Vigilante Nuclear Bomber to Recce Specialist

The North American A3J/A-5 Vigilante switched roles from nuclear bomber to reconnaissance. Bob Archer examines a career that included extensive service during the Vietnam War

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The Vigilante lasted into the late 1970s before replacement by F-14s with reconnaissance pods. RVAH-12 ‘Speartips’ was disestablished 13 months after this photo of two RA-5Cs in flight was taken on June 3, 1978 
Michael Grove

On June 13, 1979, North American RA-5C Vigilante, 156636, of the US Navy’s RVAH-3 (Reconnaissance Heavy Attack Squadron Three), departed NAS Key West, Florida and flew across the Gulf of Mexico, before arriving at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona. It was the last of 36 to be ferried for storage to the Military Aircraft Storage and Disposition Center (MASDC). From a total production of 156, only 36 were stored, while 78 of the remaining 120 were lost to various causes including accidents, damaged beyond economical repair, or destroyed in combat.

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