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RA-5C Kit

Trumpeter 1/72 RA-5C Vigilante Kit First Look

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review March 2005 Manufacturer Trumpeter
Subject RA-5C Vigilante Scale 1/72
Kit Number 1616 Primary Media Styrene
Pros Nice detail, optional nuke stores, positionable flight control sufaces; outer wings and tail can be positioned folded Cons Mixed versions represented (see text)
Skill Level Intermediate MSRP (USD) $29.95

First Look

RA-5C Kit
RA-5C Kit
RA-5C Kit
RA-5C Kit
RA-5C Kit
RA-5C Kit

North American Aviation came of its own in WW2 with the P-51 Mustang, and after the war, it was able to exploit the engineering research captured in Germany and turn out notable aircraft like the F-86 Sabre, FJ Fury, AJ Savage, and F-100 Super Sabre. Few companies at that time could boast that they were producing versatile combat aircraft for both the Air Force and Navy!

When the Navy wanted a long-range, carrier-based, Mach 2-class nuclear bomber, once again North American's designs took the lead. The initial A3J design brought together many innovations that would become second-nature on future combat aircraft. The design introduced the variable geometry inlet ramps, a retractable air refueling probe, the Heads-Up Display (HUD), and an all-moving vertical stabilizer for maximum yaw authority. The airframe also incorporated two General Electric J79 turbojet engines, the same powerplant that would power the F-104, B-58, Kfir, and F-4. The design also incorporated an innovative weapons tunnel delivery system where the bomb was ejected from a tube between the engine nozzles, eliminating the need for bomb bay doors. This innovation would become the A3J's Achilles' Heel.

While the Navy and North American tried to sort out the technical difficulties with the weapons tunnel, the Air Force delivered the fatal blow by convincing the DoD that the Air Force should be the nuclear deterrent force and the Navy should focus on conventional operations. This left the Navy with a powerful platform with no mission. Ultimately, the A3J-3 would result, a dedicated Mach 2 long range reconnaissance platform. After Secretary of Defense McNamara's alignment of aircraft designators in the early 1960s, the A3J became the A-5 and the A3J-3 became the RA-5C.

Most of the A-5A and A-5B aircraft were converted to the RA-5C in addition to production RA-5C airframes. In all, 122 RA-5C Vigilantes were built, 79 of which were production aircraft, the remainder were conversions of the earlier aircraft. The tip of the vertical stab of the A-5A/B was horizontal to the fuselage, whereas the the RA-5C had the tip clipped at an angle.

The RA-5C Vigilante essentially came in two configurations. The early versions were distinguishable by curvilinear vertical walls of the intakes, no leading edge extensions (LEX) at the wing roots, and a slightly blunter rear ECM housing on the vertical stabilizer. When the aircraft was mated with the more powerful J79-GE-10 engines, their need for additional air mass required that the inlets be enlarged with different ramps and the edges of the vertical intake lips were now straight. The LEX were also added to the wing roots to improve low-speed stability. The original ejection seats of the A3J-1/2 were replaced by zero-zero capable seats, though externally the visible differences were insignificant.

What a surprise! This kit was just a month behind the 1/48 Vigilante, released just last February. The kit is definitely scaled down from the previous kit, and at 1/72 scale comprises of 202 parts on three gray parts trees (plus one clear tree). The main difference between the larger scale Vigilante and this release is simply the lack of complete J79 engines and optional radar, which will make assembly easier. Like the 1/48 scale release, the flight control surfaces, leading edge flaps, as well as the folding outer wing panels and upper vertical stab are all positionable.

Out of the box, the kit represents the late-model (J79-GE-10 powered) RA-5C with the straight intake edges, and LEX, though for some reason the early ECM housing is provided on the tail. This minor issue will be easily dealt with using putty. The tip of the vertical stab is for the early A-5A/B, but can be easily trimmed to reflect the clip of the RA-5C.

Assembly starts with the ejection seats and cockpit. The cockpit 'tub' houses the front and rear cockpit though there are no sidewalls present. This means that the ejector pin marks in the cockpit area of the fuselage halves will need putty/filler. The cockpit tub receives nice side console parts and instrument panels that feature acetate instrument faces. Even the early HUD is nicely done.

Assembly of the remainder of the kit appears to be very straightforward. The canopies can be positioned open though no mechanism is provided to hold the canopies up. The air refueling probe is not positionable in this scale.

Trumpeter did a nice job on the bomb tube cover. Though not clear in these photos, the rear bomb tube cover should appear as a slightly mis-matched fairing that was originally expendable with the A3J-1/2 and this look is captured nicely on the kit part.

The wings have holes flashed over to allow the installation for optional pylons to carry the Mk.28 and/or Mk.43 nuclear stores, or port and starboard flash pods.

Markings are included for two examples:

  • RA-5C, 156609, RVAH-3, GJ/300, NAS Key West
  • RA-5C, 156621, RVAH-9, GM/602

One of the more subtle bugs in the molding of the 1/48 scale version of the kit was some mold lines at key edges of the fuselage, but apparently that problem didn't scale down as the edges appear to be fine in this scale. The molding is crisp and the detailing will lend itself to some nice subtle weathering.

If you're looking for a 1/72 RA-5C that will stand up against other contemporary molds and look nice with a few minor tweaks, this kit is what you're looking for. It will look stunning against the older Airfix and Hasegawa offerings!

My sincere thanks to Stevens International for this review sample!