A-5 Vigilante, North American
The A-5 was a very advanced supersonic attack aircraft, optimised for low-level attacks at high speed. It
was long and angular, with rectangular air intakes, small, thin swept wings incorporating large full-span
flaps, and all-moving tail surfaces. But the A-5, one of the biggest aircraft ever operated from a carrier,
was not successful in its intended role as nuclear bomber, It has been claimed that the bomb ejection
mechanism was unsatisfactory. The bomb bay was between the engines, and the plan was to expel the
bomb rearwards, together with two empty fuel tanks. 63 bombers were built, but all but ten were
converted to RA-5C reconnaissance aircraft. There were also 55 new RA-5Cs built. These were very
effective and served until 1980.
Engines: 2 * 79.4 kN G.E. J79-GE-10
Wing Span: 16.15 m
Length: 23.32 m
Height: 5.91 m
Wing Area: 70.05 m2
Empty Weight: 17009 kg
Max.Weight: 29937 kg
Speed: Mach 2.1
Ceiling: 14750 m
Range: 4820 km
Armament: 1 nuclear weapon, and conventional weapons on two hard points.
Designed to meet a US Navy requirement for a high-performance
all-weather attack aircraft, the North American NA-247, known at first as
the NAG-PAW (North American General Purpose Attack Weapon), won an order for
two YA3J-1 prototypes on 29 June 1956. The name Vigilante was allocated soon
after this, and the A3J designation was changed subsequently to A-5. The
design's cantilever monoplane swept wing incorporated no ailerons, roll
control being by the use of spoilers in conjunction with differential use of
an all moving tailplane on each side of the fuselage and, when it entered
service, the Vigilante was the first US production aircraft to introduce
variable geometry intakes for its two General Electric J79 engines. The
first of the prototypes, then powered by two YJ79-GE-2 engines each
developing 6804 kg (15,000lbs) afterburning thrust, was flown for the first
time on 31 August 1958, and carrier trials were completed aboard the USS
Saratoga in July 1960. Initial production version A-5A, US Navy Squadron
VAH-7 becoming the first operational unit in June 1961.
The primary weapon of the A-5A was a free-fall nuclear bomb ejected rearwards from a
bomb bay between the tailpipes of he two turbojet engines. A-5A production totaled
57 aircraft. This version was followed by an interim long-range bomber
version designated A-5B, incorporating greater fuel capacity and aerodynamic
improvements, but, because of changes in the US Navy policy only six were
built and then converted to serve as a long-ranged unarmed reconnaissance
version designated RA-5C, equipped with side-looking airborne radar, cameras
and electronic counter-measures equipment. The first RA-5C flew on 30 June
1962, being followed by 55 new production aircraft and the conversion to
reconnaissance configuration of the 53 A-5As. The first squadron equipped
with the RA-5C was RVAH-5 which, in June 1964, was operating from the USS
Ranger, and other Vigilante squadrons included RVAH-1, RVAH-7, RVAH-9, and
In 1953 North American Aviation began a private study for a carrier-based, long-range, all-weather
strike bomber, capable of delivering nuclear weapons at supersonic speeds. This proposal, the NAGPAW
(North American General Purpose Attack Weapon) concept, was accepted by the US Navy, with some
revisions, in 1955. A contract was awarded on 29 August 1956. Its first flight occurred two years
later on 31 August 1958 in Columbus, Ohio. Designated A3J-1, the Vigilante first entered squadron
service with VAH-3 in June 1961, replacing the A-3 Skywarrior in the heavy attack role. All variants
of the Vigilante were built at North American Aviation's facility at Port Columbus Airport in Columbus,
Under the Tri-Services Designation plan implemented under Robert McNamara in September 1962, the
Vigilante was redesignated A-5, with the initial A3J-1 becoming A-5A and the updated A3J-2 becoming A-5B.
The subsequent recce version, originally AJ3-3P, became the RA-5C.
The Vigilante's early service proved troublesome, with many teething problems for its advanced systems.
It also arrived in service during a major policy shift in the Navy strategic role, which switched to
emphasize submarine launched ballistic missiles rather than manned bombers. As a result, in 1963
procurement of the A-5 was ended and the type was converted to the fast reconnaissance role.
he first RA-5Cs were delivered in July 1963, with Vigilante squadrons redesignated RVAH.
Eight squadrons of RA-5C Vigilantes saw extensive service in Vietnam starting in August 1964, carrying
out hazardous medium-level reconnaissance missions. Although it proved fast and agile, eighteen were
lost in combat: fourteen to anti-aircraft fire, three to surface-to-air missiles, and one to a
MiG-21 during Operation Linebacker II.
Nine more were lost in operational accidents serving with Task Force 77. 36 additional aircraft
were built from 1968-1970 as attrition replacements.
Despite the Vigilante's useful service, it was expensive and complex to operate, and it was phased out
after the end of the Vietnam War. Disestablishment of RVAH squadrons began in 1974, with the last
Vigilantes completing their final deployment in September 1979.
The Vigilante set several records, including a new world altitude record for the class;
on 13 December 1960, a Vigilante flown by Larry Monroe and Leroy Heath carried a 1,000 kg
(2,402.62 pound) payload on a zoom profile flight that peaked at 91,451 feet. This
surpassed the existing record by over 4 miles.
|Specifications RA-5C Vigilante|
|Type:|| carrier-based long-range reconnaissance aircraft|
|Powerplant:|| 2 * 8101 kg (17,860lb) afterburning General Electric J79-GE-10 turbojets|
|max speed:|| Mach 2.1|
|operational ceiling:|| 14,750 m (48,400 ft)|
|range:|| 4828 km (3,000 miles)|
|empty :||17009 kg (37498 lbs)|
|max take-off weight:|| 29937 kg (66,000 lbs)|
|span:|| 16.15m (53ft)|
|length:|| 23.32m (76.5ft)|
|height:|| 5.91m (19 feet 4.75 inches)|
|wing area: ||70.05 m2 (754 sq ft)|