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9 August 1945

Martin-Omaha B-29-35-MO Superfortress 44-27297, Bockscar, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

9 August 1945: Three days after an atomic bomb had been used against the Japanese industrial city of Hiroshima, a second attack was made on Nagasaki. Major Charles W. Sweeney, in command of the Martin-Omaha B-29-35-MO Superfortress 44-27297, named Bockscar, departed Tinian Island in the Marshal Group at 3:47 a.m., and flew to Iwo Jima where it was to rendezvous with two other B-29s, The Great Artiste and The Big Stink, the instrumentation and photographic aircraft for this mission.

Like its sistership, Enola Gay, 44-27297 was a specially modified “Silverplate” B-29. The Silverplate B-29s differed from the standard production bombers in many ways. They were approximately 6,000 pounds (2,722 kilograms) lighter. The bomber carried no armor. Additional fuel tanks were installed in the rear bomb bay. The bomb bay doors were operated by quick-acting pneumatic systems. The bomb release mechanism in the forward bomb bay was replaced by a single-point release as was used in special British Lancaster bombers. A weaponeer’s control station was added to the cockpit to monitor the special bomb systems.

Bockscar had four air-cooled, supercharged, 3,347.662-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division R-3350-41 (Cyclone 18 787C18BA3) two-row 18-cylinder radial engines with direct fuel injection. The R-3350-41 had a compression ratio of 6.85:1 and required 100/130 aviation gasoline. It was rated at 2,000 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 2,200 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m, for take-off. The engines drove four-bladed Curtiss Electric reversible-pitch propellers with a diameter of 16 feet, 8 inches (5.080 meters), through a 0.35:1 gear reduction. The R-3350-41 was 6 feet, 2.26 inches (1.937 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.78 inches (1.417 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,725 pounds (1,236 kilograms).

With the exception of the tail gunner’s position, all defensive armament—four powered remotely operated gun turrets with ten .50-caliber machine guns—were deleted. Their remote sighting positions were also removed. Enola Gay carried 1,000 rounds of ammunition for each of the two remaining Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns in the tail.

With these changes, the Silverplate B-29s could fly higher and faster than a standard B-29, and the fuel-injected R-3350-41 engines were more reliable. Bockscar had a cruising speed of 220 miles per hour (354 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 365 miles per hour (587 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 31,850 feet (9,708 meters) and its combat radius was 2,900 miles (4,667 kilometers).

Martin-Omaha B-29-35-MO Superfortress 44-27297, Bockscar, in flight. Note "Triangle N" tail code. (U.S. Air Force)
Martin-Omaha B-29-35-MO Superfortress 44-27297, Bockscar, in flight. Note “Triangle N” tail code. (U.S. Air Force)

44-27297, Victor 7, was assigned to aircraft commander Captain Frederick C. Bock and his crew. Major Sweeney and his crew ordinarily flew The Great Artiste. Sweeney’s B-29 had been the the instrumentation aircraft for the Hiroshima mission and there was not time to remove that equipment and re-install it aboard Bock’s bomber, so the crews switched airplanes. For operational security, Bockscar‘s normal identification was changed from the number 7 on the fuselage to 77. The 509th’s tail code of a circle surrounding a forward-pointing arrow was changed to another unit’s “Triangle N” identification.

All of these last minute changes resulted in confusion in contemporary reports as to which B-29 had actually dropped Fat Man on Nagasaki.

Boeing B-29 crew photo taken Aug. 11, 1945, two days after the Nagasaki mission. Note there is no nose art on the aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Major Charles W. Sweeney’s B-29 crew. (U.S. Air Force)

In Bockscar‘s forward bomb bay was a 10,213 pound (4,632 kilograms) bomb called Fat Man. This was a completely different and much more complex weapon than the Little Boy (Mark I) atomic bomb dropped by Colonel Paul Tibbet’s Enola Gay on 6 August. Designated Mark III, the egg-shaped weapon contained a 6.2 kilogram (14 pound) sphere of Plutonium Pu 239, surrounded by a high-explosive charge. The explosives were formed in “lenses” that would direct the force inward in a very precise manner. The purpose was to compress—or implode— the Plutonium to a much greater density, resulting in a “critical mass.”

