3 June 1961: At the Paris Air Show, Aéroport de Paris – Le Bourget, Paris, France, the Blériot, Harmon and Mackay Trophy-winning Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler, 58-2451, The Firefly, crashed, killing the aircrew, Major Elmer E. Murphy, Major Eugene Moses, and First Lieutenant David F. Dickerson. The B-58 was totally destroyed.
Only days earlier, The Firefly—with a different aircrew—had set a new speed record for its flight from New York to Paris.
On leaving Le Bourget for the return trip to the United States, Major Murphy engaged in low-altitude aerobatics. There are reports that while performing a slow roll, the bomber entered a cloud bank. The pilot lost visual reference, but the roll caused the attitude indicator to exceed its limits. Disoriented and without instrument flight capability, the B-58 crashed.
26 May 1961: The Firefly, the Blériot Trophy-winning Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler, serial number 59-2451, assigned to the 43rd Bombardment Wing, Carswell Air Force Base, Fort Worth, Texas, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Recognized Course by flying from Washington, D.C. to Paris in 3 hours, 39 minutes, 49 seconds, for an average speed of 1,687.69 kilometers per hour (1,048.68 miles per hour).¹
During the same flight, the B-58 flew the New York to Paris segment in 3 hours, 14 minutes, 44.53 seconds, at an average speed of 1,753.16 kilometers per hour (1,089.36 miles per hour).
The aircrew, Major William R. Payne, Aircraft Commander, Captain William L. Polhemus, Navigator, and Captain Raymond R. Wagener, Defensive Systems Officer, won the Harmon and Mackay Trophies for this flight.
On 3 June 1961, while enroute home, The Firefly crashed only 5 miles from Paris, killing the Blériot Trophy-winning aircrew, Major Elmer E. Murphy, Major Eugene Moses, and First Lieutenant David F. Dickerson. The B-58 was totally destroyed.
The B-58A 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, each located in individual cockpits. The aircraft had a delta-winged configuration similar to the Convair F-102A Delta Dagger and F-106 Delta Dart supersonic interceptors. 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.
The “Hustler” was 96.8 feet (29.5 meters) long, with a wing span of 56.8 feet (17.3 meters) and an overall height of 31.4 feet (9.6 meters). The wings’ leading edges were swept back at a 60° angle. The wings had a 3°0′ angle of incidence, 2°14′ dihedral, and a total area of 1,542.5 square feet (143.3 square meters).
The B-58A had an empty weight of 51,061 pounds (23,161 kilograms). Its Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) was 90,000 pounds (40,823 kilograms), but once airborne, it could take on additional fuel from a tanker, raising the bomber’s maximum weight to 125,147 pounds (56,766 kilograms).
The B-58A was powered by four General Electric J79-GE-5 afterburning turbojet engines, suspended under the wings from pylons. These were single-shaft axial-flow engines with a 17-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine. The J79-GE-5 had a continuous power rating of 9,700 pounds of thrust (43.15 kilonewtons), Military Power, 10,000 pounds of thrust (44.49 kilonewtons), and Maximum Power, 15,600 pounds (69.39 kilonewtons) with afterburner. (All ratings at 7,460 r.p.m.) The engine was 16 feet, 10.2 inches (5.131 meters) long and 3 feet, 2.0 inches (0.889 meters) in diameter. It weighed 3,570 pounds (1,619 kilograms).
The bomber had a cruise speed of 626 miles per hour (1,007 kilometers per hour) from 30,000 to 50,000 feet (9,144–15,240 meters), and a maximum speed of 1,319 miles per hour (2,124 kilometers per hour) at 56,100 feet (17,099 meters). The B-58’s service ceiling was 67,200 feet (20,483 meters).
Jet fuel (JP-4) was carried in three tanks inside the airplane’s fuselage, and two tanks in a streamlined drop tank. The total capacity of the five tanks was 15,369 gallons (58,178 liters). Its combat radius was 2,589 miles (4,167 kilometers) and the maximum ferry range was 6,483 miles (10,434 kilometers).
