Charlie Hooker, who flew the supersonic Convair B-58 Hustler for the U.S. Air Force’s Strategic Air Command, will speak about his career and experiences in the cockpit on Thursday, October 20, at 7 p.m. as part of the EAA Aviation Museum Aviation Adventure Speaker Series.
Charlie was a member of the Air Force ROTC at Mississippi State, graduating in 1956, and then entered Air Force pilot training. He initially flew the F-86F Sabre before entering SAC and flying the B-47 Stratojet for about four years. In 1963, he began flying the B-58 at Carswell Air Force in Fort Worth, Texas. Following his time at the controls of the Hustler (which included a move from Carswell AFB to Little Rock AFB), Charlie flew the FB-111, and then was involved with the B-1 Lancer testing program in the 1970s.
First flying in 1956, the delta-winged B-58 was the first operational bomber capable of Mach 2 speeds, and was designed to replace the B-47. When initially designed, the Hustler’s mission was fly at high altitudes to avoid Soviet interceptors, but the development of Soviet surface-to-air missiles capable of reaching those altitudes forced the Air Force to transition the aircraft into a low-altitude penetration role for which it wasn’t well-suited. Because of this and its high operational cost, the B-58 served only 10 years in an operational capacity, from 1960 to 1970. All that being said, the aircraft was ahead of its time, and one Charlie very much wanted to fly.
“They were doing the speed records [with the B-58] at that time and I like going fast,” Charlie said. “I was in an old hog, the B-47, and was not really enjoying it. We were pulling a lot of nuclear alert. … This is kind of a funny, interesting story, but there was a sergeant over at SAC headquarters named Overcast. Pretty good name for an Air Force sergeant. So somebody said, ‘Go talk to Sergeant Overcast and take him a case of beer and he can work you into this thing.’ Instead of working through the ranks and the colonels and all that stuff, I went to see Sergeant Overcast and I said, ‘I’m going to be eligible to do this [fly the B-58] at this date in 1963,’ and he said, ‘Well, it looks like you’re eligible. I’ll see what I can do for you.’ This guy got me into the B-58 program.”
Transitioning from the subsonic B-47 to one of the fastest aircraft in the world was a bit of an adjustment for Charlie, but in his years at the controls of the Hustler he came to enjoy flying it immensely.
“I enjoyed flying the airplane,” he said. “The airplane itself handled beautifully. The difference was in the speed that things happened. It was a single-pilot airplane. Your pseudo co-pilot was the defensive systems operator who sat in the third station back there and operated the electronics, the gun. But he acted as a co-pilot in that airplane and really helped you with monitoring the center of gravity and things of that nature. But flying that thing was a hoot. I mean, the speed was the key to the thing. If you were nervous on final at 220 knots, you probably shouldn’t be flying the airplane. That’s what really weeded most guys out. They either didn’t want to do it or didn’t have the talent to do it.”
Flying the B-58 for five years from 1963 to 1968, Charlie accumulated about 1,500 hours in the aircraft and eventually became an instructor before moving on to the FB-111.
Thursday’s event is free for EAA members and youths 5 and under, and just $5 for nonmembers.