10 May 1961

Crew of The Firefly at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 10 May 1961. (Sand Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Crew of The Firefly, 1st Lieutenant David F. Dickerson, Major Elmer E. Murphy, and Major Eugene Moses, at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 10 May 1961. (General Dynamics/San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives Catalog Number 01 009360)
In 1930, aviation pioneer Louis Charles Joseph Blériot established the Blériot Trophy, to be awarded to an aviator who demonstrated flight at a speed of 2,000 kilometers per hour (1,242.742 miles per hour) for 30 minutes. The technology to accomplish this was three decades in the future.

Convair B-58A-10-CF Huslter 59-2451 taxis out at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 10 May 1961. (General Dynamics/San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives Catalog number 01 00093630)
Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451 taxis out at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 10 May 1961. (General Dynamics/San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives Catalog Number 01 00093632)
On 10 May 1961, a U.S. Air Force/Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler, serial number 59-2451, The Firefly, did just that. Flown by a crew consisting of Aircraft Commander, Major Elmer E. Murphy, Navigator, Major Eugene Moses, and Defensive Systems Officer, First Lieutenant David F. Dickerson, the Mach 2+ Strategic Air Command bomber flew 669.4 miles (1,077.3 kilometers) in 30 minutes, 43 seconds. Their average speed was 1,302.07 miles per hour (2,095 kilometers per hour).

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451 during Bleriot Trophy speed run, 10 May 1961. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451 during Blériot Trophy speed run, 10 May 1961. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

The black and white marble trophy was presented to the B-58 crew by Alice Védères Blériot, widow of Louis Blériot, at Paris, France, 27 May 1961. It is on permanent display at the McDermott Library of the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The Blériot Trophy, photographed 12 June 1961. "Side view of The Blériot Trophy on display. It is the figure of a naked man made of black marble in a flying position emerging from clouds. The clouds are white stone and are the figures of women in various poses on top of a marble dome." (University of North Texas Libraries)
The Blériot Trophy, photographed 12 June 1961. “Side view of The Blériot Trophy on display. It is the figure of a naked man made of black marble in a flying position emerging from clouds. The clouds are white stone and are the figures of women in various poses on top of a marble dome.” (University of North Texas Libraries)

The Convair B-58 Hustler was a high-altitude, Mach 2+ strategic bomber which served with the United States Air Force from 1960 to 1970. It was crewed by a pilot, navigator/bombardier and a defensive systems operator located in individual cockpits. The aircraft has a delta-winged configuration similar to Convair’s F-102A Delta Dagger and F-106 Delta Dart supersonic interceptors.

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451 taxis back to teh ramp at Edwards Air Force Base, following teh Bleriot Trophy speed run, 10 May 1961. (General Dynamics/San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives Catolog number 01 00093633)
Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451 taxis back to the ramp at Edwards Air Force Base, following the Blériot Trophy speed run, 10 May 1961. (General Dynamics/San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives Catalog Number 01 00093633)

The Hustler is 96 feet, 10 inches (29.515 meters) long, with a wing span of 56 feet, 10 inches (17.323 meters) and overall height of 31 feet 5 inches (9.576 meters). The wings’ leading edge is swept back at a 60° angle and the fuselage incorporates the “area rule” which resulted in a “wasp waist” or “Coke bottle” shape for a significant reduction in aerodynamic drag. The airplane’s only control surfaces are two “elevons” and a rudder. There are no flaps.

Four General Electric J79-GE-5 afterburning turbojet engines, rated at 15,600 pounds of thrust at Sea Level, each, are enclosed in nacelles which are suspended under the wings from pylons.

The bomber had a cruise speed of 610 miles per hour (981.7 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 1,325 miles per hour (2,132.4 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 64,800 feet (19,751 meters). Unrefueled range is 4,400 miles (7,081 kilometers). Maximum weight is 168,000 pounds (76,203.5 kilograms).

The B-58 weapons load was a combination of W-39,  B43 or B61 nuclear bombs. The large weapons could be carried in a jettisonable centerline pod, which also carried fuel, and the smaller bombs could be carried on hardpoints. There was a defensive 20 mm M61 rotary cannon mounted in the tail with 1,200 rounds of ammunition. The gun was controlled remotely by the Defensive Systems Officer.

The Firefly's ground crew for the Blériot Trophy speed run, 10 May 1961. (General Dynamics/San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives Catalog number 01 00093629)
The Firefly’s ground crew for the Blériot Trophy speed run, 10 May 1961. (General Dynamics/San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives Catalog Number 01 00093629)

On 26 May 1961, The Firefly, flown by a different aircrew, set a speed record by flying New York to Paris, while enroute to the Paris Air Show, a distance of 3,626.46 miles in 3 hours, 19 minutes, 58 seconds, for an average of 1,089.36 mph.

Convair built 116 B-58s between 1956 and 1961. They were retired by 1970.

On 3 June 1961, the Blériot Trophy-winning crew of Murphy, Moses and Dickerson departed Le Bourget Airport aboard 59-2451 for the return trip to America. The B-58 crashed five miles from the airport. All three men were killed and the aircraft totally destroyed.

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451, The Firefly.
Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451, The Firefly.

General Dynamics contributed an extensive collection of photographs of the speed run to the San Diego Air and Space Museum, which holds them in its Archives.

A 1961 Air Force film covering the event and the presentation of the Blériot Trophy can be seen on You Tube at https://youtu.be/0D_n8YRodII

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

2 thoughts on “10 May 1961

  1. Thank-you Bryan Swopes for keeping the memory of my father, Gene Murphy and the accomplishment of his crew alive in the historical record. He was a wonderful husband and father, dedicated to his family and country.

    Proudly,

    Teresa Goodlad

    1. It is my privilege, Ms. Goodlad. Men like your father were my role models, heroes, really, as I was growing up. Since I started this blog four years ago, the best part has been those occasions when I hear from family members of the aviators that I write about. Thank you for visiting.

Comments are closed.