Typically, you don’t want to be replaced by an Aardvark. Especially because it moves faster than you do. Not to mention, it changed the game for other fast flyers to follow.
It seems I’ve gotten ahead of myself and have some explaining to do….
First, hello everyone! I hope that you had a Happy Mach 1 Day! For those who are new to this written world of my own creation, I annually celebrate the first supersonic flight made by Chuck Yeager on October 14, 1947 as a day I have christened Mach 1 Day! Today, I am keeping this shockwave going with a bit of intel on the first bomber to break the sound barrier.
The Convair B-58 Hustler was the first supersonic strategic bomber, meaning it was the first airplane built to carry and drop bombs that could also exceed the speed of sound. Yep, there are bombers that go Mach 1. In fact, the Hustler could go beyond Mach 2! The point was to craft a bomber that could traverse a great distance, hit its target, and then outrace any of those pesky enemy fighter jets that were sent up in pursuit. Older bombers were too large and not designed to make haste in such a way. The Hustler could do just as its name implied, it do do do do do do do do do do the hustle on out of the dropzone. This was helped immensely by the delta wing design. Nevertheless, attaining that speed came at the cost of shedding the bulk that allowed for greater cargo capacity. Still, this sucker could pack a punch with a full fist. Five nuclear weapons could be loaded onto the bottom of the aircraft on the outside along pylons built to hold the bombs in place of a more traditional bomb bay.
The three-pilot operated Hustler was in service from 1960-1970, but it was rarely smooth sailing, er, flying. The plane was fast, but janky in flight – that is to say, difficult to keep straight. However, its greatest drawback was the price tag it accrued. Maintenance was high, and after its first year, the Hustler costs the United States government around $3 billion. That’s closer to $60 billion today. Yikes!
Despite all this, the Hustler could hightail up, up, and way in a hurry. It could make an ascent over 230 meters per second. Remember Usain Bolt’s record-breaking run of the 200m dash at the 2009 World Championships? Me either; I had to look it up to see when he set it, but I knew it was him who did it. Anyway, Bolt – the most incredibly appropriate name for any athlete – posted a still standing record run of 19.19 seconds. Now add 30 meters, climb at a steady rate, and do it 19x faster, and then we’re matching the Hustler.
Okay, obviously Usain Bolt is not a machine (or is he?… A discussion for another day), but the point is, the Hustler, extravagant mess that it was, was what it was designed to be: really fucking fast. The reason it was eventually retired from service was because the Soviet Union developed better countermeasures. Once their missile defenses more than stood a chance to take down a Hustler the United States needed a new man. Or in this case, a new African burrowing animal. The next big deal in supersonic bombers was General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark, which revolutionized not only bombers, but aircraft in general with its sweep wings (see picture):
That’s an Aardvark showing off the key feature that help it maintain steadier flight when cruising and when whipping up beyond the speed of sound.
The Aardvark had a much lengthier military run from 1967-1998 in the US, and as recently 2010 in Australia, but the Hustler is still the Usain Bolt of the supersonic bomber world. It set 19 total speed records, and still holds the record for the longest supersonic flight. In 1963, a B-58 nicknamed “Greased Lightning” flew from Tokyo to London (over the Arctic Circle), greater than 8000 miles (almost 13000 km) in 8 hours, 35 minutes, and 20.4 seconds. 8000 miles in eight and a half hours! That is even with an afterburner burning out (well, breaking down, at least) and having to reduce speed for the final hour. Amazing!
Thanks for reading! Let me know if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions by sending them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to whiz back here next week for more fun.