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Spiros Pendedekas
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Trumpeter 1/48 RA-5C Vigilante

February 15, 2024 · in Aviation · · 57 · 379

The twin engine, two crew North American started its life as a supersonic carrier-based bomber, then maturing into a high speed reconnaissance aircraft.

An effective but complex machine, it featured a high mounted swept wing with a boundary layer control system to improve low speed lift and a first generation fly-by-wire system. Roll control was provided by spoilers in conjunction with differential deflection of the all-moving tail surfaces, which were paired with a relatively large all-moving single vertical stabilizer.

The use of aluminum-lithium alloy for wing skins and titanium for critical structures was also unusual for the era, as was the use of a gold coating to reflect heat in key areas such as the bomb bay, which was in close proximity to the engines. The wings, vertical stabilizer and nose radome, all folded to enable easier stowage onboard aircraft carriers.

The type featured very advanced electronics (multi role radar, HUD, computerized nav/attack system, radar equipped inertial navigation system and an under nose television camera), all coupled to a "Versatile Digital Analyzer" (VERDAN) digital computer.

Another particular feature was its "linear bomb bay", located between the engines in the rear fuselage, which would carry the primary weapon - typically a nuclear bomb - along with two disposable fuel tanks, with the complete set releasable rearwards at supersonic speed.

Though sounding impressive on paper, the system proved troublesome in practice and never used operationally, with the space used to carry extra fuel when the type reverted to the reconnaissance role. Four hard points were also provided but hardly used.

The sizable plane, while surprisingly agile, was not the easiest to land on carriers, mainly due to its high approach speed and high angle of attack. Its early service proved troublesome, as the technology available and the personnel's initial experience were not up to the standards the plane's sophisticated systems required. Even though those issues were subsequently worked out to a good degree, the plane remained maintenance intensive.

The shift that took place by those times in the U.S. Navy's strategic role, emphasizing submarine-launched ballistic missiles rather than manned bombers, gave the death's kiss to the plane's envisaged bombing role, allowing it to quickly mature to a potent reconnaissance platform.

In the reconnaissance role, the Vigilante saw extensive service in the Vietnam War. Truth is that it suffered heavy losses there, but this was mainly due to the hazard of the missions themselves (medium-level, with especially the post-strike ones being, understandably, extremely risky) rather than the type's inefficiency (in fact it was potent and useful). Meanwhile, the type's complexity made it expensive to operate and its big size for a carrier plane was not helping either, so it came as no surprise that it was quickly phased out from service after the Vietnam War, the last flight of the type taking place on 20 November 1979.

The Vigilante is an interesting case of an aggressive design that managed to enter operational status. Arguably “ahead of its time” and gradually addressing its teething issues, it matured to a capable reconnaissance platform. Potent, but maintenance intensive and very expensive to operate, this impressive, aesthetically pleasing aircraft had no chance but to remain in service for not that long.

BuNo156624 was constructed in January 1970 as an and was immediately transferred to RVAH-6, NAS Albany, GA. Initially serving with USS America, she was then successively transferred to NAS Key West, USS Constellation, USS Forrestal, Key West and USS Forrestal again and finally USS Nimitz, where she spent its last operational time, being Struck Off Strength/Charge on 11 October 1978, spanning a too short career of less than 9 years. Luckily, she found a new life immediately after as a museum exhibit in NAS Pensacola Museum, where she happily resides outdoors today (2024), in seemingly very good condition.

Listening to modelers' wishes for the "Most Wanted Kit", came in 2005 with their modern, detailed Vigilante. After the initial praise (the kit looks very comprehensive and promising in the box) complaints started to arise, mainly focusing on shape issues and the fact that the kit was a mix match of earlier and later air frame configurations, fit and exaggerated engraved riveting. Whereas their significance might vary from one modeler to another, the above reported issues had a negative effect, the bottom line being that the kit everyone wanted did not sell that well, let alone being built.Personally I could not resist buying and tackling it.

