Tag Archives: Strategic Bomber

16 October 1963

Convair B-58A-20-CF Hustler 61-2059, Greased Lightning. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Sidney Kubesch with his wife, Joanna Alice Cole Kubesch, 16 October 1963. (Kokomo Tribune)
Major Sidney J. Kubesch, U.S. Air Force, with his wife, Joanna Alice Cole Kubesch, at RAF Greenham Common, 16 October 1963. (Kokomo Tribune)

16 October 1963: Operation Greased Lightning. Major Sidney J. Kubesch, Major John Barrett and Captain Gerard Williamson flew from Tokyo, Japan, to London England, non-stop, in 8 hours, 35 minutes, 20.4 seconds. Their airplane was a Convair B-58A-20-CF Hustler, serial number 61-2059, named Greased Lightning. It was assigned to the 305th Bombardment Wing, 19th Air Division, at Bunker Hill Air Force Base, Indiana.

Five inflight refuelings were required to complete the flight. The bomber had to slow from its supersonic cruise to rendezvous with the tankers. The B-58’s average speed was 692.71 miles per hour (1,114.81 kilometers per hour). The speed from Tokyo to Anchorage, Alaska was 3 hours, 9 minutes, 42 seconds at an average 1,093.4 miles per hour (1,759.7 kilometers per hour); and speed from Anchorage to London, 5 hours, 24 minutes, 54 seconds at 826.9 miles per hour (1.330.8 kilometers per hour).

Greased Lightning‘s speed record still stands.

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 08.56.36The three crewmen were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Major Sidney Kubesch, Aircraft Commander, John Barrett, Navigator and Gerard Williamson. (Kokomo Tribune)
Major Sidney J. Kubesch, Aircraft Commander, Major John Barrett, Navigator and Captain Gerard Williamson. (Kokomo Tribune)

The 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 is a delta-winged configuration similar to the Convair 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 an overall height of 31 feet 5 inches (9.576 meters). The wing’s 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, and 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 a W-39 warhead, and/or Mk.43 or B61 nuclear bombs. The W-39 warhead, the same used with the Redstone IRBM or Snark cruise missile, was carried in a jettisonable centerline pod, which also carried fuel for the aircraft. The smaller bombs were carried on underwing hardpoints. For defense, there was a General Electric M61 Vulcan 20×102 mm six-barreled rotary cannon mounted in the tail, with 1,200 rounds of linked ammunition, controlled by the Defensive Systems Officer.

Convair B-58A-20 CF 61-2059 is in the collection of the Strategic Air and Space Museum, Ashland, Nebraska.

Convair B-58A-20-CF 61-2059, “Greased Lightning,” at the Strategic Air and Space Museum, Ashland, Nebraska. (SASM)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 October 1952

Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress 49-230 takes off for the first time, at Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington, 2 October 1952. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

2 October 1952: The Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress prototype, 49-230, made its first flight at Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington, with test pilot Alvin M. “Tex” Johnston in command.  Lieutenant Colonel Guy M. Townsend, U.S. Air Force, acted as co-pilot.

The first of two prototype long-range, high-altitude, heavy bombers, the XB-52 had been damaged during ground testing and extensive repairs were required, which delayed its initial flight. The second prototype, YB-52 49-231, made the type’s first flight nearly six months earlier, on 15 April 1952.

Alvin M. “Tex” Johnston, test pilot, after the first flight of the Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress prototype, 2 October 1952. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

The prototype Stratofortress the largest jet aircraft built up to that time. It was 152.7 feet (46.543 meters) long with a wingspan of 185.0 feet, (56.388 meters) and 48.25 feet (14.707 meters) to the top of the vertical fin. The leading edges of the wings were swept back 36° 54′.  The XB-52 had an empty weight of 155,200 pounds (70,398 kilograms) and its maximum takeoff weight was 390,000 pounds (176,901 kilograms). Fuel capacity was 27,417 gallons (103,785 liters).

Lieutenant Colonel Guy M. Townsend, U.S. Air Force. (Jet Pilot Overseas)
Lieutenant Colonel Guy M. Townsend, U.S. Air Force. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

The XB-52 was powered by eight Pratt & Whitney YJ57-P-3 turbojet engines, with a normal power rating of 8,700 pounds static thrust at Sea Level (38.700 kilonewtons). The prototype bomber had  a cruising speed of 519 miles per hour (835 kilometers per hour), and a maximum speed of 611 miles per hour (983 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,048 meters). The planned bombing altitude was 46,500 feet (14,173 meters) and it had a service ceiling of 52,300 feet (15,941 meters). The XB-52 had an initial rate of climb of 4,550 feet per minute (23.11 meters per second) at Sea Level. Its maximum unrefueled range was 7,015 miles (11,290 kilometers).

Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress 49-230. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress 49-230. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing XB-51 Stratofortress 49-230 with a North American F-86 Sabre chase plane. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress 49-230 with a North American F-86 Sabre chase plane. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress 49-230. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress 49-230. (U.S. Air Force)

In its original configuration, the XB-52 was armed with two .50-caliber machine guns in a turret in the tail, with 600 rounds of ammunition per gun, though these guns were not installed on 49-230. The XB-52 was designed to carry a single 25,200 pound (11,431 kilogram) T-28E2 Samson bomb, or other conventional or nuclear weapons.

XB-52 49-230 was used in flight testing for its entire service life. The airplane was scrapped in the mid-1960s.

744 B-52 bombers were built by Boeing at Seattle, Washington and Wichita, Kansas, with the final one, B-52H-175-BW 61-0040, rolled out 22 June 1962.

75 B-52H Stratofortresses are still in service with the United States Air Force.

Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress 49-230 (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress 49-230 with two Pratt & Whitney J75 turbojets in single-engine nacelles on the outer pylons, circa 1959. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017 Bryan R. Swopes

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29 September 1965

After decades sitting outside, the Strategic Air Command’s very first operational Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, RB-52B-15-BO 52-8711, is now in a protected environment.

29 September 1965: Ten years after it entered service, the first operational Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, RB-52B-15-BO 52-8711, was retired to the Strategic Aerospace Museum, Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.

The first operational B-52 Stratofortress, RB-52B-15-BO 52-8711. (U.S. Air Force)
The first operational B-52 Stratofortress, RB-52B-15-BO 52-8711. (U.S. Air Force)

52-8711 had arrived at Castle Air Force Base, California, 29 June 1955, and was assigned to the 93rd Bombardment Wing (Heavy). It later served with the 22nd Bombardment Wing (Heavy) at March Air Force Base, California.

Boeing RB-52B-15-BO Stratofortress 52-8711, 22 Bombardment Wing (Heavy), March AFB, 1965. Compare this photograph to the image above. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 September 1964

North American Aviation XB70A-1-NA 62-001 takes off for the first time, 21 September 1964. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation XB70A-1-NA 62-0001 takes off for the first time, 21 September 1964. (U.S. Air Force)

21 September 1964: The first prototype North American Aviation XB-70A-1-NA Valkyrie, serial number 62-0001, flown by Chief Test Pilot Alvin S. White and Colonel Joseph F. Cotton, U.S. Air Force, made its first flight from Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, to Edwards Air Force Base.

Originally a prototype Mach 3 strategic bomber, 62-0001 (also known as AV-1) and it’s sister ship, XB-70A-2-NA, 62-0207, (AV-2), were built and used by the Air Force and NASA as high-speed research aircraft. The third Valkyrie, XB-70B-NA 62-0208 (AV-3), was never completed.

Major Joseph F. Cotton, USAF, and Alvin S. White, North American Aviation, with the XB-70A Valkyrie. (Autographed photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, TEST & RESEARCH PILOTS, FLIGHT TEST ENGINEERS)
Colonel Joseph F. Cotton, USAF, and Alvin S. White, North American Aviation, with an XB-70A Valkyrie. (Autographed photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, TEST & RESEARCH PILOTS, FLIGHT TEST ENGINEERS)

The B-70 was designed as a high-altitude Mach 3 strategic bomber armed with thermonuclear bombs. The XB-70A is 196 feet, 6 inches (59.893 meters) long with a wingspan of 105 feet (32.004 meters) and an overall height of 30 feet, 8 inches (9.347 meters) . It weighs 231,215 pounds (104,877 kilograms) empty and has a maximum takeoff weight of 534,792 pounds (242,578 kilograms).

The XB-70A was powered by six General Electric YJ93-GE-3 single-spool, axial-flow turbojet engines, which used an 11-stage compressor and two-stage turbine. The engine required a special heat-resistant JP-6 fuel, and was rated at 22,000 pounds of thrust (97.86 kilonewtons), or 31,000 pounds (137.90 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The YJ93-GE-3 was 19 feet, 7.0 inches (5.969 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.0 inches (1.397 meters) in diameter, and weighed 5,200 pounds 2,359 kilograms).

