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This Is How North American Developed The Ultra-Advanced Vigilante

The Engineers Had a Great Time Designing and Building These Beautiful Super-Fast Birds

Official US Navy Photograph

North American Aviation (NAA) produced the film “V for Vigilante” to promote their then-new A3J-1 (later A-5A) Vigilante. The Viggie would of course go on to an impressive career, especially as a Mach 2 reconnaissance platform flying some of the hairiest missions in Southeast Asia. But NAA didn’t yet know just what kind of monster they had on their hands when they made this film during the late 1950s. This retrospective covering the development of the most advanced jet of its time was uploaded to YouTube by PeriscopeFilm.

Though the Vigilante was originally intended to replace the Douglas A-3 Skywarrior in the carrier-borne nuclear strike role it never actually did so. The reconnaissance variant developed from the A-5B, the RA-5C, was the most advanced Viggie– so advanced in fact that many of the RA-5C airframes were rebuilt from earlier A-5A and A-5B nuclear strike variants. The aircraft was an engineering marvel with enough high-tech gadgets to keep scores of technicians busy.

Official US Navy Photograph

The first heads-up display (HUD). The first fly-by-wire control system. One-piece wing skins. The list of innovations and firsts seemed endless. But even though the Vigilante was equipped with all manner of defensive electronic warfare systems, attrition was so high during the Vietnam War that NAA actually re-opened the production line to build more of them. Inertial navigation systems, television camera systems, and that critically important reconnaissance attack navigator (RAN) in the second seat (with the tiny windows) all made the RA-5C unique for its time.

Official US Navy Photograph

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Bill Walton

Written by Bill Walton

Bill Walton is a life-long aviation enthusiast and expert in aircraft recognition. As a teenager Bill helped his engineer father build an award-winning T-18 homebuilt airplane in their Wisconsin basement. Bill is a freelance writer, an avid sailor, engineer, announcer, husband, father, uncle, mentor, coach, and Navy veteran. Bill lives north of Houston TX with his wife and son under the approach path to KDWH runway 17R, which means they get to look up at a lot of airplanes. A very good thing.

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