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Designation: RA-5C

North American RA-5C

North American RA-5C Vigilante

A picture of the North American RA-5C Vigilante

The Vigilante is one of the largest aircraft to routinely fly from the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers.  It was designed in the late 1950s as a supersonic nuclear capable attack bomber.  The Vigilante first flew in August 1958 and deliveries of operational aircraft began in 1960.  The A3J, as it was then designated, featured a unique bomb bay arrangement in which the bomb was ejected out a chute that exited between the aircraft’s engines.  This system proved to be very troublesome and in fact many problems were never solved.  A change in policy eliminated the Navy’s strategic nuclear bombing role and the Vigilante’s mission was changed to reconnaissance.  At the same time the Navy’s aircraft designation system was changed and the A3J became the A-5A and the reconnaissance version became the RA-5C.  Existing Vigilantes were upgraded and modified to serve as photo reconnaissance aircraft and further examples were built in the new configuration.  The Vigilante served with the U.S. Navy until 1979.

Wingspan 53 ft


Length 76 ft 6 in.


Height 19 ft 4 in.


Weight 79,588 lbs (loaded)


Max. Speed 1,385 MPH

Maximum Speed

Service Ceiling 48,400 ft

Service Ceiling

Range 3,000 miles


Engines Two General Electric J79-GE-10 turbojets with 10,800 pounds of thrust each


Crew 2


North American

Heavy Reconnaissance Attack Squadron 3 (RVAH-3), Naval Air Station Albany, Georgia, 1970


Serial Number

Service History

Manufactured by North American Aviation, Columbus, Ohio and delivered to the U.S. Navy as an A-5A on December 17, 1962.

January 1963               To Heavy Attack Squadron 1 (VAH-1), Naval Air Station Sanford, Florida.  Deployed on USS Independence.

August 1963                To Heavy Attack Squadron 3 (VAH-3), Naval Air Station Sanford, Florida.  Deployed on USS Independence.

August 1964                To North American Aviation, Columbus, Ohio for conversion to RA-5C.

January 1966               To Heavy Reconnaissance Attack Squadron 6 (RVAH-6), Naval Air Station Miramar, California.

November 1966          Unit moved to Naval Air Station Sanford, Florida.

May 1967                    Unit moved to Naval Air Station Albany, Georgia.  Deployed on USS America.

June 1968                    To Reconnaissance Attack Squadron 13 (RVAH-13), Naval Air Station Albany, Georgia.

November 1968          To Reconnaissance Attack Squadron 3 (RVAH-3), Naval Air Station Albany, Florida.

April 1969                   To Reconnaissance Attack Squadron 7 (RVAH-7) aboard USS Constellation.

June 1969                    To Reconnaissance Attack Squadron 5 (RVAH-5), Naval Air Station Albany, Florida.

August 1969                To Reconnaissance Attack Squadron 3, (RVAH-3), Naval Air Station Albany, Florida.

September 1970          To Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona for storage.

November 1980          Loaned to Pima Air & Space Museum by the National Naval Aviation Museum.

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