15,000 Miles Non-Stop in the SR-71 

and B-58 Hustler Records Achieved


At the start of the SR-71 program, Colonel Douglas Nelson selected crewmembers to fly the new SR-71. One of his many resources included crewmembers from the two operational B-58 Squadrons. This webpage is dedicated to those accepted into the SR-71 program and also reflects their previous achievements on the B-58 Hustler. Perhaps there are other SR-71 crews not listed on this document and for that end, I apologize. Email me with corrections or additions at sr71webmaster@sr71.us Please bear in mind that the B-58 set many other records that is not included on this web page. Recognition is also given to SR-71 Crewmembers Estes & Vick who set the 15,000 miles endurance record. 

Editors Note: All B-58 crew photos photos on this web page are the copyrighted property of Colonel (Ret) BJ Brown, B-58 AC. Permission granted to use these images. 

Please visit his web site "The Hustler Hanger" here: http://www.b58hustler.net/


These are the aviators who flew record flights in the B-58 and later transferred to the SR-71 program. They are:

Colonel Harold (Hal) E. Confer

B-58 record setter #2441set six high speed course records, including one run at 1,284.73 MPH

Flown by Pilot: Lt. Col Hal Confer; Navigator: Col Dick Weir; DSO Major Howard Bialas. Crew Chief was SSgt Charles Kerce, Jr.

In 1961, General Hal Confer, a Major at the time, and his crew, flew the B-58 to three new world record speeds, including a new record over the 100 kilometer course of 1,284 mph.  In recognition of their achievement they were awarded the prestigious Thompson Trophy, the first time in the 33 years history of the trophy that it was won by a bomber crew.  The Thompson Trophy was one of four major aviation racing awards established during the Golden Age of Air Racing in the 1930's.  Gen Confer was in the initial cadre of the 9th Wing and was the commander of both the 1st STRATEGIC Reconnaissance Squadron and the 9th STRATEGIC RECONNAISSANCE Wing.




On January 14, 59-2441 set three international speed-with payloads by flying at a speed of 1284.73 mph over a 1000-km closed circuit. The crew of 59-2441 (Lt. Col. Harold Confer), Lt. Col. Richard Weir, and Major Howard Bialas) were awarded the 1961 Thompson Trophy for this feat.







Colonel Harold (Hal) E. Confer Qualified #164 on the Mach 3+ SR-71 on 11 April, 1967.

Lt. Colonel Charles J. (Red) McNeer, RSO Qualified #178 on 17 July 1967


Major Robert G. Sowers  

Gen. Thomas Power (right), Commander In Chief of the Strategic Air Command, greets the B-58 Hustler crew that set three speed records and was later awarded the 1962 Mackay Trophy. From left are Maj. Robert Sowers and Capt's. Robert MacDonald and John Walton. For their record-setting flight, the crew flew roundtrip between New York and Los Angeles in four hours, 42 minutes.



Since the B-58's were on a roll, on 5 March 1962, then Captain Robert “Gray” Sowers and his B-58 crew, flew non-stop from Los Angles to New York and back again in 4 hours, 41 minutes, at an average speed of 1,045 mph.  For this record setting flight Gray and his crew won both the Bendix Trophy and the Air Force Mackay Trophy.  Gray's aircraft and TrophIES are on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Dayton Ohio .  GRAY was the last recipient of the Bendix Trophy as it is no longer awarded.  The Bendix race, WHICH started in 1931, was the most important transcontinental competition in air racing history.  Previous winners of the Bendix TROPHY INCLUDED aviation greats like Jimmy Doolittle, Roscoe Turner and Jackie Cochran.  OF NOTE, Lt Col GRAY Sowers was one of the original two SR-71 instructor pilots at Beale and also Commander of the 99th Reconnaissance Squadron when we had two SR squadrons.  maybe some of you didn't know that, “IN THE DAY,” we HAD two SR-71 squadrons AT BEALE.




The Mackay Trophy was established by Clarence H. Mackay, an industrialist, philanthropist, communications pioneer, and aviation enthusiast. Presented by the National Aeronautic Association, the trophy recognizes “the most meritorious flight of the year” by an Air Force member, members, or organization.







Pilot Major Robert G. "Gray" Sowers was #115 to qualify to fly the Mach 3+ SR-71 on 30 November 1965. His RSO Captain Richard E. "Butch" Sheffield was #116 to qualify on the same date.

Major Sowers and Colonel Harlan Hain at Beale AFB, CA. 

