Sunday, February 04, 2024

B-58 Hustler: Rolex GMT-Master 1675

The Complete History Of The Rolex GMT-Master Series

Rolex X-Files
The Right Stuff


3 Rolex GMT-Masters at Mach 2

on a Nuclear Bomber

Breaking the Sound Barrier

Newly Discovered History 
Rolex and the Right Stuff 

"Peace is our Profession" 
(Motto of the Strategic Air Command)

When the delta-winged supersonic bomber flared over France, it had flown from New York to Paris in just three hours and 19 minutes—setting a remarkable world aviation record!

It was 1961, Kennedy was President, the Beatles were playing in Liverpool, and a wall was being built in Berlin. A month earlier, a human had entered space for the first time. He was Russian. The Cold War was in full swing. 

In the U.S., Rolex GMT-Masters were strapped onto the wrists of jet pilots both in the military and at Pan Am. It took a B-707 airliner almost twice the time to cross the Atlantic than it did this sleek B-58 bomber powered by four jet engines with afterburners. 

The USAF Bomber B-58 "Hustler"

The B-58 flight to Paris not only commemorated the 34th anniversary of Charles A. Lindbergh's Atlantic crossing, which took ten times longer; it also marked the opening of the 24th Paris International Air Show. 

The B-58 crew inspects the Lindbergh plaque at Le Bourget

The trans-Atlantic record breakers, still wearing their flight suits, patched jackets, black boots and Pepsi-bezeled Rolex watches, would kneel next to the Lindbergh plaque at Le Bourget airport in Paris, in a moment of relaxation and recognition of historic flight history nostalgia. 

The press was there, a few pictures were taken; they would make the front page of The New York Times, above the fold. 

Maj. William R. Payne, pilot, with Capt. William L. Polhemus, navigator, and Capt. Raymond R. Wagener, defense systems operator, earned both the Mackay and Harmon Trophies for the first supersonic Atlantic crossing, the time set by the bomber having almost halved the previous record. 

Including refueling periods that day, the B-58, nicknamed "The Hustler," averaged about 1,050 miles an hour inflight. 

This B-58 broke the speed record; seen refueling by a KC-135

Introduced by Convair only 12 years after the sound barrier was first broken, the Hustler became the first large long-range supersonic bomber to take to the skies, capable of Mach 2 at 63,000 feet. 

Faster than its contemporaries and agile enough to escape most interceptors, the B-58 was a remarkable feat of engineering, setting 19 world speed records and epitomizing the Cold War power of USAF Strategic Air Command. 

...Rolex Super Coolness... 

Precision Navigation over the Atlantic

Maj. William Payne, Capt. William Polhemus, Capt. Raymond Wagener flight-planning...

The Rolex 1675 GMT-Master on the pilots' wrists could track two time zones. The watch had exceptional visibility, and its bi-directional blue-and-red bezel made it the ideal watch for criss-crossing the globe. 

...with a Rolex GMT-Master on their wrists

The B-58 crew jumped six time zones in three hours—and they had done it 15 years before the first Concorde entered service. "If you were flying a Concorde tomorrow...

Each B-58 crew member had a separate cockpit.

A Crash

The story of the B-58 that set a speed record from New York to Paris ended tragically. On June 3rd, 1961, the Hustler took off from Le Bourget for its return trip to the U.S. The pilot performed a low-altitude roll as the aircraft entered a low cloud base and disappeared from view. The Hustler crashed into a potato field near Louvres and exploded in a huge fireball, killing all three crew members. 

In a bizarre twist of fate, the speed-record breakers were not onboard. Three different Air Force officers had crewed the B-58 for its flight back to the U.S. 

As for the original crew, they continued their careers in the U.S. Air Force, a Rolex on their wrists—keeping the time of their lives. The pilot, William R. Payne, would later be the first to break the 1,000 hours flying a supersonic jet. 

I found the local news reel marking the event, which can be seen below. As far as I know this is the only video available of him. There is no sound, but I've added the transcript in the description. 

This video has no sound. Here's the transcript from the local TV station:

    "The white puff of smoke boiling up from the wheels of this B-58 Hustler signifies the ticking off of 1,000 hours of supersonic jet time for the sleek jet's pilot, Lieutenant Colonel William R. Payne of 41-01 Tara Lane in Fort Worth. He is the first pilot in the United States Air Force to log a thousand hour of supersonic flight. Brigadier General Brick Holstrom, 43rd Bomb wing commander, is on hand as Col. Payne extricate himself from the pilot's seat. A B-58 weapons system operator and navigator are the only officers in the Air Force to have logged 1,000 supersonic hours. Col. 

    Payne's family is on hand as he leaves the plane, named "Wild Child Two," and is greeted by B. G. Reed, vice-president of operations at Fort Worth's General Dynamics plant. Reed presents the 39-year-old jet pilot with a certificate honoring his achievement and a thousand-hour pin. Col. Payne's B-58 career has been a string of firsts ... he is a member of the first crew in the Air Force to become combat ready in the B-58. With Col. Payne at the controls in 1961, a B-58 set two international speed records during a Fort Worth-to-Paris run, winning the coveted Mackay trophy, also for the first time."

Sincere thanks to my friend Phil from Moon Watch Universe for helping me with this story.