The B-58 weapons load was a combination of W-39, B43 or B61 nuclear bombs. The W-39 was carried in the centerline pod. (A two-component mission pod was also available.) The W-39 was the same warhead used on the PGM-11 Redstone intermediate range ballistic missile and the SM-62 Snark intercontinental cruise missile. It was a two-stage radiation-implosion thermonuclear warhead with an explosive yield of 3.8 megatons. The warhead weighed 6,230 pounds (2,826 kilograms). The B-43 and B-61 bombs were carried on four hardpoints under the fuselage.
There was a defensive General Electric M61 Vulcan 20 mm rotary cannon mounted in the bomber’s tail, with a maximum 1,040 rounds of ammunition. The gun was remotely-controlled by the Defensive Systems Officer.
The Convair Division of General Dynamics built 116 B-58s at Forth Worth, Texas. The first XB-58 flew on 11 November 1956. Production aircraft entered service with the Strategic Air Command in 1960 and were retired in 1970. Only eight aircraft remain in existence.
15 May 1963: At 8:04:13.106 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, Mercury-Atlas 9, carrying NASA astronaut, L. Gordon Cooper aboard Faith 7, lifted off from Launch Complex 14, Cape Canaveral Air Force Base, Florida. Cooper reported, “The liftoff was smooth, but very definite, the acceleration was very pleasant. The booster had a very good feel to it and it felt like we were real on the go, there.” The maximum acceleration experienced during launch was 7.6 gs.
Faith 7 separated from the Atlas booster at T+00:05:05.5.3 and entered low Earth orbit with an apogee of 165.9 statute miles (267.0 kilometers) and perigee of 100.3 statute miles (161.4 kilometers). The orbital period was 88 minutes, 45 seconds. The spacecraft’s velocity was 25,714.0 feet per second (7,837.6 meters per second), or 17,532.3 miles per hour (28,215.5 kilometers per hour).
MA-9 was the final flight of Project Mercury. Gordon Cooper flew 22.5 orbits. Due to electrical system problems that began on the 21st orbit, he had to fly a manual reentry which resulted in the most accurate landing of the Mercury program.
The spacecraft’s three retrorockets fired 5 second intervals beginning at T+33:59:30. 34 hours, 19 minutes, 49 seconds after lift off, Faith 7 “splashed down” approximately 70 miles (112.7 kilometers) southeast of Midway Atoll in the North Pacific Ocean, just 4.4 miles (7.1 kilometers) from the primary recovery ship, the United States Navy Ticonderoga-class aircraft carrier USS Kearsarge (CV-33).
The Mercury spacecraft, which Cooper named Faith 7, was built by McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri, which would also build the follow-on, two-place Gemini spacecraft. It was the 20th and final Mercury capsule to be built, and was one of four which were modified to support a day-long mission. Some items considered unnecessary were deleted and extra oxygen and battery capacity was added.
Designed to carry one pilot, the Mercury space craft could be controlled in pitch, roll and yaw by thrusters. The space capsule was truncated cone with sides angled 20° from the longitudinal axis. It was 6 feet, 10 inches (2.083 meters) long and had a maximum diameter of 6 feet, 2.50 inches (1.892 meters). The total height of the spacecraft, from the tip of the aero spike to the booster adapter, was 26 feet, 1.26 inches (7.957 meters). Faith 7 weighed 4,330.82 pounds (1,964.43 kilograms) at liftoff.
During flight outside the atmosphere, the Mercury spacecraft could be controlled in its pitch, roll and yaw axes by hydrogen peroxide-fueled reaction control thrusters. Both manual and automatic attitude control were available. It could not accelerate or decelerate (except for reentry) so it could not change its orbit.
The spacecraft cabin was pressurized to 5.5 psi with 100% oxygen. Gordon Cooper wore a modified B.F. Goodrich Mark IV full-pressure suit and flight helmet for protection in the event that cabin pressure was lost. Cooper’s suit varied considerably from those worn by previous Mercury astronauts.
The rocket, a “1-½ stage” liquid-fueled Atlas LV-3B, number 109-D, was built by the Convair Division of General Dynamics at San Diego, California. It was developed from a U.S. Air Force SM-65 Atlas D intercontinental ballistic missile, modified for use as a “man-rated” orbital launch vehicle.