The Bendix Trophy and the Distinguished Flying Cross Awarded to:

Captain Robert G. Sowers & Crew of the 43 Bomb Wing: 

Awarded the Bendix Trophy: On March 05, 1962, Captain Robert G. Sowers (Pilot), Robert MacDonald (Navigator) and John T. Walton (Defensive System Operator) flew from Los Angeles to New York City in the Convair B-58A Hustler #59-2458 in only 2 hours and 56.8 seconds, an average speed of 1,214.17 miles per hour. For this significant aeronautical achievement, each crew member was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. They broke two other speed records on the return flight-New York to Los Angeles and for the roundtrip. This record would stand for 28 years. The aircraft (1 of only 8 remaining B-58's) is on display at the USAF Museum at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio.


The Bendix Trophy is an aeronautical racing trophy. The transcontinental, point-to-point race, sponsored by industrialist Vincent Bendix founder of Bendix Corporation, began in 1931 as part of the National Air Races. Initial prize money for the winners was $15,000. The last Bendix Trophy Race was flown in 1962.

The trophy was brought back in 1998 Allied Signal the then current owner of the Bendix brand name (which later merged with Honeywell) to "recognize contributions to aerospace safety by individuals or institutions through innovation in advanced safety equipment and equipment utilization."






USAF Museum at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio.

The following is a transcript of Operation "Heat Rise" as told by the flight's Defensive Systems Operator, Capt. John T. Walton.

The B-58 on display at the USAF Museum at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio set three speed records on March 5, 1962, and in the process won both the Mackay and Bendix Trophies for that year. 

Museum: Capt. Walton, let's start with the basics. Who were the crew members for the record flight?

Capt. Walton: The pilot was Capt. Robert G. Sowers, the navigator was Capt. Robert MacDonald and I flew as DSO.

Museum: Was there any particular reason your crew was chosen?

Capt. Walton: Actually no. The crew was picked off a roster in a normal rotation. There were so many special flights and record attempts, eventually most crews got a chance to participate in one kind of record-breaking flight or another.

Museum: So you were flying with an operational bomb wing at the time.

Capt. Walton: Yes, the 43rd Bomb Wing, 65th Squadron out of Carswell AFB, Texas .

Museum: How much training and preparation was done before the flight?

Capt. Walton: We trained for about four months prior to the flight, practicing aerial refueling and things of that nature. Preparation and planning was done by the 43rd Bomb Wing staff and the Strategic Air Command Headquarters at Offutt AFB.

Museum: How was the B-58 prepared?

Capt. Walton: The aircraft was a standard production version with no special modifications of any kind. The ground crew waxed and polished the aircraft until it shined, but other than that it was flown like any other mission.

Museum: Because you were going for a speed record, the aircraft must have been inspected.

Capt. Walton: Yes, of course. The certification folks went over the aircraft with a fine tooth comb. They actually recorded the serial numbers on the engines before we took off so they could check them after we landed and be absolutely certain the aircraft wasn't switched en route. They also watched as we boarded the aircraft and didn't leave until we taxied out from the flightline at Carswell.

Museum: Didn't the flight begin in Los Angeles ?

Capt. Walton: Yes, but we took off from Carswell and didn't land again until we reached LA for the second time.

Museum: After returning from New York ?

Capt. Walton: Yes.

Museum: Can you tell us about your role during the flight?

Capt. Walton: Sure. The DSO (Defensive System Operator) sits in the aft most crew position; the three crewmen sit in tandem with the pilot up front, the navigator in the middle and the DSO in back. The DSO is responsible for flight engineering, electronic countermeasures (ECM), radio communications and gunnery. On the Bendix flight, my primary job was to carefully monitor the center of gravity and make adjustments to gain the maximum performance for the speed run.

Museum: The Bendix Trophy was awarded for the winner of a transcontinental race. Were there other aircraft flying?

Capt. Walton: Yes, a second aircraft was flying against us.

Museum: Another B-58?

Capt. Walton: Yes.

Museum: So you took off from Carswell AFB and flew to Los Angeles . I assume you did an in-flight refueling (IFR) prior to the beginning of the race.

Capt. Walton: Yes, we flew out over the Pacific Ocean west of Los Angeles and transferred enough fuel to get us to the halfway point over Kansas where we needed to refuel again.

Museum: So you had to refuel a total of four times during the flight, including the IFR over LA prior to the beginning of the Bendix Race?

