Cold War Era

The story of B-58 “The Firefly,” the Hustler that set a new Speed Record from New York to Paris before crashing at Le Bourget after doing a Low-Altitude Roll

The B-58 Hustler “The Firefly” New York to Paris time Was 3 hrs 19 min 58 sec (about the same time as the Concorde airliner would subsequently takeover that route on a daily basis from 1977).

The US Air Force’s first operational supersonic bomber, the B-58 Hustler 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.

As explained by Peter Davies in his book B-58 Hustler Units, in May 1960 the 43rd BW had become permanent holders of the Blériot Trophy, established by Louis Blériot in 1930 for a flight that could sustain a speed above 1242.74 mph for more than 30 minutes. When pioneer aviator Bleriot had set his criteria for the winner of the trophy, the speed required had probably seemed an unrealistic target. However, Majs Elmer Murphy and Eugene Moses and 1Lt David Dickerson averaged 1302.07 mph for the prerequisite 30 minutes over a 669.4 miles course, guided by their AN/ASQ-42V system.

A further headline-grabbing French connection was made on May 26, 1961 when Maj William Payne, with Capt Polhemus and Wagener, flew B-58A 59-2451 The Firefly to the Paris Airshow, setting two new records in so doing. Their New York to Paris time Was 3 hrs 19 min 58 sec (about the same time as the Concorde airliner would subsequently takeover that route on a daily basis from 1977) for an average speed of 1089.36 mph, and their Washington, DC to Paris time over 3833.4 miles was 3 hrs 39 min. Including the first leg from Carswell, the crew’s journey totalled 5150 miles in less than six hours, with an aerial refuelling near Greenland. Their exploits earned the 43rd BW both the Mackay and Harmon Trophies for the first supersonic Atlantic crossing, the time set by the Hustler having almost halved the previous record.

The Firefly’s return trip from Le Bourget on Jun. 3 was flown by the Bleriot Trophy crew. On take-off, Maj Murphy performed a low-altitude roll as the aircraft entered a low cloud-base, triggering an elevon control problem.

This had probably occurred due to a faulty attitude indicator reading, as the jet’s stability gyroscope had not run up to speed prior to the roll being flown. Such a manoeuvre, in any case, would have `tumbled’ the navigator’s gyro platforms and consequently put the radar and inertial navigation system out of alignment, making recovery from the roll in cloud very difficult. The Hustler crashed into a potato field near Louvres and exploded in a huge fireball, killing all three crew members.

B-58 Hustler Units is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force via This Day in Aviation

his print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. B-58A Hustler 59-2451 “The Firefly”
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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