North American A-5 Vigilante

USN aviation carrier based nuclear bomber/reconnaissance jet 1961-1975

In Brief: The A5 Vigilante was a gracy beast

The North American A-5 Vigilante was a carrier-based supersonic bomber, designed and built by North American Aviation on a USN specifications, designated A3J and later A-5. Development of this futuristic model started nack in 1954 as a private venture, as the company believed to can guess futurs specs and worked on a supersonic long-distance bomber notably as replacement for the failed XA2J Super Savage.

It was very large and did not lacked innovatiions, such as a digital computer, a top speed of Mach 2 with a nuclear payload, which were quite ambitious for the time. The US Navy saw the value of NA's concept and funded further development with a production order coming as soon as 29 August 1956. The prototype flew on 31 August 1958 and entered service in June 1961, replacing the Douglas A-3 Skywarrior as primary nuclear strike aircraft.

However this decade was not tender for manned bombers in the nuclear strategy as ballistic missiles were gradually preferred. The Vigilante was rinvented as a long range tactical strike reconnaissance variant (RA-5C), seeing plenty of action in the Vietnam War and blasting all world records in distance speed and altitude, unheard of for a carrier-based model. But it was starting to show its age and was gradually phased out in the mid-1970s, being expensive and complex to operate, falling to the axe of post-1973 crisis cutbacks.

Work in Progress, release planned 2025



The North American A-5 Vigilante was a supersonic bomber designed for the United States Navy in the late 1950s. Manufactured by North American Aviation it was originally designed as a carrier-based nuclear strike bomber, it was later adapted for reconnaissance missions. First Flight was in August 31, 1958 and service Entry in 1961. It was a behemoth, 76 feet 6 inches (23.32 meters) long 53 feet (16.15 meters) in span, and 19 feet 4 inches (5.89 meters) tall.

Both its wings and tail folded to make it fit in the relatively large hangar of supercarriers of the Forrestal, Kitty Hawk, Nimitz class and USS Enterprise. It was mostly seen with the latter. Its weight of 42,500 pounds (19,278 kg) and up to 80,000 pounds (36,287 kg) at Max Takeoff pushed the very limits of decks strenght, lift capacity and catapult.

Powered by Two General Electric J79-GE-8 turbojet engines, each producing 17,000 pounds of thrust with afterburner. It was capable of Over Mach 2 (approximately 1,385 mph or 2,228 km/h at altitude) and a max Range in stright line as reconnaissance model without military payload, of 2,400 miles (3,860 km). Service Ceiling was 52,100 feet (15,880 meters) making it unlikely to be caught by any existing Soviet interceptor in 1961.

As a recce model it was equipped with various sensors and cameras for the reconnaissance role when adapted to the RA-5C configuration for photo-reconnaissance missions, becoming a crucial asset during the Vietnam War for its high-speed and high-altitude capabilities. As a bomber it had a unique linear bomb bay where the bomb was ejected rearward, a design different from traditional bombers. It also had Advanced Avionics, sophisticated for its time, including an inertial navigation system and radar.

The A-5 Vigilante was a technologically advanced aircraft for its era and played a significant role during its service. However, its original mission as a nuclear strike bomber was relatively short-lived due to strategic changes and the evolution of carrier aviation tactics. Its adaptation to the reconnaissance role ensured a more extended operational life, particularly during the Vietnam War. The aircraft was retired from service in the late 1970s.

⚙ A5A Vigilante early specifications

Empty Weight32,783 lb (14,870 kg)
Gross Weight47,631 lb (21,605 kg)
Max Takeoff weight63,085 lb (28,615 kg)
Lenght76 ft 6 in (23.32 m)
Wingspan53 ft 0 in (16.16 m)
Height19 ft 5 in (5.91 m)
Wing Area701 sq ft (65.1 m2)
Engines2× GE J79-GE-8 after-burning turbojets 10,900 lbf (48 kN) thrust
Top Speed1,149 kn (1,322 mph, 2,128 km/h) at 40,000 ft (12,000 m)
Cruise Speed
Range974 nmi (1,121 mi, 1,804 km), 1,571 nmi ferry
Climb Rate8,000 ft/min (41 m/s)
Ceiling52,100 ft (15,900 m)
ArmamentB27, B28 or B43 freefall nuclear bomb or B43, Mark 83, Mark 84 bombs on external hardpoints.

Combat Records

(To come)
A5A from VAH-7 Peacemakers, USS Enterprise 1962.



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