Capt. Walton: Well, actually we refueled three times during the record flight. Over Kansas twice, once while we were eastbound and again on the trip back westbound. We also refueled over the Atlantic Ocean after reaching New York . We had to refuel twice prior to the start because of a problem on the ground.

Museum: Can you tell us a little more about the "problem?"

Capt. Walton: Well, after we completed the first IFR over the Pacific, we turned and accelerated up to Mach 2 and passed directly over the ground station recording the official start time of the flight. However, the aircraft was lost in the ground clutter and we got called back because we hadn't been officially verified. We flew back out to rendezvous with the tanker and topped off the fuel and flew over the starting point again, this time for visual validation.

Museum: You flew at about Mach 2, is that right?

Capt. Walton: Actually we were able to go a bit faster. When we were planning the flight, we asked the engineers "How hot can we go?" You see the maximum speed wasn't the major concern, but the maximum skin temperature. An aircraft traveling at Mach 2 generates a tremendous amount of heat due to air friction. The limiting skin temperature "by the book" was 115 degrees centigrade, but the engineers told us we go probably get away with temps up to 125 degrees centigrade. This would allow us to exceed the maximum design speed of 1,325 mph and push the plane up past 1,400 mph. We had skin temperature gauges on board so we could closely monitor the skin temperature. The engineers warned us not to go higher than 125 degrees. As you may know, the skin of the B-58 is actually an aluminum honeycomb sandwich. Two sheets of aluminum are bonded to a center core of aluminum honeycomb material. The engineers told us that the skin panels which covered the wings would tend to unbond at higher temperatures.

Museum: This was how the operation was named, wasn't it?

Capt. Walton: Yes, the name was Operation Heat Rise because we were pushing the ram air temp above the normal operating limit approaching the point where the aircraft tended to melt.

Museum: How high did you fly?

Capt. Walton: Depending on what we were doing, anywhere from 25,000 to 50,000 feet. The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) cleared the airspace between 25,000 and 50,000 feet in a wide corridor all the way from Los Angeles to New York for 5 hours.

Museum: You also were assigned a single radio frequency for the entire flight, weren't you?

Capt. Walton: Yes, no one was supposed to use the frequency, but during our first IFR over Kansas , a ground controller and a commercial flight were using the frequency. This slowed our first IFR which was already slow because we lost the navigation radar earlier.

Museum: You lost the nav radar? Can you tell us more about that?

Capt. Walton: Yes, outbound from LA in the vicinity of the Grand Canyon , the nav radar went out. We found out later an antenna pin sheared and the radar dish ran away.

Museum: How did you manage the IFR rendezvous without radar?

Capt. Walton: We were flying at approximately 45,000 feet eastbound at Mach 2+. The KC-135 was closing head on at about .9 Mach. The KC-135 does a 180 degree turn about 70 miles out and we descend for the join up. This part should have taken about 6.5 minutes, but took a bit longer because of the malfunctioning radar. The KC-135 had to relay navigational commands to us and the commercial traffic on our restricted frequency delayed the process even more. After join up, we would take on about 85,000 lbs. of fuel being transferred at 4,000 pounds per minute. After about 21 minutes, we had enough fuel to get to New York and off we went.

Museum: Was there just one tanker or were there back up KC-135s as well?

Capt. Walton: As I recall, there were 10 KC-135s supporting both B-58s.

Museum: So after refueling, it was basically a speed run to New York ?

Capt. Walton: Not exactly. After the IFR we had to climb back to our optimal cruising altitude of about 45,000 feet. However, we encountered a temperature inversion over the Kansas City area which slowed our climb to altitude. We crossed the finish line at New York in 2 hours, 58.71 seconds. We really wanted to break the 2 hour LA to New York barrier, but it was not to be. We did beat Tall Man Five Six -- by all of one minute.

Museum: Tall Man Five Six was the call sign of the other B-58?

Capt. Walton: Yes, and we were Tall Man Five Five.

Museum: You didn't land in New York ...

Capt. Walton: Oh no. We hit the tanker out over the Atlantic to prepare for the run back to Los Angeles .

Museum: This wasn't part of the Bendix Race was it?

Capt Walton: No. We planned to combine the LA to NY Bendix Race with additional record attempt for the fastest trip from New York to Los Angeles and the fastest round trip from Los Angeles to New York and back.

Museum: You were still competing again the second B-58?

Capt. Walton: Yes, but mechanical trouble forced them out of the race soon after leaving the New York area.