The Mark III "Fat Man" bomb loaded on its carrier, 8 August 1945.
The Mark III “Fat Man” bomb being loaded onto its carrier, 8 August 1945.

In the conduct of this mission, Major Sweeney made a number of serious errors that nearly caused the mission to fail, and might very well have led to the loss of the bomber and its crew.

Prior to takeoff, the B-29’s crew chief informed Sweeney that a fuel transfer pump was inoperative which made it impossible to transfer 625 gallons (2,366 liters) of fuel from one fuel tank. This meant that nearly 9% of the total fuel load of 7,250 gallons (27,444 liters) was unusable. Chuck Sweeney decided to go anyway.

Next, though under direct orders from the 509th Composite Group commander, Colonel Paul Tibbets, to wait at the rendezvous no more than 15 minutes, when The Big Stink failed to arrive on schedule, Sweeney elected to stay 30 minutes beyond that.

Meanwhile, the two weather reconnaissance B-29s, Enola Gay and Laggin’ Dragon, were over Kokura, the primary target, and the secondary, Nagasaki. Weather over both cities were within the mission parameters.

XX Bomber Command Target Chart for Nagasaki Area. (National Archives)

During the 45 minutes that Sweeney waited at the rendezvous, weather over Kokura had deteriorated. By the time Bockscar arrived overhead, clouds covered the city. The bomber made three attempts to bomb the city over a 50-minute period, but the bombardier was not able to see the target.

Now an hour and twenty minutes behind schedule, Sweeney diverted to the secondary target, Nagasaki. Because of the delays and the unusable fuel as a result of the failed fuel pump, Sweeney reduced engine power to try to conserve fuel during the twenty minute flight to the alternate target. But weather there had also deteriorated.

Sweeney decided that they should bomb through the clouds using radar, but at the last minute, the bombardier was able to see the aim point. The Fat Man was dropped from 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) at 11:01 a.m. After falling for 43 seconds, the atomic bomb detonated at an altitude of 1,950 feet (594.4 meters). It missed the intended target point by nearly 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) and exploded over the Urakami Valley, halfway between the Mitsubishi Steel and Arms Works and the Mitsubishi-Urakami Ordnance Works.

Nagasaki, 9 August 1945, photographed by Joe Kosstatscher, U.S. Navy.
Nagasaki, 9 August 1945, photographed by Joe Kosstatscher, U.S. Navy.

The estimated force of the explosion was 21 kilotons—equivalent to the explosive force of 21,000 tons of TNT (19,050 metric tons)—nearly 20% greater than the Hiroshima bomb. The surrounding hills contained the explosion, protecting a large part of the city. Still, approximately 60% of Nagasaki was destroyed and 70,000 people were killed. By December 1945, at least 80,000 of the city’s 250,000 residents had died.

Atomic cloud rising over nagasaki, japan, 9 August 1945, photographed from Koyagi-jima. (Hiromichi Matsuda)
Pyrocumulus cloud rising over Nagasaki, Japan, approximately 20 minutes after detonation, 9 August 1945, photographed from Koyagi-jima, a small island southwest of Nagasaki. (Hiromichi Matsuda)

Now critically low on fuel and unable to reach the emergency B-29 recovery field on Iwo Jima, Sweeney headed for the airfields of Okinawa. When Bockscar touched down on the runway, one engine quit due to fuel starvation. As they turned off the runway, a second engine ran out of fuel. Charles Sweeney had cut it very, very close.

