- A-5 Vigilante
name=A-5 (A3J) Vigilante
type=Nuclear strike bomber,
North American Aviation
31 August 1958
United States Navy
variants with their own articles=The North American A-5 Vigilante was a powerful, highly advanced carrier-based supersonic
bomberdesigned for the United States Navy. Its service in the nuclear strike role to replace the A-3 Skywarriorwas very short. As the RA-5C, it saw extensive service during the Vietnam Warin the reconnaissancerole. Prior to the unification of the Navy designation sequence with the Air Force sequence in 1962, it was designated the A3J Vigilante.
Design and development
North American Aviationbegan 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 United States Navy, with some revisions, in 1955. A contract was awarded on 29 August 1956. Its first flight occurred two years later on 31 August 1958in Columbus, Ohio.
At the time of its introduction, the Vigilante was one of the largest and by far the most complex aircraft to operate from a
United States Navy aircraft carrier. It had a high-mounted swept wingwith a boundary-layer control system (blown flaps) to improve low-speed lift, aluminum- lithium alloyfor wing skins and titaniumfor critical structures. It had two widely-spaced General Electric J79 turbojet engines (the same as used on the F-4 Phantom IIfighter), and a single large vertical tailfin. The wings, the tail, and the nose radomefolded for carrier stowage. The Vigilante had a crew of two seated in tandem, a pilot and a bombardier-navigator (BN)—reconnaissance/attack navigator (RAN) on later reconversions in individual ejection seats.
It was surprisingly agile for such a big and heavy aircraft. Without the drag of bombs or missiles, even escorting fighters found that the clean airframe and powerful engines made the Vigilante very fast at high altitudes. Its high landing speed made returning to the carrier a challenge for inexperienced or unwary pilots.
The Vigilante had extremely advanced and complex electronics. It had one of the first
fly-by-wiresystems of an operational aircraft (with mechanical/hydraulic backup) and a computerized AN/ASB-12 nav/attack system incorporating a head-up display(Pilot's Projected Display Indicator (PPDI), one of the first), multi-mode radar, Radar-Equipped Inertial NavigationSystem (REINS, based on technologies developed for the Navaho missile), closed-circuit televisioncamera under the nose, and an early digital computerknown as VERDAN (Versatile Digital Analyzer) to run it all. Although this system was highly sophisticated, the technology was in its infancy, and its reliability was poor. In early squadron service the system's MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures) was only 15 minutes.Fact|date=February 2007 Although some bugs were worked out, the aircraft remained a maintenance nightmare throughout its career.
Its main armament was carried in a novel linear bomb bay between the engines in the rear fuselage which was intended to make bomb delivery safer and more accurate. When conventional bombers "drop" a bomb, the bomb falls downward, but continues forward at the same speed as the aircraft. This requires pilot skill and complicated equipment to place a bomb on its intended target. The linear bomb bay would eject the payload rearward at approximately the same speed as the forward velocity of the aircraft, causing the bomb to "stand still" and drop straight down. No calculation is needed - the bomb falls at the point at which it was dropped. As an added benefit, the aircraft is rapidly moving away from the dropped bomb, enabling lower drop altitudes or safer drops from higher altitudes. Fact|date=March 2008
nuclear weapon, commonly the Mk 28 bomb, was attached to two disposable fuel tanks in the cylindrical bay in an assembly known as the "stores train." The idea was for the fuel tanks to be emptied during flight to the target and then jettisoned as part of the bomb by an explosive drogue gun. In practice the system was never reliable and no live weapons were ever carried in the linear bomb bay. In the RA-5C configuration, the bay was used solely for fuel. On three occasions the shock of the catapult launch caused the fuel cans to eject onto the deck resulting in one aircraft loss. [Goebel. Greg. [http://www.vectorsite.net/ava5.html "The North American A-5/RA-5 Vigilante."] vectorsite.net, 5 April 2007. Retrieved: 2 March 2008.]