Museum: You were flying again the sun then?

Capt. Walton: Literally yes. The B-58 could fly faster than the rotational speed of the earth. We actually beat the sun by about three quarters of an hour in the New York to Los Angeles race.

Museum: Were there any significant problems of the return flight?

Capt. Walton: We encountered the same temperature inversion on the way back, but the last IFR over Kansas actually went much better than the first refueling. We had partial navigational radar by this time.

Museum: How long was the flight back?

Capt Walton: The official time for the New York to Los Angeles flight was 2 hours, 15 minutes, and 50.08 seconds. The total round trip time was 4 hours, 41 minutes, 14.98 seconds. We averaged 1214.71 miles per hour for the duration of the flight.

Museum: You were awarded the Mackay trophy for the most meritorious flight of 1962 also.

Capt. Walton: Yes, the three of us and 458 (the B-58) won the Bendix Trophy race and were awarded the Mackay Trophy for 1962.

Museum: The flight was 5 March.

Capt. Walton: Yes, we were actually ready to go earlier, but the Air Force wanted to wait until John Glenn's Mercury flight was over.

Museum: His space flight was 20 February 1962.

Capt. Walton: Yes. The Air Force was hungry for records and publicity to enhance the prestige of the service and gain favor for more funding of high speed bomber projects. This is why we used a standard, unmodified, production aircraft. It proved the capabilities of the first line SAC bomber force. In any case, we had to wait for the first US orbital space flight to end because we couldn't compete with this event. Remember the United States was attempting to catch up to the Russians at this point in the space race.

Museum: The museum has your B-58A on display in the Modern Flight Hangar. What do you think of when you look at her?

Capt. Walton: Beautiful. Prettiest plane in the museum. It looks great all polished. The decals commemorating the Bendix and Mackay Trophies are impressive and bring back a lot of memories. Of course, most of the decals were missing on our flight. The heat would have burned them off.

Museum: Thank you. We appreciate you taking the time to give us the inside story of your flight.

Capt. Walton: You're welcome.

Note: This story is true, but is based on a number of E-mail and telephone interviews, not any single conversation. The museum questions and Capt Walton's responses have been altered for readability, but are otherwise correct.

Transcript courtesy of:

USAF Museum at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio.

Recap of Data and Awards:

In 1962, a B-58 flew from Los Angeles to New York City at an average speed of 1,214.65 mph, from New York City to Los Angeles at an average speed of 1,081.8 mph, and from Los Angeles to New York and back in four hours, 41 minutes, and 14.91 seconds, at an average of 1,044.46 mph. The Bendix Trophy was awarded to the crew in 1962 and the Mackay Trophy in 1963.  

SR-71 Crewmembers that came from the B-58 Organizations

43rd Bomb Wing crew, prior to flight

Earle Boone, A/C ~ Bob Hendrickson, Nav ~ Vern Carpenter, DSO

Pilot Captain Earle M. Boone Qualified #154 to fly the SR-71 on 22 November 1966. His RSO, (on the left) Dewain C. Vick #155 qualified on the same date.


43rd BW crew - prior to solo flight

Dale Shelton, A/C - Tony Dipietro, NAV - Don Barnes, DSO

Crew of B-58 "Lucky Lady" 43rd BW

Selected as 43rd BW outstanding crew for April-June 1963. Pat Smothermon A/C - Larry Boggess NAV - Jack Sheffer DSO

Dale Shelton and Lawrence Boggess: SR-71 Crew

Franklin D. "Dale" Shelton, Pilot #147 Qualified on the SR-71 on 09 September 1966.

Lawrence L. Boggess, RSO #148 Qualified on 09 September 1966.

Coz Mollozzi (RSO) and John Storrie (Pilot)

John Mallozzi Writes: My Dad Coz Mallozzi was in the B-58 program (Nav) he didn’t set any records but he was the first crew to photograph the Alaska earthquake (March ’64). He was then the first AF Nav checked out in the SR. He was the first SO-1 Haupt/ Mallozzi then became Storrie/Mallozzi. In 58’s he flew with Jack Kennon (SR pilot), John Storrie also came from 58’s. After the SR program he was eventually checked out in the F-111. At his retirement Gen. Bill Campbell told the audience that my Dad was the only SAC Nav to be checked out in all three of SAC’s super sonic aircraft, B-58, SR-71, and F-111. I thought he might be worth an honorable mention.

