On 5 March 1962, 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.
Both B-58s had been assigned a block altitude of Flight Level 250 to Flight Level 500 (between 25,000 and 50,000 feet, or 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.
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.
The Cowtown Hustler ¹ 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).
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 U.S. national 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.