The Vigilante originally had two wing pylons, intended primarily for
The second Vigilante mark, the A3J-2 (A-5B), incorporated internal tanks for an additional 460 gallons of fuel (which added a pronounced dorsal "hump") along with two additional wing hardpoints, for a total of four. In practice the hardpoints were rarely used. Other improvements included blown flaps on the leading edge of the wing and sturdier
landing gear.Fact|date=March 2008
reconnaissanceversion of the Vigilante, the RA-5C, had slightly greater wing area and added a long canoe-shaped fairing under the fuselage for a multi-sensor reconnaissance pack. This added an APD-7 side-looking airborne radar ( SLAR), AAS-21 infraredlinescanner, and camera packs, as well as improved ECM. An AN/ALQ-61 electronic intelligence system could also be carried. The RA-5C retained the AN/ASB-12 bombing system, and could, in theory, carry weapons, although it never did in service. Later-build RA-5Cs had more powerful -10 engines with afterburning thrust of 17,900 lbf (80 kN). The reconnaissance Vigilante weighed almost five tons more than the strike version with almost the same thrust and an only modestly enlarged wing. These changes cost it acceleration and climb rate, though it remained fast in level flight.
Designated A3J-1, the Vigilante first entered squadron service with Heavy Attack Squadron THREE (
VAH-3) in June 1961 at NAS Sanford, Florida, replacing the A-3 Skywarriorin the heavy attack role. All variants of the Vigilante were built at North American Aviation's facility at Port Columbus Airport in Columbus, Ohio, alongside the T-2 Buckeyeand OV-10 Bronco.
Under the Tri-Services Designation plan implemented under
Robert McNamarain 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 reconnaissance 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 U.S. Navy's 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. The first RA-5Cs were delivered to the Replacement Air Group (RAG)/Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS), Reconnaissance Attack Squadron THREE (RVAH-3) at NAS Sanford, Florida in July 1963, with all Vigilante squadrons subsequently redesignated RVAH. Under the cognizance of Reconnaissance Attack Wing ONE, a total of 10 RA-5C squadrons were ultimately commissioned. RVAH-3 continued to be responsible for the stateside-based RA-5C training mission of both flight crews, maintenance and support personnel, while RVAH-1, RVAH-5, RVAH-6, RVAH-7, RVAH-9, RVAH-11, RVAH-12, RVAH-13 and RVAH-14 routinely deployed aboard "Forrestal", "Kitty Hawk", "Enterprise", "America", "John F. Kennedy" and eventually "Nimitz"-class aircraft carriers to the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Western Pacific.
Eight of ten squadrons of RA-5C Vigilantes also saw extensive service in Vietnam starting in August 1964, carrying out hazardous medium-level reconnaissance missions. Although it proved fast and agile, 18 RA-5Cs were lost in combat: 14 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 while serving with Task Force 77. Due, in part, to these combat losses, 36 additional RA-5C aircraft were built from 1968–1970 as attrition replacements.
In 1968, Congress closed the aircraft's original operating base of
NAS Sanford, Florida and transferred the parent wing, Reconnaissance Attack Wing ONE, all subordinate squadrons and all aircraft and personnel to Turner AFB, a Strategic Air Command(SAC) B-52 and KC-135base in Albany, Georgia. The tenant SAC bomb wing was then deactivated and control of Turner AFB was transferred from the Air Force to the Navy with the installation renamed NAS Albany. In 1974, after barely six years of service as a naval air station, Congress opted to close NAS Albany as part of a post-Vietnam force reduction, transferring all RA-5C units and personnel to NAS Key West, Florida.
Despite the Vigilante's useful service, it was expensive and complex to operate and occupied significant amounts of precious flight deck and hangar deck space aboard both conventional and nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. With the end of the
Vietnam War, disestablishment of RVAH squadrons began in 1974, with the last Vigilante squadron, RVAH-7, completing its final deployment to the Western Pacific aboard USS|Ranger|CV-61 in late 1979. Reconnaissance Attack Wing ONE was subsequently disestablished at NAS Key West, Florida in January 1980.
