Tag Archives: The Firefly

3 June 1961

Major Eugene Moses, Navigator, 1st Lieutenant David F. Dickerson, Defensive Systems Officer, and Major Elmer E. Murphy, Aircraft Commander, with Colonel James K. Johnson, stand in front of the Convair B-58, The Firefly, 11 May 1961. (University of North Texas Libraries)
Major Eugene Moses, Navigator, 1st Lieutenant David F. Dickerson, Defensive Systems Officer, and Major Elmer E. “Gene” Murphy, Aircraft Commander, with Colonel James K. Johnson, stand in front of the Convair B-58, The Firefly, 11 May 1961. All three airmen were killed when their B-58 crashed at the Paris Air Show, 3 June 1961. (University of North Texas Libraries)

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.

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

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 May 1961

The flight crew of the Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451, "The Firefly," planning the Washington, D.C.-to-Paris flight, 26 May 1961. Left to right, Captain William L. Polhemus, Captain Raymond R. Wagener and Major William R. Payne. (Jet Pilot Overseas)
The flight crew of the Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451, “The Firefly,” planning the Washington, D.C.-to-Paris flight, 26 May 1961. Left to right, Captain William L. Polhemus, Captain Raymond R. Wagener and Major William R. Payne. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

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.

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451, The Firefly, lands at le Bourget, Paris, after the record-setting transatlantic flight, 26 May 1961. (University of North Texas Libraries)
Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451, The Firefly, lands at Aéroport de Paris – Le Bourget, Paris, after the record-setting transatlantic flight, 26 May 1961. (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 Mackay Trophy.
The Mackay Trophy
The Harmon International Trophy at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
The Harmon International Trophy at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

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.

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

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.

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2456 with weapons load. (U.S. Air Force)
Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2456 with weapons load. (U.S. Air Force)

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.

Convair B-58A strategic bombers in storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona. (Aviation Explorer)

¹ FAI Record File Number 4855

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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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. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

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. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

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-58’s delta wing has a total area of 1,542.5 square feet (143.3 square meters) and the leading edges are swept back at a 60° angle. The wing has an angle of incidence of 3° and 2° 14′ dihedral (outboard of Sta. 56.5).

The B-58A had an empty weight of 51,061 pounds (23161 kilograms), or 53,581 pounds (24,304 kilograms) with the MB-1 pod. The maximum takeoff weight was 158,000 pounds (71,668 kilograms).

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. It had a Normal Power rating of 9,700 pounds of thrust (43.148 kilonewtons). The Military Power rating was 10,000 pounds (44.482 kilonewtons), and it produced a maximum 15,600 pounds (69.392 kilonewtons) at 7,460 r.p.m., with afterburner. The J79-GE-5 was 16 feet, 10.0 inches (5.131 meters) long and 2 feet, 11.2 inches (0.894 meters) in diameter. It weighed 3,570 pounds (1,619 kilograms).

The bomber had a cruise speed of 544 knots (626 miles per hour/1,007 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 1,147 knots (1,320 miles per hour/2,124 kilometers per hour) at 67,000 feet (20,422 meters). The B-58A had a combat radius of 4,225 nautical miles (4,862 statute miles/7,825 kilometers). Its maximum ferry range was 8,416 nautical miles (9,685 statute miles/15,586 kilometers).

The B-58 weapons load was a combination of Mark 39, B43 or B61 thermonuclear bombs. The weapons could be carried in a jettisonable centerline pod, which also carried fuel. The four of the smaller bombs could be carried on underwing hardpoints. There was a General Electric M61 20 mm rotary cannon mounted in the tail, with 1,200 rounds of ammunition, and controlled 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. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

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

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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