B-29 44-27297 on Tinian Island, August 1945. The nose art was applied to the airplane after the August 9, 1945 bombing mission. (U.S. Air Force)
Martin-Omaha B-29-35-MO 44-27297 on Tinian Island, August 1945. The nose art was applied to the airplane after the August 9, 1945 bombing mission. (U.S. Air Force)

Five days after the bombing of Nagasaki, the Emperor of Japan—recognizing that his country now faced total destruction—agreed to surrender. World War II was over.

In 1946, Bockscar was placed in storage at Davis-Monthan Army Air Field, Tucson, Arizona. On 26 September 1961, the B-29 was flown to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, where it remains in the museum’s collection of historic aircraft.

DAYTON, Ohio — Boeing B-29 Superfortress “Bockscar” at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 August 1909

 

The Wright 1909 Military Flyer being fueled at Fort Myer, Virginia, 27 July 1909. Orville Wright is to the right of center in this photograph. The military officer is 1st Lieutenant Frank P. Lahm, Signal Corps, United States Army. Behind the airplane is 1st Lieutenant Benjamin D. Fuolois and Wilbur Wright. (NASM)

2 August 1909: The United States Army Signal Corps purchased a Wright Flyer for $30,000. It became the first aircraft in the United States’ military inventory and was designated Signal Corps Airplane No. 1. The airplane was used to train Signal Corps pilots at Fort San Antonio, Texas. It was crashed and rebuilt several times. After just two years’ service, the airplane was retired. The Army donated Airplane No. 1 to the Smithsonian Institution.

During test flights that were conducted prior to acceptance by the Army, Orville Wright with Lieutenant Benjamin D. Fulois as a passenger (he was chosen because of his size and his ability to read maps) the Flyer achieved a two-way average 42.583 miles per hour (68.531 kilometers per hour), over a 5 mile (8.05 kilometers) course. The Signal Corps specification allowed a bonus of $2,500 per full mile per hour above 40 miles per hour. This increased the purchase price of the airplane from $25,000 to $30,000. The Army also required the airplane to be able to remain airborne for a minimum of one hour. Wright demonstrated its endurance at 1 hour, 12 minutes, 40 seconds.

1st Lieutenant Benjamin D. Fulois, Signal Corps, United States Army, and Orville Wright, at Fort Myer, Virginia, 1909. (U.S. Air Force)
1st Lieutenant Benjamin Delahauf Fulois, Signal Corps, United States Army, and Orville Wright, at Fort Myer, Virginia, 1909. By November 1917, Brigadier General Fulois was Chief of Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces. (U.S. Air Force)

The 1909 Military Flyer is a one-of-a-kind variant of the Wright Brothers’ Model A which was produced from 1907 to 1909. The airplane has shorter wings than the standard Model A, and slightly longer propeller blades which are turned at a different r.p.m. These changes were made to increase the Flyer’s speed through the air. The engine had been salvaged from the 1908 Model A which crashed at Fort Myer in 1908, severely injuring Orville Wright and killing Lieutenant Thomas E. Selfridge.

The Military Flyer is a two-place, single-engine biplane built of a wooden framework braced with wires. The wings, rudders and elevators are covered with muslin. The elevators are placed forward in canard configuration with rudders aft. Roll control was by the Wright Brothers’ patented wing-warping system.

Signal Corps Airplane no. 1, the Wright 1909 Military Flyer, at Fort Myer, Virginia, 1910. (U.S. Air Force)
Signal Corps Airplane No. 1, the Wright 1909 Military Flyer, at Fort Myer, Virginia, 1910. (U.S. Air Force)

As originally built (it was repaired and slightly modified during its two years in service) the airplane was 28 feet, 11 inches (8.814 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 6 inches (11.125 meters) and height of 8 feet, 1 inch (2.464 meters). The wings have a chord of 5 feet, 10 inches (1.778 meters) and vertical separation of 5 feet (1.524 meters). The lower wing has 2 feet, 3 inches (0.686 meter) of ground clearance. The elevators have a span of 15 feet, 5 inches (4.699 meters), a chord of 3 feet (0.914 meter) and vertical spacing of 3 feet (0.914 meter). The parallel rudders are 4 feet, 8½ inches (1.435 meters) tall with a chord of 1 foot, 8 inches (0.508 meter). Their lateral separation is also 1 foot, 8 inches (0.508 meter). The rudder pivot point is 15 feet, 11 inches (4.851 meters) aft of the wings’ leading edge. The airplane had an empty weight of 740 pounds (335.7 kilograms).