The Vigilante did not end the career of the A-3 Skywarriors, which would carry on as electronic warfare platforms and tankers, designated as EA-3B and KA-3B. Fighters replaced the RA-5C in the carrier-based reconnaissance role, with the
F-8 Crusadermodified with internal cameras and designated RF-8G, while select models of the F-14 Tomcatwould carry the multi-sensor Tactical Air Reconnaissance Pod (TARPS) and the Digital Tactical Air Reconnaissance Pod (D-TARPS). Following up to present day, the weight of fighters such as the F-14 Tomcatand F/A-18E/F Super Hornethave evolved into the same 62,950 lb class as the Vigilante. With the retirement of the F-14, the F/A-18E and F/A-18F Super Hornetstrike fighters and EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft are planned to cover the strike, reconnaissance, tanker and electronic warfare roles of the F-14 Tomcat, A-6E Intruder, A-7E Corsair II, RF-8G Crusader, RA-5C, KA-6D Intruder, EA-6B Prowler. S-3B Viking, ES-3A Shadow and EA-3B Skywarrior.
Although the Vigilante served in the attack and reconnaissance roles, its design and configuration was believed to be a major influence on one of the world's most famous postwar interceptors: the Soviet MiG-25 "Foxbat" was apparently heavily influenced by the A-5's design.Fact|date=January 2008. The MiG-25 would look even more familiar if the Vigilante had retained the twin vertical fins of the prototype; although North American originally specified two fins, that part of the design was vetoed by the Navy in favor of one folding tailfin. Dual tailfins would become part of the U.S. Navy's
F-14 Tomcat, the US Navy's and U.S. Marine Corps' F/A-18 Hornet) and the U.S. Air Force's F-15 Eagleand F-22 Raptor. The F-14, F-15 Eagle and other Western aircraft would also adopt a high mounted wing and wedge-shaped intake geometry (i.e., wedged air inlets) that were incorporated in the RA-5C.
13 December 1960, Navy Commander Leroy Heath (Pilot) and Lieutenant Larry Monroe (Bombardier/Navigator) established a world altitude record of 91,450.8 feet (27,874.2 metres) in an A3J Vigilante carrying a 1,000 kilogram payload, besting the previous record by over four miles. This new record held for over 13 years.
* YA3J-1 : Prototypes, two built.
* A3J-1 (A-5A): 59
* A3J-2 (A-5B): Six
* A3J-3P (RA-5C): Reconnaissance version, 91 new-build plus 43 converted A-5As
* ???-?? (A-5C): Proposed Improved Manned Interceptor (IMI) for U.S. Air Force with three engines; North American Rockwell Charge Number NR-349
Several Vigilantes are currently stored or on display in the United States.
*A-5A Bureau Number (BuNo) 146697, the oldest Vigilante on display and the only one still in its original A3J/A-5A nuclear attack bomber configuration, is on display at
Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland.
*RA-5C BuNo 149289 is on display at the
Pima Air & Space Museumin Tucson, Arizona. It was transferred from long-term storage at nearby Davis-Monthan Air Force Baseand carries the markings of RVAH-3.
*RA-5C BuNo 151629 is on display at the
Pueblo Weisbrod Aircraft Museum(formerly Fred E. Weisbrod Museum/International B-24 Museum) in Pueblo, Colorado. It is displayed in the markings of RVAH-3.
*RA-5C BuNo 156608 is on static display at Naval Support Activity Mid-South, formerly Naval Air Station Memphis, Tennessee. It was the last operational RA-5C aircraft and carries the markings of its last squadron, RVAH-7, during its final deployment aboard USS "Ranger" in 1979.
*RA-5C BuNo 156612 is on static display at
Naval Air Station Key West, Floridaand serves as a gate guard just inside the main gate. It carries the markings of RVAH-3.
*RA-5C BuNo 156621 was initially on display at the former U.S. Naval Photographic School at
NAS Pensacola, Florida. It was then barged up the eastern Atlantic coast and was formerly on display on the USS "Intrepid" Museum in New York City. In 2005, the aircraft was acquired by New York State Aerosciences Museum (ESAM) in Glenville, New York. The aircraft suffered minor damage to its fuselage aft of the wing root while being moved from the aircraft carrier Intrepid to a barge while supported by slings. It is currently undergoing restoration for display. It carries the markings of the Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS), RVAH-3.
