What Makes Those Affiliated With The B-58 So Unique?
Before encountering any new avenue of interest, we have to ask ourselves, what makes this effort special enough to invest our most valuable resource of time! Hopefully, what is presented herein can enlighten others as to why we think and operate on the cutting edge of advances in our military lives.
Were They Pioneers?
Those involved in B-58 operations helped America transcend the period where current advances in technology far outweighed the means to control the outcomes we experienced! B-58 crews were selected from other Strategic Air Command (SAC) bomb squadrons. Pilots initially trained on the F-102 to become familiar with delta wing aircraft. Training for Pilots and the Defensive System Operator (DSO) were completed in the TB-58A which had an instructor pilot station where the Bombardier-Navigator (Bomb-Nav) station was located in the B-58A bomber. Whereas the pilot and DSO received inflight instruction, they also received simulator training from their personal instructors. Conversely, the Bombardier-Navigator, called Navigator, completed all training in the B-58 simulator with his personal instructor. Without our mentors, many more individuals would have had their B-58 careers terminated for cause. Only the “best-of-the-best” possessed the physical, mental, and intellectual capabilities to develop the necessary skills and expertise just to perform routine flight activities. Thus, the first airborne experience in the B-58A Bomber was also our solo flight.
Was It “Man Against Machine”?
Even with state-of-the-art innovations, everyone involved faced challenges, and some were even unsurmountable! "Elevons" which simultaneously functioned as both elevators and ailerons were controlled by the Pilot's stick. In turn, a gimbal-mounted platform, containing an inertial gyro was used to determine the desired orientation in inertial space independent of motion to control aircraft response An additional challenge was the 15-knot crosswind maximum for touchdown. This stabilized platform depended on a very complex hydraulically actuated mechanical system that crews called the "three bicycle wreck." This system combined with analog instrumentation left much to be desired in an aircraft capable of supersonic performance. Because of an automated fuel system designed to maintain center of gravity limits, the DSO had to frequently calculate the center of gravity, especially during supersonic flight. The B-58A Navigator depended upon a radar system and computer system which utilized vacuum tube electronics. Unfortunately, overheating problems were common. For this reason, the Navigator operated the radar for only a few seconds at a time to update the aircraft position and update wind values in the navigation-bombing computer. The automated astro-tracker to provide heading, and a doppler radar system to measure ground speed, often provided inaccurate data. Whether cruising at about, 9 nautical miles per minute or supersonic at 25 miles per minute at high altitude, or flying 6 to 10 miles per minute on low level missions, accuracy is paramount. Consequently, the Navigator had to develop expertise in accomplishing dead-reckoning navigation. To calculate and confirm actual position, he use heading, airspeed, and wind speed to compute destination times in miles and minutes. This process became even more difficult for bomb delivery when working in feet and seconds. Despite these factors, we did have one advantage. The B-58 has an automatic warning system that played taped female messages in our head-sets to alert us when failures occurred.
Many trophies were won and some records still stand. With a reduced takeoff weight, the thrust-to-weight ratio of almost one to one produced a climb rate of 46,000 feet per minute! With a top speed of Mach 2+ and service ceiling of greater than 60,000 feet, numerous records were set by the B-58 Hustler, and many remain unbroken. Unfortunately, our successes came at an extremely high cost. Production of these bombers and flight operations were very expensive. Additionally, maintenance was a nightmare and time-consuming. As a result, flying time was very limited. Even when individuals accomplished their superior demanding and requirements, they were unable to overcome some consequences encountered in emergency situations. Numerous aircraft were destroyed, but even more importantly, aircrew as well as ground crew members became fatalities. Unfortunately, in some cases, even absolute perfection does not result in acceptable results! Maybe this is an why we have developed a lifelong brotherhood!