The kit is buildable, but fit can be at areas challenging.
Should you wish to read the full build review, you may do so by visiting my beloved site Modelingmadness:
https://modelingmadness.com/review/viet/us/usn/attack/pena5.htm

Happy Modelling!
Reader reactions:
24  Awesome 6  1 

57 responses

  1. This is one of those planes that looks fast just sitting on the ground, Spiros (@fiveten). It is also very large in 1/48. Hopefully you have some shelf space. Well done.

  2. That looks great, Spiros! Well done...

  3. Another great model from you, Spiros, the success of the kit seems to mirror that of the real thing.

  4. Spiros (@fiveten) - another fine build 😀

    Hard to believe that an aircraft that looks as big as it is, could be carrier based!

  5. Really a great looking model , Spiros @fiveten ! You did excellent work on this.

  6. Great looking RA-5 Spiros!

  7. Such a cool looking jet! Nice job!

    Rod

  8. Thanks for a great build, photos and article. Both the real world aircraft and model have interesting and difficult stories.

  9. Inspiring build, Spiros.

  10. Well done, Spiros. The aerodynamics were almost 20 years ahead of its time on the Vigilante.

  11. Excellent work, Spiros. @fiveten

  12. Excellent work with the kit. The Vigilante always looked cool and you've certainly captured that element of it.

  13. Spiros Pendedekas (@fiveten)
    You have built yet another masterpiece ! I still have not figured out how you are able to build things so quickly, and still have such fantastic results. But you do ! For that I am a happy man, as I really enjoy looking at your completed models, and reading your articles.

    Fantastic work here my dear friend. I'm going to be clicking on several of the various "like" buttons.

    I grew up in Central Florida and as a child I can remember seeing some of these planes flying overhead. The sight was impressive... but the sound was INCREDIBLE !

    Please tell QC1 and QC2 that Sandy and I said hello.

  14. Another fantastic build, Spiros @fiveten
    Definitely the best possible outcome of this challenging kit and the demanding size.
    Beautifully presented with a great supporting article.

  15. Well, it is beautiful, plus very interesting information.

  16. Hi Spiros, what a fantastic result out of this challenging kit!
    Must have been a nightmare to build, but the result is really impressive.
    Very informative write-up too, thanks for sharing.

  17. Great build of one mean looking aircraft. Well done as always!

  18. Now, that is cool, Spiros! 🤩 I've always admired their looks, and now I've seen an admirable model built as well. That is a beautiful aircraft and an impressive scale model @fiveten! 🏆

  19. @fiveten - Beautiful work Spiros! The weathering and pre-shading look great.

  20. very nice build! I never heard about this plane!

  21. A beauty Spiros! The Vigilante is underappreciated in the modeling world! One of my earliest builds was an old Revell (I think) RA-5C, and now that my skills have developed, I need another crack at one (and a newer kit!).

  22. An amazing result, @fiveten.

    Interesting what I find in the garage as I continue cleaning out. Opened one box and there inside was my RA-5C kit, which I had stopped back in 2006. Interestingly, I had solved the wing problem by glueing the completed wing (which I did as you did, which solved the thickness differences problem) to a fuselage half before proceeding, and attaching it very thoroughly then letting it set up upside-down so it ended up with the right angles and a solid attachment. I am thinking of proceeding with it, particularly since I found the really excellent Zotz Decal sheet in the box.

    Thanks for the inspiration here.

  23. Gorgeous build, Spiros @fiveten! I like the subtle preshading a lot. And once again a pristine canopy 🙂

  24. One of my favorite airplanes. Wonderful rendition, Spiros. You catched perfectly the pure lines of this bird. Bravo!

  25. Splendid results sir
    Guess ya have to be careful what ya wish for eh?

  26. Fantastic job on one of the best looking jets (in my opinion).
    Pleasure to view and read, Spiros (@fiveten)

  27. A beautiful model of a beautiful aeroplane - your build brings it across really well. Thanks for these inspiring pictures and the highly informative text!

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