The North American A-5 Vigilante was a powerful, highly advanced carrier-based supersonic bomber designed for the United States Navy. Its service in the nuclear strike role to replace the A-3 Skywarrior was very short.
Designated A3J-1, the Vigilante first entered squadron service with VAH-3 in June 1961, replacing the A-3 Skywarrior in the heavy attack role. All variants of the Vigilante were built at North American Aviation's facility at Port Columbus Airport in Columbus, Ohio, alongside the T-2 Buckeye and OV-10 Bronco.
Under the Tri-Services Designation plan implemented under Robert McNamara in September 1962, the Vigilante was redesignated A-5, with the initial A3J-1 becoming A-5A and the updated A3J-2 becoming A-5B. The subsequent recce version, originally AJ3-3P, became the RA-5C.
The Vigilante's early service proved troublesome, with many teething problems for its advanced systems. It also arrived in service during a major policy shift in the Navy strategic role, which switched to emphasize submarine launched ballistic missiles rather than manned bombers. As a result, in 1963 procurement of the A-5 was ended and the type was converted to the fast reconnaissance role. The first RA-5Cs were delivered in July 1963, with Vigilante squadrons redesignated RVAH.
Despite the Vigilante's useful service, it was expensive and complex to operate, and it was phased out after the end of the Vietnam War. Disestablishment of RVAH squadrons began in 1974, with the last Vigilantes completing their final deployment in September 1979.
The Vigilante did not end the career of the Skywarriors, which would carry on as electronic warfare platforms and tankers. Fighters fitted with pods would replace the RA-5C. Following up to present day, the weight of fighters such as the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet has evolved into the same 62,950 lb class as the Vigilante. The Super Hornet fighter is also planned to cover the strike, reconnaissance, tanker, and electronic warfare roles of these old bomber types.
Although the Vigilante served in the attack and recce roles, its design and configuration was believed to be a major influence on one of the world's most famous postwar interceptors: the Soviet MiG-25 'Foxbat' was apparently heavily influenced by the A-5's design. (The MiG-25 would look even more familiar if the Vigilante had retained the twin vertical fins of the prototype; although North American originally specified two fins, like the later Foxbat, that part of the design was vetoed by the Navy in favor of one folding tailfin.) Other western aircraft such as the F-15 Eagle would also adopt a high mounted wing and wedge-shaped intake geometry.