*RA-5C BuNo 156624 in on display at the
National Museum of Naval Aviationat NAS Pensacola, Florida. It is displayed in the markings of RVAH-6, per that squadron's final cruise aboard the USS "Nimitz" in 1978.
*RA-5C BuNo 156632 was placed on display at the
Orlando Sanford International Airport(ex- Naval Air Station Sanford) in Sanford, Floridain 2004 as a memorial to Vigilante aircrews and support personnel who served at NAS Sanford. It was transferred from Naval Weapons Center China Lake, California and is marked as an RVAH-3 aircraft.
*RA-5C BuNo 156638 is on display at Naval Air Station
Fallon, Nevada. It was transferred from Naval Weapons Center China Lakeand is marked as an RVAH-12 aircraft.
*RA-5C BuNo 156640 is currently in storage at the Naval Weapons Center
China Lake, California.
*RA-5C BuNo 156641 is on display at the USS "Midway" Museum in
San Diego, California. It carries the markings of RVAH-12.
*RA-5C BuNo 156643, the last Vigilante built, is on display at the
Patuxent River Naval Air Museumin Patuxent River, Maryland. It was transferred from Key West, Florida, and is displayed as a test aircraft operated by the Patuxent River Flight Test Division in the 1970s.
United States Navy
pecifications (A-5A Vigilante)
jet or prop?=jet
plane or copter?=plane
length alt=23.32 m
length main=76 ft 6 in
span alt=16.15 m
span main=53 ft 0 in
height alt=5.9 m
height main=19 ft 5 in
area alt=70 m²
area main=754 ft²
empty weight alt=14,800 kg
empty weight main=32,700 lb
loaded weight alt=21,580 kg
loaded weight main=47,530 lb
useful load alt=13,730 kg
useful load main=30,250 lb
max takeoff weight alt=28,580 kg
max takeoff weight main=62,950 lb
General Electric J79-GE-8
type of jet=afterburning
number of jets=2
thrust main=10,900 lbf
thrust alt=48 kN
afterburning thrust main=17,000 lbf
afterburning thrust alt=76 kN
max speed main=Mach 2.0
max speed alt=1,320 mph, 2,123 km/h
max speed more=at altitude
cruise speed main=
cruise speed alt=
range main=1,290 mi
range alt=2,075 km
ceiling main=52,100 ft
ceiling alt=15,880 m
climb rate main=8,000 ft/min
climb rate alt=40.6 m/s
loading main=80.4 lb/ft²
loading alt=308.3 kg/m²
** 1× B28 or B43 freefall nuclear bomb in internal weapons bay
** 2× B43, Mark 83, or Mark 84 bombs on two external hardpoints
Dassault Mirage IV
List of bomber aircraft
List of military aircraft of the United States
* Donald, David and Jon Lake, eds. "Encyclopedia of World Military Aircraft". London: AIRtime Publishing, 1996. ISBN 1-880588-24-2.
* Gunston, Bill. "Bombers of the West". London: Ian Allan Ltd., 1973, p. 227-235. ISBN 0-7110-0456-0.
* Powell, Robert. "RA-5C Vigilante Units in Combat". London: Osprey Publishing Ltd., 2004. ISBN 1-84176-749-2.
* Taylor, John W.R. "North American A-5 Vigilante." "Combat Aircraft of the World from 1909 to the Present". New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1969. ISBN 0-425-03633-2.
* [http://www.history.navy.mil/branches/avchr9.htm Department of the Navy - Naval Historical Center]
* [http://broadcast.illuminatedtech.com/display/story.cfm?bp=112&sid=8126 National Museum of Naval Aviation]
* [http://www.rocket.aero/vigilante.html A3J/RA-5C Vigilante DVD]
* [http://www.vectorsite.net/ava5.html A-5/RA-5 Vigilante at vectorsite.net]
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