Airborne Awesomosity

Atomic Fission – When The Nuke Needs To Be There Yesterday:The Convair B-58 Hustler

Convair B-58 Hustler


During the cold war we found that the best way a bomber could penetrate enemy defenses was to go higher and faster the defenses of the day. With this in mind the US Air Force accepted one of the better bombers of its time period that most people have never heard of. Capable of mach two while flying above sixty thousand feet, the B-58 showed the way to the future.


B-58 With Weapon Pod


Starting in the 1920’s it was believed a bombers best protection was to fly as high and as fast as possible to avoid interception of fighter aircraft. Before the introduction of radar this made sense. A good example of this approach working as intended was the de Havilland Mosquito. Capable of outrunning all the fighters of the day and still being able to drop four thousand pounds of ordnance on the enemy before getting out of enemy territory. This is the role the Hustler played for a decade. The B-58 would go on to set world records for bombers that wouldn’t be surprised by any nation. It’s one of the rare bombers that doesn’t have a Russian counterpart.


B-58 Crew Escape Module


This aircraft appears to  be a rather conventional design but is far from it. The bomb was delivered by a pod under the fuselage. This pod would normally contain fuel as well as the nuclear weapon. The B-58 was designed to use the lob method to deliver its nuclear payload. Where it would tilt up and basically softball it’s pod toward the target. Giving the bomber time to get away. This was normal for the bombers of the time when it was under development but wasn’t by 1970.  . After a high speed dash to target this would allow the aircraft to clean up aerodynamically before returning to base. With a cruising speed approaching twice the speed of sound the Hustler could get in and out of enemy territory far faster then any other medium bomber of its generation.It would later be adopted to the photo reconnaissance role as well

Second was the use of the escape module as seen above. At the height and speed that the B-58 would be travelling it wouldn’t be safe to eject the crew using a standard ejection seat. An unusual feature of the eject pod was that it left the controls in place so the pilot could still fly the aircraft like this. The ejection pod concept would see its zenith in aircraft like the B-1 bomber and the F-111 Aardvark fighter bomber.


General characteristics
Crew: 3: pilot; observer (navigator, radar operator, bombardier); defense system operator (DSO; electronic countermeasures operator and pilot assistant).
Length: 96 ft 10 in[33] (29.5 m)
Wingspan: 56 ft 9 in[33] (17.3 m)
Height: 29 ft 11 in (8.9 m)
Wing area: 1,542 ft² (143.3 m²)
Empty weight: 55,560 lb (25,200 kg)
Loaded weight: 67,871 lb (30,786 kg)
Max. takeoff weight: 176,890 lb (80,240 kg)
Powerplant: 4 × General Electric J79-GE-5A turbojet

Maximum speed: Mach 2.0[33] (1,319mph) at 40,000 ft (12,000 m)
Cruise speed: 610 mph (530 kn, 985 km/h)
Combat radius: 1,740 mi (1,510 nmi, 3,220 km)
Ferry range: 4,100 mi (4,700 nmi, 7,600 km)
Service ceiling: 63,400 ft (19,300 m)
Rate of climb: 17,400 ft/min (88 m/s) at gross weight[34]


The Hustlers life expectancy was cut short by the improvements in radar and surface to air missiles. Both led to the belief that intercontinental ballistic missiles could handle the bombing role without exposing the crew to danger. From this point forward bombers would be optimized for low level high speed flights. A mach 2 high altitude bomber just didn’t fit into this future. Which is a shame because the aircraft still looks impressive even to our modern eyes.  Although sharing design features with Convair’s own F-102 project the Hustler looked like an aircraft from another age. Many a kid growing up in the sixties would have the models of the Hustler, Blackbird and Valkyrie hanging from their ceilings.


[images from]


  • highmileage_v1

    Neat aircraft. They had some problems with the escape pods if I remember correctly. A crew encountered some hail and the canopy was shredded (?), the pilot elected to close the pod for protection but couldn't control the throttles (he had closed them to slow down to a better speed for the no windscreen condition) and couldn't reopen the pod. I can't remember completely but I believe they tried to eject and somebody was hurt/killed.

    • fodder650

      I'll have to go look that up.

  • One of the few nuke only aircraft. There's another topic, bombers with no conventional weapons capability. This led me to the A-5 Vigilante the rough naval equivalent to the B-58.

    • fodder650

      Funny as soon as I read "Nuke only aircraft" the A-5 came to mind. The F-105 was another one but was converted to a conventional role. The A-5 would spend most of its life as a recon aircraft.

    • Number_Six

      That central pod could have carried one hell of a fuel-air bomb. Woulda scared the begouda out of certain cave-dwellers in recent years.

      • pj134

        Fly in at low altitude and as fast as it can go at 5,000 feet just to showoff before dropping it.

        Of course, they could do this with a B1 too if they really wanted to.

  • Number_Six
    • pj134

      Oh…. wow…

    • The Professor

      I want to watch and listen to one take off.

  • Irishzombieman

    I love the cheesiness of these government videos. Hard for me to imagine a time when the tone was not only appropriate but effective.

    Beautiful aircraft. This was one of my favorite models I built when I was a kid.I even bought this silly (and hard-to-use) chrome paint to simulate the bright aluminum. Eventually I went over that with camouflage. It hung from my ceiling for years. Something about the arrowhead silhouette screamed dangerous and fast.

  • Number_Six

    And Jimmy Stewart approved![youtube cEKyTxnrXIc&feature=related youtube]

    • CaptianNemo2001

      Yes "Member of the Club" of course he is now going to "Champion" whatever they want him to. And YES IT IS A FLYING HOT ROD. The A-12, Y-12 and SR-71 are more flying professional top fuel dragsters.

      Ohh Stewart 600-700 MPH on the deck will really save the plane…Me thinks its not a big deal since many planes do those sort of speeds… "on the deck". I am done bashing Jimmy. I like the guy alot. But I wish he would stick to feature films.

  • Rob Connolly

    I remember seeing pictures of this aircraft when I was a youngster, in the Sixties, and thinking “Wow, could you hang any MORE engines off that thing?” As a bomber it looked more like a fighter, with attitude.

  • frankfan42

    Impressive aircraft and movie. Noted the B-36s readying for takeoff on an adjacent runway at approx the 3 minute mark.