In-Box Review
North American RA-5C Vigilante

by: Ross Mahoney [ MAHROSS ]

I have always liked the look of the Vigilante ever since I first saw the old Airfix kit many years ago so I was pleased to see the release of this aircraft by Trumpeter. I picked my version up at the recent show at the Aeroventure Museum in Doncaster.

The Vigilante, designed and built for the U.S. Navy by North American Aircraft Division at Columbus, Ohio, was the only Mach 2 bomber to serve aboard a Navy carrier. Initially designated the A3J-1 attack bomber, it was one of the largest and heaviest aircraft ever accepted for service aboard U.S. Navy carriers. Production began in 1956 and it entered squadron service in June 1961. It was redesignated the A-5 and fully deployed by August 1962, when the USS Enterprise, the Navy's first nuclear aircraft carrier, made its inaugural cruise.

Changing defence strategies marked a change of focus away from carrier-based, heavy attack squadrons. In 1964, all the Vigilantes were reconfigured as reconnaissance aircraft and designated RA-5C. Reconnaissance gear was mounted in what had been the Vigilante's bomb bay. Other modifications allowed the RA-5C to carry four external fuel tanks. These additions increased the airplane's range on reconnaissance missions and allowed it to keep its attack capability with externally mounted bombs and rockets.

The RA-5C Vigilante first flew on June 30, 1962, and was capable of all-weather, long-range, carrier- or land-based, multisensor, reconnaissance missions involving high-altitude supersonic, or very low-altitude, high-speed penetrations. Its inertial navigation system provided the precise position location information demanded. The Vigilante pilot and the reconnaissance/attack navigator (RAN) sat in tandem under individual clamshell-type canopies. The RAN controlled all reconnaissance functions, although the pilot could assume control of the oblique-mounted serial frame cameras. Each crewmember had a catapult/rocket-powered ejection seat, also designed and produced at the Columbus facility, capable of high-altitude, high-speed or ground-level recoveries.

The RA-5C featured a high, thin swept wing and all-movable slab-type tail surfaces with spoiler/deflectors in lieu of conventional ailerons for lateral control. The wing was equipped with flaps and droopable leading edges with boundary layer control, which, when used in conjunction with the spoiler/deflectors, improved low-speed flight characteristics.

The combination of the RA-5C Vigilante's ability to deliver conventional weapons, day or night in all kinds of weather, as well as to complete tactical reconnaissance missions made it one of the most versatile aircraft in the world. RA-5Cs served throughout the Vietnam War and were retired from service in 1979.

The kit comes with 137 pieces of which 18 are the various clear parts for the cockpit, glazing and landing lights. All of these are provided on 5 sprues with some parts, such as the fuselage pieces coming separately off the sprue. The kit comes with decals for 2 aircraft and a plastic film with the console panels printed on.

The Parts
As mentioned there are 137 pieces all told in this kit and each one of them is very nicely moulded with fine recessed panel lines. The only area, which might be an issue is the recessed rivets. There does seem to a lot of them but other than that the detail is stunning and I can see why Trumpeter are starting to worry the big players.

The interior is very nicely detailed with no real room for improvement with the exception of seat harnesses. My only issue with the cockpit is the the use of clear parts and plastic film. I do not really like this way of doing the panels and would much prefer grey plastic. Having said that, you can always just paint them or do as I am going to do and replace them with Eduard's nice colour etched set for the kit. The front wheel also fits into the cockpit tub before you have to put the fuselage halves together.

The rest of the kit parts seem very well detailed and from the limited dry fitting that I have done they seem to go together well too. You get a nicely detailed recon pod and 3 parts make up the engine exhausts.

The clear parts included in the kit are superb with no scratches on them at all. This is helped by the fact that they have been supplied in their own bag. I do like the way in which Trumpeter have made the none clear areas of the glazing frosted to aid masking the canopy. This is a great idea and a real help when creating your own masks.

Instructions, Marking and Decals
The instructions are provided in A4 landscape format and are of the exploded type. They are very good and comprehensive. My only gripe is in relation to the colours. They have provided paint reference numbers but not which manufacturers range they are from. I assume they are Gunze but I am not sure. So be sure to have reference to hand to check colours.

The kit comes with two colour schemes, both in the standard colours for the US Navy of the 60's, Light Gull over White. The two marking options, RVAH-3 'Sea Dragons' and RVAH-9 'Hoot Owls, are both colourful, as were many aircraft of this period. Hopefully the aftermarket manufacturers will provide more. The decals are a little on the thick side but nothing too major that can not be solved with a bit of Set and Sol.

Excellent. This is a great addition to US Naval subjects and if that is what you like, I suggest you buy one of these. It is a great kit of a unique subject that deserves to be built.
Following on from the trend they have set with other aircraft, Trumpeter have now released the Vigilante in 1/72 as well as 1/48.
Percentage Rating
  Scale: 1:72
  Mfg. ID: 01616
  Suggested Retail: 15.95
  PUBLISHED: Aug 23, 2006
  NATIONALITY: United States

About Ross Mahoney (Mahross)

I am a historian living in Brisbane, Australia. I am lucky enough to call my interest and passion my profession. Modelling wise I build whatever looks interesting, though my primary focus is figures, armour, and aircraft.

Copyright 2021 text by Ross Mahoney [ MAHROSS ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of AeroScale. All rights reserved.


A good review of a nice kit. I have one in my stash. A few points. The kit depicts the late version of the RA-5C with the leading edge extension and straight intake sides. These Vigilantes were built between 1968 - 1970. The kit also includes a number of under wing stores: Electronic strobe lights for nocturnal missions, pairs of Mk-28 and Mk-43 nuclear "shapes". David
SEP 06, 2006 - 12:20 AM
Hi Rowan - Well we got there in the end with it. :-) David - Cheers for that. I'm hoping someone does some nice decals for it eventually. Ross
SEP 06, 2006 - 03:17 PM

Click image to enlarge
  • Trumpeter_RA-5C_Box_Art
  • Trumpeter_RA-5C_Contents
  • Trumpeter_RA-5C_Fuselage
  • Trumpeter_RA-5C_Wings
  • Trumpeter_RA-5C_Canopy
  • Trumpeter_RA-5C_Instructions
  • Trumpeter_RA-5C_Colour
  • Trumpeter_RA-5C_Decals