A Boeing B-52 Stratofortress flies formation with North American Aviation XB-70A Valkyrie 62-0001, approaching the runway at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)

The XB-70A had a maximum speed of Mach 3.1 (2,056 miles per hour, or 3,309 kilometers per hour). At 35,000 feet (10,668 meters), it could reach Mach 1.90 (1,254 miles per hour, or 2,018 kilometers per hour), and at its service ceiling of 75,550 feet (23,012 meters), it had a maximum speed of Mach 3.00 (1,982 miles per hour, or 3,190 kilometers per hour). The planned combat range for the production  bomber was 3,419 miles (5,502 kilometers) with a maximum range of 4,290 miles (6,904 kilometers).

North American Aviation XB-70A Valkyrie 62-0001 made 83 flights with a total of 160 hours, 16 minutes flight time. 62-0001 is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

North American Aviation XB-70A Valkyrie 62-0001 lands at Edwards Air Force Base at the end of its first flight, 21 September 1964. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation XB-70A-1-NA Valkyrie 62-0001 just before landing at Runway 4 Right, Edwards Air Force Base, ending of its first flight, 21 September 1964. A Piasecki HH-21B rescue helicopter hovers over the adjacent taxiway. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 September 1958

Avro Vulcan VX770.
The first of two prototypes, Avro Type 698 VX770. (BAE Systems)

20 September 1958: The first prototype Avro Vulcan strategic bomber, VX770, piloted by Rolls-Royce test pilot Keith R. Sturt, was on a test flight from the Rolls-Royce Flight Test Establishment, RAF Hucknall, when it diverted to make a scheduled fly-past for an air show being held at RAF Syerstone in Nottinghamshire. Also aboard were Co-Pilot Ronald W. Ward of Fairey Aviation; Rolls-Royce Flight Engineer William E. Howkins; and Navigator, Flight Lieutenant Raymond M. (“Polly”) Parrott, Royal Air Force.

VX770 approched RAF Syerstone at 12:57 p.m. (GMT) and flew east along Runway 07-25 at about 250 feet (76 meters). As the Vulcan passed the control tower at an estimated speed of 350 knots, it began a right turn.

Seen from below, VX770 shows the full delta wing of the prototype. Production aircraft used a modified wing with curved leading edges in order to delay compressibility effects at high speeds. (Unattributed)
Seen from below, VX770 shows the full delta wing of the prototypes. Production aircraft used a modified wing with curved leading edges in order to delay compressibility effects at high speeds. (Unattributed)

Witnesses saw a “kink” form in the leading edge of the Vulcan’s right wing, which then began to disintegrate from the leading edge aft. Wing surface panels could be seen being stripped off before the wing spar failed completely. Clouds of fuel from ruptured tanks trailed as the bomber rolled to the left. The top of the vertical fin came off, the nose pitched upward toward vertical, then straight down, and with both wings on fire, the airplane crashed near the east end of the runway.

All four crew members were killed as were three RAF fire/rescue personnel on the ground. Several others were injured.

The right wing of Avro Vulcan VX770 disintegrates.
The right wing of Avro Vulcan VX770 disintegrates. (© Mary Evans/The National Archives, London, England)
Clouds of vaporized fuel trail the doomed bomber.
Clouds of vaporized fuel trail the doomed bomber. (Unattributed)
Vulcan VX770 crashed at the east end of Runway 07-25.
Vulcan VX770 crashed at the east end of Runway 07-25. Debris spread over 1,400 feet (427 meters). (MEV-10473694 © Mary Evans/The National Archives, London, England)

A short video clip of the fly-by and crash can be seen on You Tube:

The cause of the Vulcan’s wing failure was not determined. Metal fatigue was suspected. The airplane had been used in flight testing for six years and it is possible that it’s design limits may have been exceeded. There was also speculation that vibrations from the new Rolls-Royce Conway “bypass turbojet” engine, which is now called a turbofan, may have weakened the wing.

According to the investigative report, Keith Sturt (b. 20 April 1929) was considered to be an “above average” and “capable and careful” pilot. He had accumulated 1,644 hours of flight over six years. He had flown VX770 for 91 hours, 40 minutes. Sturt was a former Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force, having been inducted into the service in 1945.

VX770 was the first of two Type 698 prototypes built by A.V. Roe & Co., Ltd., at Woodford, Cheshire. It made its first flight 30 August 1951 with Chief Test Pilot R.J. “Roly” Falk. Originally equipped with Rolls-Royce Avon R.A.3 turbojet engines, these were soon replaced with more powerful Armstrong Siddely Sapphire A.S.Sa.6 engines. During modification in 1953, fuel cells were added to the wings. As production airplanes were built with Bristol Olympus Mk.102 engines, VX770 was modified accordingly. During its final flight, Rolls-Royce Conway RCo.10 turbofan engines were installed.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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