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B-58A Hustler – Operation Heat Rise

Convair B-58A refueled during Operation Heat Rise. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Convair B-58A refueled during Operation Heat Rise. (U.S. Air Force photo) Click image to enlarge.

The B-58A set three speed records during Operation Heat Rise on March 5, 1962, and in the process won both the Mackay and Bendix Trophies for that year. The B-58 was crewed by Capt. Robert G. Sowers, Capt. Robert MacDonald, and Capt. John T. Walton. The crew was randomly selected from Carswell AFB’s 65th bomber squadron. They spent four months preparing for the mission by practicing air refueling and other mission related tasks. The B-58 selected for the operation was an unmodified production model and was representative of the entire B-58 fleet. Special care was taken by maintenance crews to wax and polish the aircraft to ensure that aerodynamic drag would remain as low as possible.

The flight profile involved taking off from Carswell AFB, TX and flying to the starting point which was overhead Los Angeles, CA. The B-58, callsign Tall Man 55, was refueled over the Pacific Ocean by a KC-135 Stratotanker so that its tanks would be topped off prior to crossing the start line. After accelerating to mach 2.0 the B-58 crossed the start line. However the radar equipment designed to track when the aircraft crossed overhead failed and the Hustler was recalled so that it could start over. Since the B-58 had already expended some of its fuel, it was required to return over the Pacific Ocean so that it could rendezvous with the KC-135 again and top off its tanks. After receiving its second topoff, the B-58 proceeded across the start line a second time where it was visually validated as having crossed the starting point.

Flying at over twice the speed of sound, the B-58 flew eastward under the power of its four General Electric J79 engines. For this special mission the aircraft was allowed to operate faster than its designed maximum speed. While flying at such high speeds, the airframe becomes hot due to air friction. The B-58’s designed temperature limit was 115ºC but the Convair engineers deemed it safe to operate at 125ºC. Any faster and the honeycomb aluminum skin would begin to debond. This increased temperature limitation allowed the crew to push the aircraft to over 1400 miles per hour.

During the 5 hour duration of the record setting flight the aircraft was cleared a 25,000′ (FL250-FL500) altitude block through a corridor that spanned the entire country. After cruising at mach 2.0+ and 50,000′ from Los Angeles, the B-58 began to descend toward a tanker orbiting over Kansas at 25,000′. The B-58 had lost its navigation radar which complicated the rendezvous and added several minutes to the flight time. After some help from the tanker, the B-58 successfully rendezvous with the KC-135 and they proceeded eastbound while filling the Hustler’s tanks. During this A/R the B-58 onloaded 85,000 lbs of fuel at a transfer rate of 4,000 pounds per minute.  After 21 minutes of refueling the two aircraft separated and the B-58 once again accelerated to mach 2.0+ and climbed to 45,000′.  A temperature inversion over Kansas hampered the bomber’s ability to climb and slowed its time slightly. The Hustler crossed the finish line over New York City 2:00:58.71 after it crossed Los Angeles.

The B-58 had completed one direction of its flight, now it had to fly the reverse direction. After it crossed New York, the bomber descended for air refueling over the Atlantic Ocean. Now on a westbound heading, the B-58 chased the Sun toward Los Angeles. It once again descended at the midway point over Kansas to refuel from another KC-135 to receive its topoff. Post A/R, it made its final dash toward the finish line above Los Angeles. Even having battled the jet stream during its entire westbound flight, the B-58 crossed the finish line in 2:15:50.08, having beat the Sun from New York to LA by 45 minutes. The entire flight (LA-NYC-LA) took a mere 4:41:14.98 and averaged 1,214.71 miles per hour (~5,690 miles) including the three enroute air refuelings.

The flight did not go unnoticed by the general public. The Air Force received over 10,000 complaints of broken windows across the country that were caused by the sonic boom that the supersonic bomber created as it flew across the country. This single event changed the course of aviation history because it emphasized the negative public reaction to sonic booms which resulted in multiple supersonic transport aircraft designs being canceled, with the Concorde and TU-144 being notable exceptions.

Operation Heat Rise may be remembered for the blazing speed at which the B-58 crossed the country, but the operation would have never been possible without the five air refuelings that provided the bomber with fuel. In total, 10 KC-135s supported the bomber’s flight.


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May 14, 2009 - Posted by | 1960s, B-58, Boom Pod View, KC-135 | ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] sure to read this post for more B-58 […]

    Pingback by B-58 Hustler Refueling Video « Air Refueling Archive | May 27, 2009 | Reply

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