Wright Military Flyer. Three-view drawing with dimensions. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)

The Military Flyer was powered by a single water-cooled, fuel-injected, 240.528 cubic-inch-displacement (3.942 liter) Wright vertical overhead-valve inline four-cylinder gasoline engine with 2 valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 4.165:1. It produced 32 horsepower at 1,310 r.p.m. During three years of production (1908–1911) Wright “4-40” engines were built that operated from 1,325 to 1,500 r.p.m. Power output ranged from 28 to 40 horsepower. These engines weighed from 160 to 180 pounds (72.6–81.6 kilograms).

Two 8 foot, 6 inch (2.591 meter) diameter two-bladed counter-rotating propellers,are mounted behind the wings in pusher configuration. Driven by a chain drive, they turned 425 r.p.m.

The Military Flyer could fly 42 miles per hour (67.6 kilometers per hour) and had endurance of one hour.

Early army officers who trained with Signal Corps Airplane No. 1 included Lieutenants Benjamin D. Fulois, Frank P. Lahm and Frederic E. Humphreys.

The unrestored Wright 1909 Military Flyer is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, displayed at the National Mall. A reproduction of the airplane is at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Signal Corps Airplane No. 1, the Wright 1909 Military Flyer, on display at the Early Flight gallery of the Smithsonian Institution National Mall building. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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30 June 1975

The last operational U.S. Air Force C-47 Skytrain, 43-49507, on display at NMUSAF. (U.S. Air Force)

30 June 1975: The last operational Douglas C-47 Skytrain transport in service with the United States Air Force, 43-49507, was retired and flown to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

A C-47D, it is on display in the World War II Gallery, painted and marked as C-47A-80-DL 43-15213 of the 91st Troop Carrier Squadron, 439th Troop Carrier Group, during World War II. At the time it was withdrawn from service, 43-49507 had flown a total of 20,831 hours.

43-49507 (Douglas serial number 26768) was built at Oklahoma City as a C-47B-15-DK Skytrain. The C-47B differed from the C-47A in that it was powered by Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S3C4-G (R-1830-90) engines. These engines were equipped with two-speed superchargers for improved high-altitude performance. Following World War II, the second speed (“high blower”) was either disabled or removed. Following this modification, the airplane was redesignated C-47D.

A group of new Douglas C-47 Skytrains. The airplane closest to the camera is C-47-DL 41-18415. (Douglas Aircraft Company)

The Douglas C-47 Skytrain is a military transport variant of the Douglas Aircraft Company DC-3 commercial airliner. It is an all-metal, twin-engine, low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear. It was operated by a minimum flight crew of two pilots, navigator, radio operator and mechanic/load master. The airplane’s control surfaces are covered with doped-fabric. The primary differences between the civil DC-3 and military C-47 was the addition of a cargo door on the left side of the fuselage, a strengthened cargo floor, a navigator’s astrodome and provisions for glider towing.

The DC-3 made its first flight 17 December 1935, while the C-47 flew for the first time six years later, 23 December 1941.

