Tag Archives: Transcontinental Flight

11 March–6 April 1949

Lieutenant Stewart R. Graham, USCG, in cockpit of Sikorsky HNS-1 near Gander, Newfoundland, September 1946. (U.S. Coast Guard)
Lieutenant Stewart R. Graham, USCG, in cockpit of Sikorsky HNS-1 near Gander, Newfoundland, September 1946. (U.S. Coast Guard)

April 6, 1949: Lieutenant Stewart Ross Graham, United States Coast Guard, and his crewman, Aviation Metalsmith 2nd Class (AM2) Robert McAuliffe, completed the longest unescorted helicopter flight on record. They flew a Sikorsky HO3S-1G, serial number 51-234, from the Coast Guard Air Station, Elizabeth, New Jersey, to Coast Guard Air Station Port Angeles, Washington, via San Diego, California, covering a distance of 3,750 miles (6,035 kilometers) in 57.6 flight hours over 11 days.

Lieutenant Graham was the first pilot to fly a helicopter from a ship. On 16 January 1944, he flew a Sikorsky YR-4B, serial number 46445, from the deck of a British freighter, SS Daghestan, while in convoy from New York to Liverpool. After 30 minutes, he returned to the freighter. He was a pioneer in the use of the helicopter by the Coast Guard and the Navy.

U.S. Coast Guard Sikorsky HO3S-1G 51-232. (U.S. Coast Guard)
U.S. Coast Guard Sikorsky HO3S-1G 51-232, sister ship of 51-234. (U.S. Coast Guard)

The HO3S (Sikorsky S-51) was a second-generation helicopter, capable of carrying a pilot and up to three passengers. The cabin was built of aluminum with Plexiglas windows. The fuselage was built of plastic-impregnated plywood, and the tail boom was wood monocoque construction.

The main rotor consisted of three fully-articulated blades built of metal spars and plywood ribs and covered with two layers of fabric. (All metal blades soon became available.) The three bladed semi-articulated tail rotor was built of laminated wood. The main rotor turned counter-clockwise, as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) The tail rotor was mounted on the helicopter’s left side in a pusher configuration. It turned clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left.

The helicopter’s fuselage was 41 feet, 7.5 inches (12.687 meters). The main rotor had a diameter of 48 feet (14.630 meters) and tail rotor diameter was 8 feet, 5 inches (2.2.565 meters) giving the helicopter an overall length of 57 feet, 1 inch (17.399 meters). It was 13 feet, 1.5 inches (4.001 meters) high. The landing gear tread was 12 feet (3.7 meters).

The S-51 had an empty weight of 4,050 pounds (1,837.05 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 5,500 pounds (2,494.76 kilograms). Fuel capacity was 100 gallons (378.5 liters).

The helicopter was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 986.749-cubic-inch-displacement (16.170 liter) Pratt & Whitney R-985 AN-5 (Wasp Jr. T1B4) direct-drive,  nine-cylinder radial engine which was placed vertically in the fuselage behind the crew compartment. This engine had a compression ratio of 6:1 and was rated at 450 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m., Standard Day at Sea Level. The R-985 AN-5 was 48.00 inches (1.219 meters) long, 46.25 inches (1.175 meters) in diameter and weighed 684 pounds (310.3 kilograms) with a magnesium crankcase.

The S-51 had a maximum speed (Vne) of 107 knots (123.1 miles per hour/198.2 kilometers per hour). Range was 275 miles (442.6 kilometers). The service ceiling was 14,800 feet (4,511 meters). The absolute hover ceiling was 3,000 feet (914.4 meters).

Sikorsky built 220 helicopter of the S-51 series.

