The U.S. Air Force’s first operational supersonic bomber, the Convair 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. The navigator located at the second crew station performed the duties of navigator and operated the bombing equipment. The defensive systems operator at the third crew station operated the defensive ECM equipment and the remote controlled tail turret equipped with a multi-barrel 20-mm cannon and performed the duties of a performance engineer.
Convair built 116 B-58s: 30 test and pre-production aircraft and 86 for operational service. Hustlers flew in the Strategic Air Command between1960 and 1970. Setting 19 world speed and altitude records, B-58s also won five different aviation trophies.
Production aircraft gave each crew member a novel ejection capsule that made it possible to eject at an altitude of 70,000 ft at speeds up to Mach 2 (1,320 mph). Unlike standard ejection seats of the period, a protective clamshell would enclose the seat and the control stick with an attached oxygen cylinder, allowing the pilot to continue to fly even “turtled up” and ready for immediate egress. The capsule would float, and the crewmember could open the clamshell, using it as a life raft. In an unusual test program, live bears and chimpanzees were successfully used to test the ejection system.
The museum’s YB-58A-CF (SN 55-665) was the 6th aircraft built and one of only eight remaining. It made its first flight on 28 September 1957 and was assigned to Edwards AFB. It was the first test aircraft delivered to the USAF on 15 February 1958. In February 1959 it was modified to test AN/ASG-18 radar system and associated GAR-9/AIM-47 missile for the F-108 Rapier and later the YF-12A programs. It was during this test program modified into a NB-58A and acquired the name Snoopy I. The aircraft is currently in storage awaiting extensive restoration.
Span: 56 ft. 10 in.
Length: 96 ft. 9 in.
Height: 29 ft. 11 in.
Weight: 163,000 lbs. maximum
Armament: One 20mm cannon in tail; Nuclear weapons in pod or on under-wing pylons
Engines: Four General Electric J79-GE-5A or -5B turbojet engines of 15,600 lbs. thrust each
Maximum speed: 1,325 mph
Cruising speed: 610 mph
Range: 4,400 miles maximum ferry ride
Service ceiling: 64,800 ft.