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RA-5 Vigilante

The A-5 Vigilante was designed by North American to be a nuclear strike aircraft. The bomb was held in a unique bomb bay in the fuselage between the engines. The weapon was ejected aft of the speeding aircraft to give the crew time to escape. The A-5 was capable of high speeds, so that the bomb could be dropped at low altitude and still ensure crew survivability. The 2 man crew flew in tandem in twin cockpits, the pilot in front, and the Reconnaissance Attack Navigator, in the rear.

The first A-5 Vigilantes entered service with VAH-3, the training unit, in mid-1961. The aircraft was found to be demanding of its pilot, particularly during landing and low speed maneuvers. Although maintenance intensive, it was an excellent aircraft in other respects, and deployed with VAH-1 and VAH-7. In 1963 the Navy dropped the carrier-based nuclear strike mission in 1963 in favor of the Polaris submarines which were then entering service.

All the remaining A-5As were converted to the RA-5C version. As with other aircraft, the airframe was adopted to the recce mission, with the addition of cameras and other sensors along the bottom of the aircraft in a canoe. In addition, fuel capacity was increased by using the now empty bomb bay between the engines for fuel, as well as building up a fuselage hump for increased capacity. The RA-5C was a Mach 2+ aircraft, capable of electromagnetic, optical, and electronic reconnaissance. It could operate at altitudes from SL to above 50,000 feet. The RA-5C was used extensively by the Navy in Vietnam. So successful was the aircraft, that the production line was reopened to manufacture additional aircraft as attrition replacements. This aircraft was very maintenance intensive, requiring over a hundred hours of maintenance time for each flight hour according to some estiamtes.

The "Viggie" was retired in the mid 1970's and not replaced, the Navy deciding to use Marine RF-4Bs for reconnaissance instead.



1,320 mph

Service Ceiling

52,100 feet




2,050 miles


53.2 feet


19.37 feet

Empty Weight

37,489 pounds

Maximum Weight

79,588 pounds

Power plant

Two J79-GE-10 turbojet engines


17,859 Ibs thrust each

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Page last modified: 28-07-2011 00:50:39 ZULU