U.S. Coast Guard HO3S-1G, serial number 51-238, sister ship of LT Graham’s record-setting helicopter. (USCG/Smithsonian Institution)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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9 March 1955

Lieutenant Richard Hill and Lieutenant Colonel Robert R. Scott (in cockpit) after their record-breaking transcontinental flight. (Unattributed)
Lieutenant Colonel Robert R. Scott in the cockpit of his Republic F-84F Thunderstreak. (Unattributed)

9 October 1955: Lieutenant Colonel Robert Ray Scott, United States Air Force, commanding officer, 510th Fighter Bomber Squadron, 405th Fighter Bomber Wing, Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, with Major Robert C. Ruby and Captain Charles T. Hudson, flew their Republic F-84F Thunderstreaks non-stop from Los Angeles Airport (LAX), on the southern California coastline, to overhead Floyd Bennett Field, New York. The elapsed time for the Colonel Scott’s flight was 3 hours, 46 minutes, 33.6 seconds. Two in-flight refuelings from Boeing KB-29 tankers were required.

A Republic F-84F-35-RE Thunderstreak, 52-7043, of the 405th Fighter Bomber Wing, Langley AFB, Virginia, 1955. (U.S. Air Force)
A Republic F-84F-35-RE Thunderstreak, 52-7043, of the 405th Fighter Bomber Wing, Langley AFB, Virginia, 1955. (U.S. Air Force)

A newspaper article from the following day describes the event:

2 Des Moines Pilots Break Speed Record

NEW YORK (AP) — Two air force pilots from Des Moines broke the speed record from Los Angeles to New York Wednesday, making a nonstop flight in less than four hours.

Lt. Col. Robert R. Scott, 34, flying a Republic F-84F Thunderstreak jet fighter, turned in the fastest time — 3 hours 46 minutes and 33 seconds. He averaged 649 miles an hour.

Just one minute behind was another Des Moines pilot, Maj. Robert C. Ruby, 32. His time was 3:47:33.

The old mark for the 2,445-mile route was 4:06:16, set Jan 2, 1954, by an air national guard pilot.

Refueling Slow

The pilots said they could have made faster time except for slow and obsolete in-flight refueling tanker planes.

A third pilot who shattered the old mark is Capt. Charles T. Hudson, 33, of Gulfport, Miss., who made the flight in 3:49:53.

Eight air force Thunderstreaks left Los Angeles in a mass assault on the record. Five dropped out through failure to make contact with refueling planes or other reasons. All reportedly landed safely.

While setting a Los Angeles–New York record, Scott failed to beat the navy’s time from San Diego, Calif., to New York — 2,438 miles, or seven miles shorter than Wednesday’s flight.

Flew Cougar Jet

Lt. Comdr. Francis X. Brady, 33, of Virginia Beach, Va., flew from San Diego in 3:45:30 on April 1, 1954, flying a Grumman F9F Cougar.

The air force planes flew at about 40,000 feet.

“The tankers used for refueling are much too obsolete and too old,” Scott commented on landing.

The jets had to slow to 200 m.p.h. from almost 650 to take on fuel.

Scott said he refueled twice — once near La Junta, Colo., and once near Rantoul, Ill.

Others Agree

Ruby and Hudson also said they could have made faster time if the tank planes were more modern.

Hudson and Ruby carried extra gas tanks and made one in-flight refueling each. Scott carried no extra gas and had two in-flight refuelings.

1st Lt. James E. Colson of Middleboro, Ky., tried to make it with no refueling. He got as far as Pittsburgh, Pa.

Of the other four unable to complete the flight, one dropped out in California, two in Kansas and one at Sedalia, Mo. 

