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American postwar aircraft


North American A-5 Vigilante

The A-5 was a very advanced supersonic attack aircraft, optimized 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, because the bomb ejection mechanism was unsatisfactory. The bomb bay was between the engines, and the plan was to expell 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 1974.
The first prototype of the YA3J-1 Vigilante, as it was formally designated, was rolled out on 16 May 1958, with first flight on 31 August 1958. The aircraft was long and sleek, with a relatively small swept-back wing, and all-moving horizontal and vertical tailplanes. The Vigilante was powered by twin General Electric YJ79-GE-2 engines, and had a large fuel capacity to give it range and permit extended flight in afterburner. The two crewmen flew in tandem cockpits equipped with North American HS-1 rocket ejection seats.
The first production A3J-1 Vigilantes flew in 1960. Production aircraft were progressively fitted with more powerful J-79 engine variants, leading to the definitive J-79-GE-8 engines, with 7,480 kilograms (16,500 pounds) thrust. These were the same engines used on common variants of the McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom fighter, simplifying Navy logistics and maintenance.
Carrier trials began in July 1960, and revealed no severe problems. To promote the aircraft to the US Congress, the Navy also established several speed and altitude records with the aircraft.
The A-3J1 Vigilante began to flow to operational units in 1961, with last deliveries of the variant in 1963, when it was redesignated the A-5A due to a Defense Department decision to come up with a common designation scheme for US military aircraft.
The decision to develop the Vigilante strictly as a reconnaissance aircraft was taken while efforts were being made to enhance its attack abilities, as well as modify it for reconnaissance. An improved attack variant, the A3J-2 (later the A-5B), and a reconnaissance version, the RA-5C, were both built.
Work began on the A-5B in 1961, with the first example flying at the end of April 1962. The most visible change from the A-5A was a modified "humpback" fuselage that offered a substantial increase in fuel capacity. Longer and wider flaps were fitted, as well as a improved "blown flaps" scheme, in which high-pressure engine bleed was fed forward to the front of the wing to enhance flap performance.
The RA-5C proved so useful in Vietnam, however, that the Navy ordered 46 new RA-5Cs in 1968. Only 36 would be actually completed, however, with the last rolling off the production line in August 1970. This final batch featured J-79-GE-10 engines with 8,100 kilograms (17,860 pounds) thrust, as well as a leading-edge wing extension trailing back from the air intakes and slightly modified air intakes.
A total of 156 Vigilantes were built, including prototypes. One is known to survive on display at the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida. A number were used as nonflying targets, including one that was used a target for the Tomahawk cruise missile whose destruction is documented by well-known imagery.
General characteristics
Primary function Tactical reconnaissance, carrier-based attack aircraft
Contractor North American / Rockwell
Power plant Two turbojet General Electric J79-GE-8 engines
Thrust normal 2x 10,800 lb 2x 48 kN
afterburner 2x 17,000 lb 2x 75.6 kN
Length 76 ft 6 in 23.32 m
Height 19 ft 5.79 m
Wingspan 53 ft 16.15 m
Weight empty 37,500 lb 17,009 kg
Max. takeoff weight 79,588 lb 36,094 kg
Range 1,500 miles 2,415 km
Cruising speed 1,254 mph 2,019 km/h
Max. speed 1,385 mph 2,230 km/h
Ceiling 48,400 ft 14,752 m
Crew Two (pilot, navigator)

Jirka Wagner


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