Two Douglas C-47 Skytrains. Nearest the camera is C-47A-90-DL 43-15661. The further airplane is C-47A-65-DL 42-100550. (U.S. Air Force)

The C-47 is 64 feet, 5½ inches (19.647 meters) long with a wingspan of 95 feet (28.956 meters) and height of 17 feet (5.182 meters). The total wing area is 988.9 square feet (91.872 square meters). The angle of incidence is 2°. The wing center section is straight, but outboard of the engine nacelles there is 5º dihedral. The wings’ leading edges are swept aft 15.5°. The trailing edges have no sweep.  Empty weight of the C-47D is 17,865 pounds (8,103 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight is 33,000 pounds (14,969 kilograms).

The C-47A was powered by two 1,829.4-cubic-inch-displacement (29.978 liter) air-cooled, supercharged R-1830-92 (Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S1C3-G) two-row 14-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.7:1. These were rated at 1,060 horsepower at 2,550 r.pm., up to 7,500 feet (2,286 meters), maximum continuous power, and 1,200 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. at Sea Level for takeoff. Each engine drives a three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed full-feathering propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 6 inches (3.505 meters) through a 16:9 gear reduction. The R-1830-92 is 48.19 inches (1.224 meters) long, 61.67 inches (1.566 meters) in diameter, and weighs 1,465 pounds (665 kilograms).

U.S. Army paratroopers jump from Douglas C-47-DL Skytrain 41-7805, over England, May 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

The specifications of the  Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S3C4-G (R-1830-90) installed on the C-47B and C-47D were nearly the same as the -92 engine of the C-47A. Displacement and compression ratio were identical. The engines’ diameters were the same, though the -90 was very slightly longer than the -92—1.85–2.74 inches (4.699–6.960 centimeters), depending on specific variant. Also, the -90 was heavier than the -92 by 25–30 pounds (11.34–13.61 kilograms), again, depending on the specific variant. The R-1830-90 could maintain 1,000 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. at 12,500 feet (3,810 meters), and 1,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. at 14,000 feet (4,267 meters), a significant increase over the -92.

The C-47D has a cruising speed of 161 knots (185 miles per hour/298 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), and maximum speed of 202 knots (232 miles per hour/374 kilometers per hour) at 3,500 feet (1,067 meters). Its service ceiling was 22,150 feet (6,751 meters). The Skytrain had a maximum range of 1,026 nautical miles (1,181 miles/1,900 kilometers) with full cargo.

The C-47 could carry 9,485 pounds (4,302 kilograms) of cargo, or 27 fully-equipped paratroopers. Alternatively, 24 patients on stretchers could be carried, along with two attendants.

C-47 Skytrains in Vee-of Vees formation.

On D-Day, The Sixth of June, 1944, a formation of C-47 Skytrains, nine airplanes abreast, 100 feet (30 meters) from wing tip to wing tip, 1,000 feet (305 meters) in trail, stretching for over 300 miles (483 kilometers), airdropped 13,348 paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, United States Army, and another 7,900 men of the British Army 6th Airborne Division and the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, behind the beaches at Normandy, France.

During the Vietnam War, 53 C-47s were converted from their transport role to AC-47 Spooky gunships. These were armed with three fixed, electrically-powered General Electric  GAU-2/A .30-caliber (7.62 NATO) Gatling guns firing out the left side of the fuselage. These aircraft were highly effective at providing close air support. The three Miniguns could fire a total of 12,000 rounds per minute.

Douglas AC-47D Spooky gunship, 45-0927, 4th Special Operations Squadron, Nha Trang, Republic of Vietnam, September 1968. (U.S. Air Force)

Douglas Aircraft Company built 10,174 C-47 Skytrains at its factories in Santa Monica and Long Beach, California, and at Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Douglas DC-3 (C-47B) three-view drawing. (NASA)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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30 April 1959

Convair B-36J-1-CF 52-2220 at NMUSAF, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.

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.

