the bombers. The rear-area bases would be close enough to the enemy to launch strikes, though in-flight refuelling would be a must.

The forward bases would be generally temporary, though a fixed position within the waters of friendly powers would be considered. Logistics for the water-based bombers would be carried out either entirely via other aircraft, including flying boat cargo and fuel transports, or through the use of submarine logistics. The latter concept would include the emplacement of submerged and hidden fuel tanks and submerged caches of ordnance. All of these bases would be near to shore, with inflatable ramps used to haul the bombers onto beaches for basic maintenance, servicing refueling and reloading. Other facilities would be similarly austere.

One-third of the actively deployed bombers would be in the forward bases, with the rest in the rear area bases. Locations for forward area bases included Britain, Japan, the Philippines, the western Mediterranean, the Middle East and many locations in the western Pacific… and many others. Politics would be one of the deciding factors.

US Supersonic Bomber Projects 2 is published by Mortons Books and is available to order here.

The Convair Water-Based B-58: the story of the Hustler seaplane strategic bomber that never was
Convair Water-Based B-58

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and Mortons Books

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Dario Leone

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.
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