The Daily Iowan, Thursday, March 10, 1955, Page 1, Column 1

Cockpit of Republic F-84F-10-RE Thunderstreak 51-1405. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Colonel Robert R. Scott, U.S. Air Force, 5 March 1955. (U.S. Air Force photograph)
Lieutenant Colonel Robert R. Scott, U.S. Air Force, 5 March 1955. (U.S. Air Force photograph)

Robert Ray Scott was born at Des Moines, Iowa, 1 November 1920. He was the first of two children of Ray Scott, a railroad worker, and Elva M. Scott. He graduated from North High School in Des Moines, January 1939. He studied aeronautical engineering at the University of Iowa for two years before he enlisted as an Aviation Cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps, 15 August 1941. Scott was 5 feet, 7 inches (1.70 meters) tall and weighed 144 pounds (65.3 kilograms). He was trained as a pilot and and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, 16 March 1942. He was assigned as an instructor pilot in California, and was promoted to 1st Lieutenant 15 December 1942.

Scott was transferred to the 426th Night Fighter Squadron, 14th Air Force, flying the Northrop P-61 Black Widow in India and China. He was promoted to captain, 3 May 1944, and to major, 16 August 1945. Major Scott was credited with shooting down two enemy aircraft. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal.

Captain Robert Ray Scott (back row, second from left) with the 426th Night Fighter Squadron, 14th Air Force, Chengdu, China 1944. The airplane is a Northrop P-61 Black Widow. (U.S. Air Force)

Following World War II, Major Scott returned to the University of Iowa to complete his bachelor’s degree. He also earned two master’s degrees.

In 1952 he graduated from the Air Force test pilot school at Edwards Air Force Base, then served as a project pilot on the North American F-86D all-weather interceptor. Later he was a project officer at Edwards AFB on the Republic F-105 Thunderchief Mach 2 fighter-bomber.

Scott flew the North American Aviation F-86F Sabre during the Korean War. From January to July 1953, he flew 117 combat missions. From 1953 to 1956, Lieutenant Colonel Scott commanded the 405th Fighter Bomber Wing, Tactical Air Command, at Langley Air force base, Virginia.

Scott was promoted to the rank of Colonel in 1960.

Colonel Robert R. Scott, commander, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, checks the bombs loaded on a multiple ejector rack while preflighting his Republic F-105 Thunderchief. (U.S. Air Force)

During the Vietnam War, Colonel Scott commanded the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, flying 134 combat missions in the Republic F-105 Thunderchief. On 26 March 1967 he shot down an enemy MiG-17 fighter near Hanoi with the 20 mm M61 Vulcan cannon of his F-105D-6-RE, 59-1772, making him only the second Air Force pilot with air combat victories in both World War II and Vietnam.

Colonel Scott’s final commanding was the 832nd Air Division, 12th Air Force, at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico. He retired 1 September 1970 after 29 years of military service.

Colonel Robert Ray Scott flew 305 combat missions in three wars.During his Air Force career, Colonel Scott was awarded four Silver Star medals, three Legion of Merit medals, six Distinguished Flying Crosses and 16 Air Medals. He died at Tehachapi, California, 3 October 2006 at the age of 86 years. He is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.

Republic F-84F-1-RE Thunderstreak 51-1346. (U.S. Air Force)

The Republic F-84F Thunderstreak was an improved, swept-wing version of the straight-wing F-84 Thunderjet fighter bomber. The first production Thunderstreak, 51-1346, flew for the first time, 22 May 1952, with company test pilot Russell M. (Rusty”) Roth in the cockpit. The F-84F was 43 feet, 4¾ inches (13.227 meters) long with a wingspan of 33 feet, 7¼ inches (10.243 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 4¾ inches (4.388 meters). It had an empty weight if 14,014 pounds (6,357 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 28,000 pounds (12,701 kilograms).

The initial F-84F-1-RE aircraft were powered by a Wright J65-W-1 turbojet, a license-built variant of the British Armstrong Siddely Sapphire. Later versions used Wright J65-W-3 and J65-W-7, or Buick J65-B-3 or J65-B-7 engines. The J65-B-3 was a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet with a 13-stage compressor section and 2-stage turbine. It produced 7,200 pounds of thrust (32.03 kilonewtons) at 8,200 r.p.m. The J65-B-3 was 9 feet, 7.0 inches (2.921 meters) long, 3 feet, 1.5 inches (0.953 meters) in diameter, and weighed 2,696 pounds (1,223 kilograms).