Email: john.mallozzi@texstars.com

Editor's Note: Indeed Coz Mallozzi's accomplishments deserve appropriate credit. Capt Cosimo B. (Coz) Mallozzi was Crew Number #117 to qualify as an RSO on 02 December, 1965. Thank you John for the information.  Leland Haynes, webmaster, SR-71 Blackbirds

305th Bomb Wing Crew S-14 Commanded by Al Hichew

Major Allen L. Hichew , #113 SR-71 Pilot qualified on 18 November 1965.

Captain Tom W. Schmittou, #114 SR-71 RSO qualified on the same date.


15,000 Miles Non-Stop in the SR-71

On April 26, 1971, USAF SR-71 tail number 61-7968, set the endurance record on April 26, 1971. Lt. colonel's Thomas B. Estes and Dewain C. Vick, flew over 15,000 miles in 10 hrs. 30 min. Non-Stop (Time includes aerial refueling at subsonic speeds). Awards for this flight include the 1971 Mackay Trophy for the "most meritorious flight of the year" and the 1972 Harmon Trophy for the "most outstanding international achievement in the art/science of aeronautics". The grueling marathon mission tested the endurance of the J58 engines and the blackbird airframe, but mostly to see how many times they could refuel before the liquid nitrogen gave out.

          The long range endurance of the SR-71 had never been tested and General P.K. Carlton, Commander of 15th Air Force, wanted to know the answer.  On 26 April 1971, then Majors Tom Estes and Dewain Vick, established an endurance record for the SR-71 by flying multiple high Mach legs for ten hours and thirty minutes, covering a distance of 15,000 miles, which included circumnavigating the continental U.S. twice. By the way, this was done with the old analog air inlet system.  In recognition of this outstanding achievement, Tom and Dewain won the 1971 Air Force Mackay Trophy for “the most meritorious flight of the year.”  They were further awarded the 1972 Harmon International Trophy for “the most outstanding international achievement in the art and science of aeronautics.”  The ceremony took place in the White House with President Nixon and Senator Barry Goldwater awarding Tom and Dewain the trophy.  This was a critical test and the first time the 9th Wing was allowed to attempt any public record flights.  It confirmed to Air Force leadership the capabilities of our aircraft…a capability which was soon to be exploited on even longer operational missions.

L-R Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Arizona), Lt Col. Tom Estes (pilot), President Richard Nixon, and Lt Col. Dewain Vick (RSO), at the White House on September 20, 1971 for the presentation of the 1972 Harmon International Trophy. Captioning and flight data by www.habu.org USAF photo via John Stone

The 15,000 Mile Record Flight:

Taking off from Beale AFB in California, they flew 2 laps around the continental United States via Missoula, Montana; east to Bismark, ND; southeast to Peoria, IL; east to Columbus, OH; southeast to Cape Hatteras, NC; southwest to Gainsville, FL; south to Tampa, FL; west to San Antonio, TX; northwest to El Paso, TX; west to El Centro, CA; then back to Beale AFB.  Once the second lap was complete, they entered the third lap and turned south at Bismark, for Santa Fe, NM; then west to Las Vegas, NV; then finally back to Beale (flight plan via Ron Kloetzli). This 15,000 mile, 10.5 hour flight required five aerial refuellings.  After the flight the aircraft was thoroughly examined and found to be none the worse for the experience.  The SR-71 remains to this day the only aircraft rated to run in full continuous afterburner.  On September 20, 1971, Estes and Vick were awarded the 1972 Harmon International Trophy by President Richard Nixon for their accomplishment.  They were also awarded the 1971 Mackay Trophy for the same flight.


    The Harmon International Trophy

The award was established in 1926 by Clifford B. Harmon, a wealthy balloonist and aviator. The award is for the most outstanding international achievements in the arts and/or science of aeronautics for preceding year with the art of flying receiving first consideration.

 1. 3 international trophy championships - aviators, aviatrixes and special balloonists or astronauts.

 2. Trophy is permanently housed in Smithsonian Air & Space Museum.

 3. Certificate to the winner.








The Mackay Trophy

Awards for this flight include the 1971 Mackay Trophy for the "most meritorious flight of the year".  


The Mackay Trophy was established by Clarence H. Mackay, an industrialist, philanthropist, communications pioneer, and aviation enthusiast. Presented by the National Aeronautic Association, the trophy recognizes “the most meritorious flight of the year” by an Air Force member, members, or organization.








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