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Aircraft Familiarization in the A3J Vigilante Operating Procedures

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RA-5C Vigilante Units in Combat by Robert R Powell and Jim Laurier - Read Online

About Robert R. Robert R. Other books in the series.


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Osprey Combat Aircraft 1 - 10 of books. Books by Robert R. No trivia or quizzes yet. Welcome back. Its first flight occurred two years later on 31 August in 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.


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It had a high-mounted swept wing with a boundary-layer control system blown flaps to improve low-speed lift. Roll control was provided by spoilers in conjunction with differential deflection of the all-moving tail surfaces. Use of aluminum-lithium alloy for wing skins and titanium for critical structures were also unusual. Despite being designated by the US Navy as a "heavy", the A-5 was surprisingly agile for such a large 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 and low altitudes. However, its high approach speed and high angle of attack in the landing configuration made returning to the aircraft carrier a challenge for inexperienced or unwary pilots.

The Vigilante had advanced and complex electronics when it first entered service. Given its original design as a carrier-based, supersonic, nuclear heavy attack aircraft, the Vigilante's main armament was carried in a novel "linear bomb bay" between the engines in the rear fuselage, which provided for positive separation of the bomb from the aircraft at supersonic speeds. The single 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".

A set of extendable fins was attached to the aft end of the most rearward fuel tank. These fuel tanks were to be emptied during flight to the target and then jettisoned with the bomb by an explosive drogue gun. The stores train was propelled rearward at about 50 feet per second 30 knots relative to the aircraft, not at the aircraft's forward speed as stated in some references. It therefore followed a typical ballistic arc rather than "falling straight down. In practice, the system was not 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.

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A planform aerial view of an RA-5C Vigilante aircraft. The Vigilante originally had two wing pylons, intended primarily for drop tanks. The second Vigilante variant, the A3J-2 A-5B , incorporated internal tanks for an additional 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. The reconnaissance version 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. 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.

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The Vigilante's early service proved troublesome, with many teething problems for its advanced systems. Although these systems were highly sophisticated, the technology of the time was in its infancy, and its reliability was poor. The A-5's service coincided with a major policy shift in the U. Navy's strategic role, which switched to emphasize submarine-launched ballistic missiles rather than manned bombers. As a result, in , procurement of the A-5 was ended and the type was converted to the fast reconnaissance role.

Kennedy and eventually Nimitz -class aircraft carriers to the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Western Pacific. Eight of 10 squadrons of RA-5C Vigilantes also saw extensive service in Vietnam starting in August , 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 during Operation Linebacker II.

Nine more were lost in operational accidents while serving with Task Force Due, in part, to these combat losses, 36 additional RA-5C aircraft were built from to as attrition replacements. 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.


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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, into the s and early s. Fighters replaced the RA-5C in the carrier-based reconnaissance role. The RF-8G version of the Vought F-8 Crusader , modified with internal cameras, had already been serving in two light photographic squadrons VFP and VFP since the early s, operating from older aircraft carriers unable to support the Vigilante.

These squadrons superseded the Vigilante's role by providing detachments from the primary squadron to carrier air wings throughout the late s and early-to-mids until transfer of the recon mission to the Navy's fighter squadron VF community operating the Grumman F Tomcat.

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While the Vigilante served in the attack and reconnaissance roles, its design and planform was a direct descendant of the earlier WS or XF Rapier Mach 3 fighter, designed originally to escort the North American XB Valkyrie bomber. Although both experimental programs were ultimately unsuccessful, the Soviet 's Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG "Foxbat" interceptor was greatly influenced by American advances in high speed flight. This new record held for over 13 years.

This aircraft has since been repainted in RVAH-7 markings and is now displayed indoors.

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