Crewmebers pose in front of a B-36F, wearing capstan-type partial pressure suites for protection at high altitude. Front (L-R): G.L. Whiting, B.L. Woods, I.G. Hanten, and R.L. D’Abadie. Back (L-R):A.S. Witchell, J.D. McEachern, J.G. Parker and R. D. Norvell. (Jet Pilot Overseas)
Crew members pose in front of a Convair B-36F-1-CF Peacemaker, 49-2669, wearing David Clark Co. S-2 capstan-type partial pressure suits and early K-1 “split shell” 2-piece helmets for protection at high altitude. Front (L-R): G.L. Whiting, B.L. Woods, I.G. Hanten, and R.L. D’Abadie. Back (L-R):A.S. Witchell, J.D. McEachern, J.G. Parker and R. D. Norvell. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

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).

Convair B-36J-1-CF Peacemaker 52-2220. (San Diego air and Space Museum Archives)

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.

Convair B-36J-1-CF 52-2220 being moved from Building 1 to Building 3 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, October 2002. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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5 March 1962

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2458, Cowtown Hustler, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2458, Cowtown Hustler, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

5 March 1962: Operation Heat Rise: Two Convair B-58 Hustler supersonic bombers from the 65th Bombardment Squadron, 43rd Bombardment Wing, Carswell Air Force Base, Texas, took off at sunrise and headed west to Los Angeles, California. Off the Pacific coast they refueled from a Boeing KC-135A Stratotanker, then headed east at maximum speed. They were to enter a radar starting gate at Los Angeles, but the radar did not pick them up so they returned to the tanker, topped off the fuel tanks again, then proceeded east once again. This time their entry was visually confirmed.

The crew of Cowtown Hustler checks the weather and files their flight plan at Carswell Air Force Base, Texas, before taking off on Operation Heat Rise, 5 March 1962. (U.S. Air Force)
The crew of Cowtown Hustler checks the weather and files their flight plan at Carswell Air Force Base, Texas, before taking off on Operation Heat Rise, 5 March 1962. From center, right, 1st Lieutenant John T. Walton, Captain Robert G. Sowers and Captain Robert MacDonald. (U.S. Air Force via Jet Pilot Overseas)

Both B-58s had been assigned a block altitude of Flight Level 250 to Flight Level 500 (between 25,000 and 50,000 feet, 7,620 to 15,240 meters) by the Federal Aviation Administration, and all other aircraft were cleared from those altitudes along the course. The flight outbound from Los Angeles was at 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) at speeds above Mach 2.

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2485 in flight. (General Dynamics)
Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2458 in flight. (General Dynamics)

Under normal conditions, the maximum speed of the B-58 was limited to a skin temperature of 115 °C. (239 °F.) to prevent the aluminum honeycomb skin panels from delaminating. For this speed run, Convair engineers had authorized a temperature of 125 °C. (257 °F.), which would allow the two bombers to exceed 1,400 miles per hour (2,253 kilometers per hour). Sensors were placed in the skin to monitor the temperature rise (which gave the operation its name: “Heat Rise”).

The first B-58, call sign “Tall Man Five-Five,” had a problem with the navigation radar and had some difficulty locating their tanker, but finally were able to. The B-58s descended to 25,000 feet over Kansas for the third refueling and over a 21-minute period, took on 85,000 gallons (321,760 liters) of fuel, climbed back to 45,000 feet (13,716 meters) and then continued on to New York.

One of the two B-58 bombers refuels from a Boeing KC-135A Stratotanker over Kansas during Operation Heat Rise, 5 March 1962. (U.S. Air Force)
One of the two B-58 bombers refuels from a Boeing KC-135A Stratotanker over Kansas during Operation Heat Rise, 5 March 1962. (U.S. Air Force)

The Cowtown Hustler crossed the radar gate at New York with an elapsed time of 2:00:58.71 for the West-to-East flight, averaging 1,214.65 miles per hour (1,954.79 kilometers per hour). The second B-58, Tall Man Five-Six, was one minute behind.

