January 12, 1961: B-58 Hustler Sets New Official World Speed Record

  • Published
  • Air Force Flight Test Center

A Strategic Air Command B-58 Hustler crew, led by Maj Henry J. Deutschendorf, flew their jet bomber with a 2,000-kg payload over the Center’s 2,000-km course to establish a new official world speed record of 1,061.808 mph. The flight also broke the existing world speed records for the same distance with a 1,000-kg payload and with no payload. Soviet TU-104s flying at approximately half the B‑58’s speed had previously held the records for all three categories. Maj Deutschendorf was the father of folk singer John Denver.

The Convair B-58 Hustler, designed and produced by American aircraft manufacturer Convair, was the first operational bomber capable of Mach 2 flight.  The B-58 was developed during the 1950s for the United States Air Force's  Strategic Air Command. To achieve the high speeds desired, Convair designed it around a large delta wing, which was also used by contemporary fighters such as the Convair F-102. It was powered by four General Electric J79 engines in underwing pods. It had no bomb bay; it carried a single nuclear weapon plus fuel in a combination bomb/fuel pod underneath the fuselage. Later, four external hardpoints were added, enabling it to carry up to five weapons.  The B-58 entered service in March 1960, and was operated for a decade by two SAC bomb wings: the 43d Bombardment Wing and the 305th Bombardment Wing. It was considered a difficult aircraft to fly, imposing a high workload upon its three-man crews. Designed to replace the Boeing B-47 Stratojet strategic bomber, the B-58 became notorious for its sonic boom, which was often heard on the ground by the public as it passed overhead in supersonic flight.

The B-58 was originally intended to fly at high altitudes and supersonic speeds to avoid Soviet interceptors. But with the Soviet introduction of high-altitude surface-to-air missiles, the B-58 was forced to adopt a low-level-penetration role that severely limited its range and strategic value. It was never used to deliver conventional bombs. The B-58 was substantially more expensive to operate than other bombers, such as the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, and required more frequent aerial refueling. The B-58 also suffered from a high rate of accidental losses. All of this led to a relatively brief operational career of ten years. The B-58 was succeeded in its role by the smaller, swing-wing FB-111A.

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