Republic F-84F-1-RE Thunderstreak 51-1346, the first production airplane, at Farmingdale, New York, 1952. (Republic Aviation Corporation)

The F-84F had a maximum speed of 695 miles per hour (1,118 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 658 miles per hour (1,059 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet. The fighter bomber could climb at 8,200 feet per minute (41.7 meters per second). Its service ceiling was 46,000 feet (14,021 meters).

Armament consisted of six Browning .50-caliber (12.7 × 99 NATO) AN-M3 aircraft machine guns, with two mounted in the wings and four in the nose. Up to 6,000 pounds (2,722 kilograms) of bombs and rockets could be carried under the wings. A variable-yield Mark 7 tactical nuclear weapon could also be carried.

Between 1952 and 1957, 2,112 F-84F Thunderstreaks were built by Republic at Farmingdale, New York, and by General Motors at Kansas City, Kansas. The Thunderstreak served with the United States Air Force and Air National Guard until 1971.

Republic F-84F-55-RE Thunderstreak at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S Air Force)
First Lieutenant Richard Bach, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of a Republic F-84F-35-RE Thunderstreak, 52-6490, at Chaumont Air Base, France, 1962. Richard Bach is the author of the classic aviation novel, “Stranger to the Ground.” (Jet Pilot Overseas)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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6 March 1990

Completing its final flight, Lockheed SR-71A 61-7972, flown by Lieutenant Colonel Raymond E. Yeilding and Lieutenant Colonel Joseph T. Vida, arrives at Washington Dulles International Airport, 6 March 1990, where it was turned over to the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.
Completing its final flight, Lockheed SR-71A 61-7972, flown by Lieutenant Colonel Raymond E. Yeilding and Lieutenant Colonel Joseph T. Vida, arrives at Washington Dulles International Airport, 6 March 1990, where it was turned over to the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.

6 March 1990: On its final flight, Lieutenant Colonel Raymond E. (“Ed”) Yeilding and Lieutenant Colonel Joseph T. (“J.T.”) Vida established four National Aeronautic Association and three Fédération Aéronautique Internationale speed records with a Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird, U.S. Air Force serial number 61-7972.

Departing Air Force Plant 42 (PMD) at Palmdale, California, Yeilding and Vida headed offshore to refuel from a Boeing KC-135Q Stratotanker so that the Blackbird’s fuel tanks would be full before beginning their speed run. 972 entered the “west gate,” a radar reference point over Oxnard on the southern California coast, then headed east to Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) at Washington, D.C.

The transcontinental flight, a distance of 2,404.05 statute miles (3,868.94 kilometers), took 1 hour, 7 minutes, 53.69 seconds, for an average of 2,124.51 miles per hour (3,419.07 kilometers per hour).

Ben Rich, director of Lockheed's Advanced Development Projects ("Skunk Works") congratulates LCOL Ed Yeilding and LCOL J.T. Vida on their record-setting flight. (Unattributed)
Ben Rich, director of Lockheed’s Advanced Development Projects (“Skunk Works”), congratulates LCOL Ed Yeilding  (center) and LCOL J.T. Vida on their record-setting flight. (© Tony Landis)

Intermediate closed-course records were also established: Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., 2,299.67 miles (3,700.96 kilometers), 1:04:19.89, averaging 2,144.83 m.p.h  (3,451.77 km/h).; Kansas City to Washington, D.C., 942.08 miles (1,516.13 km), 25:58.53, 2,176.08 m.p.h. (3,502.06 km/h); and St. Louis to Cincinnati, 311.44 miles (501.21 km), 8:31.97, 2,189.94 m.p.h. (3,524.37 km/h).

Flight record data for 972's record-setting transcontinental flight, prepared by V.A. Wright, ADP, LASC.
Flight record data for 972’s record-setting transcontinental flight, prepared by V.A. Wright, Advanced Development Projects, Lockheed Aeronautical Systems Company.

