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RA-5C Kit

Trumpeter 1/48 RA-5C Vigilante Kit First Look

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review February 2005 Manufacturer Trumpeter
Subject RA-5C Vigilante Scale 1/48
Kit Number 2809 Primary Media Styrene
Pros Nice detail, optional nuke stores, positionable flight control sufaces (no photo-etch hinges!); outer wings and tail can be positioned folded Cons Mixed versions represented (see text); serious mold lines in fuselage
Skill Level Intermediate MSRP (USD) $74.95

First Look

RA-5C Kit
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.

Who would have thought that we'd see the RA-5C Vigilante in 1/48 scale? Thanks to Trumpeter, we now have this important Navy reconnaissance bird in this scale! The kit is molded in the typical light gray styrene, with details finely scribed into the surfaces. The kit is comprised of 237 parts on eight parts trees (seven gray trees and one clear tree).

There are some ejector pin marks in the interior fuselage around the cockpit that will need attention. The best news is that this kit was engineered without photo-etched hinges! 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.

In typical Trumpeter fashion, the kit includes two nicely-detailed engines that will not be seen once installed in the airframe. The only visible areas will be the engine compressor face through the intakes, and the afterburner chambers from the rear. I did a quick check and the resin J79 engine faces and afterburner chambers produced by a number of companies for the Hasegawa F-4 fit perfectly. In fact, the resin afterburner chambers and interior nozzle details are better than the kit parts. I'll be using the resin parts and saving the complete engines for other projects!

Assembly of the remainder of the kit appears to be very straightforward. The radome can be positioned open to reveal a nice navigation radar underneath. The canopies can be positioned open though no mechanism is provided to hold the canopies up. The air refueling probe can be positioned out or stowed.

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, 151726, RVAH-5, AE/404, USS America
  • RA-5C, 156624, RVAH-6, AJ/601, USS Nimitz

Don't forget that Zotz has already released decals for this set which can be seen here.

Victory Productions has also released a comprehensive decal set as well. Check out the review here.

As I said in the beginning, who would have thought we'd finally have a Vigilante in 1/48th scale? This is a welcome addition to the scale flightline and I don't doubt that we'll be seeing some aftermarket details to backdate the intakes (though that isn't a difficult conversion with styrene strips). The mold lines around some of the corners of the kit will require a bit of work to overcome, but the alternative is to build the big resin kit!

My sincere thanks to Stevens International for this review sample!