Passing New York, the two B-58 Hustlers proceeded over the Atlantic Ocean and rendezvoused with tankers for a fourth aerial refueling, then headed back west to Los Angeles. Shortly after passing New York, Tall Man Five-Six developed mechanical troubles and had to withdraw from the round-trip record attempt.

Once again over Kansas, Cowtown Hustler refueled for a fifth time then continued back to Los Angeles. The East-to-West leg from New York to Los Angeles was completed in an elapsed time of 2:15:50.08, averaging 1,081.81 miles per hour (1,741.00 kilometers per hour).

General Thomas Power, Chief of Staff, Strategic Air Command, congratulates Captain Rober G. Swoers and his crew after Operation Heat Rise.
General Thomas S. Power, Chief of Staff, Strategic Air Command, congratulates Captain Robert G. Sowers and his crew at Los Angeles Airport after Operation Heat Rise. The three airmen were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by General Power. John T. Walton is wearing his new captain’s bars.

The total elapsed time, Los Angeles–New York–Los Angeles, was 4 hours, 41 minutes, 14.98 seconds (4:41:14.98)  for an average speed of 1,044.97 miles per hour (1,681.71 kilometers per hour) The crew and the airplane established three National Aeronautic Association speed records for Speed Over A Recognized Course.

At Los Angeles, the flight crew, Captain Robert G. Sowers, Pilot, Captain Robert MacDonald, Navigator, and Captain John T. Walton, were congratulated by General Thomas S. Power, Chief of Staff, Strategic Air Command, and each airman was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

For the eastbound transcontinental flight, the crew won the Bendix Trophy, and for “the most meritorious flight of the year,” they were also awarded the Mackay Trophy. Their records still stand.

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 10.33.18

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 10.34.10Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 10.34.37Reportedly, the U.S. Air Force received more than 10,000 damage claims for windows that were broken by the sonic booms created by the two B-58 Hustlers as they flew across the country.

Today, the record-setting, trophy-winning airplane, Convair B-58A-10-CF 59-2458, the Cowtown Hustler, is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

The Bendix and macKay Trophy-winning flight crew of Operation Heat Rise, left to right, Captain Robert G. Sower, pilot; Captain Robert MacDonald, navigator; First Lieutenent John Walton, Defense Systems. behind them is another B-58A, 59-2447.(U.S. Air Force)
The Bendix and Mackay Trophy-winning flight crew of Operation Heat Rise, left to right, Captain Robert G. Sowers, Pilot; Captain Robert MacDonald, Navigator; First Lieutenent John Walton, Defense Systems Operator. Behind them is another B-58A, 59-2447. Rapid Rabbit, flown by another crew, was destroyed 15 February 1962, three weeks before Operation Heat Rise. (U.S. Air Force via Jet Pilot Overseas)

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.

The B-58A was powered by four General Electric J79-GE-5 axial-flow afterburning turbojet engines, suspended under the wings from pylons. This was a single-shaft engine with a 17-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine, rated at 10,300 pounds of thrust (45.82 kilonewtons), and 15,600 pounds (69.39 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The J79-GE-5 was 16 feet, 10.2 inches (5.136 meters) long and 3 feet, 2.0 inches (0.965 meters) in diameter.

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.

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

The crew of Cowtown Hustler is presented the Bendix Trophy by A.P. Fontaine of the Bendix Corporation. Left to right, Sowers, MacDonald, Walton, Fontaine and Crew Chief, Master Sergeant Cockrell.
The crew of Cowtown Hustler is presented the Bendix Trophy by A.P. Fontaine, Director of Engineering, and later CEO, of the Bendix Corporation. Left to right, Captain Robert MacDonald, Captain John T. Walton, Captain Robert G. Sowers, Mr. Fontaine and 59-2458’s Crew Chief, Master Sergeant Cockrell.

The 19 minute, 38 second video below is a General Dynamics informational film about Operation Heat Rise. This video clip is longer than the time it took Cowtown Hustler to fly from Los Angeles, California, to the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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