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 10.20.01Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 10.21.35Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 10.22.43Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 10.23.55This same SR-71 had previously set a speed record from New York to London of 1:54:56.4, averaging 1,806.957 m.p.h. (2,908.015 km/h). (It had to slow for inflight refueling.) Next, 972 set a record flying London to Los Angeles, 5,446.87 miles (8765.89 km), in 3 hours, 47 minutes, 39 seconds, averaging 1,435.49 m.p.h. (2,310.19 km/h). It also established an altitude record of 85,069 feet (25,929 meters).

This was 61-7972’s final flight. The total time on its airframe was 2,801.1 hours.

61-7972 is on display at the Steven V. Udvar-Hazy Center, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.

Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird 61-7972 at the Steven V. Udvar-Hazy Center, Smithsonian NASM
Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird 61-7972 at the Steven V. Udvar-Hazy Center, Smithsonian NASM

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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6 March 1965

The crew of the record-setting Sikorsky SH-3A Sea King, Dawdling Dromedary, aboard USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA-42), 6 March 1965. Left to right, ADJ1 Paul J. Bert, Lieutenant David A. Biel, Commander James R. Williford. (U.S. Navy)
The crew of the record-setting Sikorsky SH-3A Sea King, Dawdling Dromedary, aboard USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA-42), 6 March 1965. Left to right, ADJ1 Paul J. Bert, Lieutenant David A. Biel, Commander James R. Williford. (U.S. Navy)

6 March 1965: A U.S. Navy/Sikorsky SH-3A Sea King helicopter named Dawdling Dromedary, piloted by Commander James R. Williford and Lieutenant David A. Beil, with Aviation Machinist Mate 1st Class Paul J. Bert, took off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CVS-12), alongside at NAS North Island, San Diego California, at 4:18 a.m., Pacific Standard Time, (12:18 UTC) and flew non-stop, without refueling, to land aboard another aircraft carrier, USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA-42), off Mayport, Florida, at 11:10 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (04:10 UTC). The distance flown was 3,388.70 kilometers (2,105.64 miles) with an elapsed time of 16 hours, 52 minutes, and set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Distance Without Landing.¹ This exceeded the previous record distance by more than 750 miles (1,207 kilometers).²

On takeoff, Dawdling Dromedary had a gross weight of 23,000 pounds (10,433 kilograms), about 4,000 pounds (1,814 kilograms over its normal operating weight. Its fuel load was 1,690 gallons (6,397 liters) and it had only 60 gallons (227 liters) remaining on landing.

After clearing Guadalupe Pass between Carlsbad, New Mexico, and El Paso, Texas, (5,414 feet, 1650 meters) the crew shut down one the the SH-3A’s two turboshaft engines in an effort to reduce fuel consumption. They flew on a single engine for 9½ hours, restarting the second engine as they descended through 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) over Jacksonville, Florida.

The flight crew of the Sikorsky SH-3A Sea King, Dawdling Dromedary, Bu. No. 14xxxx. (FAI)
The flight crew of the Sikorsky SH-3A Sea King, Dawdling Dromedary, Bu. No. 14xxxx. Left to right, ADJ1 Paul J. Bert, CDR James R. Williford and LT David A. Beil. (FAI)

Commander Williford, head of the Rotary Wing Branch, Flight Test Division, at the Naval Air Test Center, NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, was quoted in Naval Aviation News for the May 1965 issue:

“Since weight counted, the heater had been removed. We therefore wore rubber boots, long underwear, etc., but still were thoroughly chilled upon arrival. The temperature at 15,000 feet [4,572 meters] was -11° [-23.9 °C.] that night.

“The C-131 chase aircraft crew was amazed at our accuracy of navigation with a lone omni. Actually, it was such a clear day it was the old type of piloting, that is, ‘just north of that reservoir’ or ‘one mile south of that city,’ etc. We flew through mountain passes until Guadalupe, thence great circle route to Mayport.