The LV-3B was 65 feet (19.812 meters) long from the base to the Mercury adapter section, and the tank section is 10 feet (3.038 meters) in diameter. The complete Mercury-Atlas orbital launch vehicle is 93 feet (28.436 meters) tall, including the escape tower. When ready for launch it weighed approximately 260,000 pounds (117,934 kilograms).
The Atlas’ three engines were built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation, Inc., at Canoga Park, California. Two Rocketdyne LR89-NA-5 engines and one LR105-NA-5 produced 341,140 pounds (1,517.466 kilonewtons) of thrust. The rocket was fueled by a highly-refined kerosene, RP-1, with liquid oxygen as the oxidizer.
Faith 7 is displayed at the Space Center Houston, the visitor center for the Johnson Space Flight Center, Houston, Texas.
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.
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).
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 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.
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.
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.
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
30 April 1959: Convair B-36J-1-CF Peacemaker, serial number 52-2220, landed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, completing the very last flight ever made by one of the giant Cold War-era bombers. It is on the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
Convair B-36J 52-2220 was among the last group of 33 B-36 bombers built. It was operated by an aircraft commander/pilot, co-pilot, two navigators, bombardier, two flight engineers, two radio operators, two electronic countermeasures operators and five gunners, a total 16 crewmembers. Frequently a third pilot and other additional personnel were carried.
The bomber is 162 feet, 1 inch (49.403 meters) long with a wingspan of 230 feet (70.104 meters) and overall height of 46 feet, 9 inches (14.249 meters). The empty weight is 171,035 pounds (77,580 kilograms) and combat weight is 266,100 pounds (120,700 kilograms). Maximum takeoff weight is 410,000 pounds (185,973 kilograms).
The B-36J has ten engines. There are six air-cooled, supercharged 4,362.49 cubic-inch-displacement (71.49 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major C6 (R-4360-53) four-row, 28-cylinder radial engines placed inside the wings in a pusher configuration. These had a compression ratio of 6.7:1 and required 115/145 aviation gasoline. The R-4360-53 had a Normal Power rating of 2,800 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. Its Military Power rating was 3,500 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m., and 3,800 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. with water injection—the same for Takeoff. The engines turned three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed, reversible propellers with a diameter of 19 feet, 0 inches (5.791 meters) through a 0.375:1 gear reduction. The R-4360-53 is 9 feet, 9.00 inches (2.972 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.00 inches (1.397 meters) in diameter, and weighs 4,040 pounds (1,832.5 kilograms).
Four General Electric J47-GE-19 turbojet engines are suspended under the wings in two-engine pods. The J47 is a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet engine with a 12-stage compressor section, 8 combustion chambers, and single-stage turbine. The J47-GE-19 was modified to run on gasoline and was rated at 5,200 pounds of thrust (23.131 kilonewtons).
The B-36J had a cruise speed of 203 miles per hour (327 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 411 miles per hour (661 kilometers per hour) at 36,400 feet (11,905 meters) . The service ceiling was 39,900 feet (12,162 meters) and its range was 6,800 miles (10,944 kilometers) with a 10,000 pound (4,536 kilogram) bomb load. The maximum range was 10,000 miles (16,093 kilometers).
Designed during World War II, nuclear weapons were unknown to the Consolidated-Vultee engineers. The bomber was built to carry up to 86,000 pounds (39,009 kilograms) of conventional bombs in two bomb bays. It could carry the 43,600 pound (19,776.6 kilogram) T-12 Cloudmaker, a conventional explosive earth-penetrating bomb, or several Mk.15 thermonuclear bombs. By combining the bomb bays, one Mk.17 25-megaton thermonuclear bomb could be carried.
For defense, the B-36J had six retractable defensive gun turrets and gun turrets in the nose and tail. All 16 guns were remotely operated. Each position mounted two M24A1 20 mm autocannons. 9,200 rounds of ammunition were carried.
Between 1946 and 1954, 384 B-36 Peacemakers were built. They were never used in combat. Only five still exist.