FACT: The Air Force's B-58 Bomber Never Dropped A Bomb In Anger

Robert Farley

Key Question: Why? 

In an era of fantastic aircraft, the B-58 Hustler was one of the most visually striking warplanes ever to fly. Its delta wing, giant engines, and remarkable performance gave rise to the myth that pilots could literally tear the wings off the bomber if they flew it too fast.

That wasn’t true, but the B-58 was nevertheless a difficult plane to fly. Although an engineering marvel, the Hustler suffered from appalling accident rate, high maintenance costs, and an obsolete mission profile. It would remain in service for only a decade, a dead-end in strategic bomber development.

Inception

The Hustler was a direct successor to the B-47 Stratojet in the medium bomber role. Medium bombers were expected to attack the Soviet Union from overseas bases. By the time the Hustler entered service, however, the distinction between the medium and the heavy bomber had narrowed, however. The advent of aerial refueling, combined with Air Force concerns about the security of forward airbases and the concerns of U.S. allies over the deployment of strategic nuclear weapons on their territory, meant that the B-58 would operate strictly from U.S. bases.

Convair had broken into the bombing game with the B-36 Peacemaker, which played the role of the USAF’s long-range strategic bomber for much of the 1950s. Huge and slow, the B-36 could cross oceans while carrying a hydrogen bomb, making it central to the U.S. nuclear deterrent. However, the appearance of the MiG-15 and similar Soviet interceptors rendered the B-36 utterly obsolete, and threatened to create problems even for newer jet aircraft such as the B-47 and the B-52.

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