“For the trip, +10 knots [18.5 kilometers per hour] tailwind average was needed, and it appeared we weren’t going to make it for the first 8–9 hours because we were behind in our time vs. distance plot. But as we climbed higher—climbing being limited by retreating blade stall—we gained stronger and more favorable winds. By the time we reached Valdosta, Georgia, we had about 35 knots [64.8 kilometers per hour] pushing us. That was a nice feature because the Okefenokee Swamp at night is no place for an autorotation with empty fuel tanks.”

—Commander James R. Williford, United States Navy, Naval Aviation News, May 1965, NavWeps No. 00-75R-3, at Pages 8–9.

Dawdling Dromedary is the same Sikorsky SH-3A that set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world speed record for helicopters of 339 kilometers per hour (210.6 miles per hour), 5 February 1962, flown by Lieutenant Robert W. Crafton, USN, and Captain Louis K. Keck, USMC.³

The Sikorsky SH-3A Sea King was the first of the S-61 series of military and civil helicopters, designated as HSS-2 until 1962. It is a large twin-engine helicopter with a single main rotor/tail rotor configuration. The fuselage is designed to allow landing on water. The XHSS-2 made its first flight 11 March 1959. The helicopter was originally used as an anti-submarine helicopter.

The SH-3A is 72 feet, 7 inches (22.123 meters) long and 16 feet, 10 inches (5.131 meters) high with all rotors turning. The main rotors and tail can be folded for more compact storage aboard aircraft carriers, shortening the aircraft to 46 feet, 6 inches (14.173 meters). The main rotor has five blades and a diameter of 62 feet (18.898 meters). Each blade has a chord of 1 foot, 6.25 inches (0.464 meters). The tail rotor also has five blades and a diameter of 10 feet, 4 inches (3.150 meters). They each have a chord of 7–11/32 inches (0.187 meters). At 100% NR, the main rotor turns 203 r.p.m. and the tail rotor, 1,244 r.p.m.

The SH-3A was powered by two General Electric T58-GE-6 turboshaft engines, which had a Normal Power rating of 900 horsepower, and Military Power rating of 1,050 horsepower. The main transmission was rated for 2,300 horsepower, maximum. (Later models were built with more powerful T58-GE-8 engines. Early aircraft were retrofitted.)

The SH-3A has a cruise speed of 125 knots (144 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and a maximum speed of 135 knots (155 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. The service ceiling is 14,000 feet (4,267 meters). The design maximum gross weight is 16,237 pounds (7,365 kilograms). The SH-3A had a combat endurance of 4 hours.

In 1962, the HSS-2 was redesignated SH-3A Sea King. Many early production aircraft have remained in service and have been upgraded through SH-3D, SH-3G, etc. In addition to the original ASW role, the Sea Kings have been widely used for Combat Search and Rescue operations. Marine One, the call sign for the helicopters assigned to the President of the United States, are VH-3D Sea Kings.

Sikorsky produced the last S-61 helicopter in 1980, having built 794. Production has been licensed to manufacturers in England, Italy, Canada and Japan. They have produced an additional 679 Sea Kings.

Sikorsky SH-3A Sea King, Bu. No. 14xxxx, the Dawdling Dromedary. (FAI)
Sikorsky SH-3A Sea King, Bu. No. 14xxxx, the Dawdling Dromedary. (FAI)

¹ FAI Record File Number 2179

² FAI Record File Number 2180: 2,170.70 kilometers (1,348.81 miles), set by Captain Michael N. Antoniou, U.S. Army, flying a Bell YUH-1D Iroquois, 60-6029, from Edwards Air Force Base, California, to Rogers, Arkansas, 27 September 1964.

³ FAI Record File Number 13121. (See TDiA, 5 February 1962.)

© 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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