Cold War Era

“Jackie, we are at Mach 2.” ” You may be at Mach 2 in the front cockpit, but I am only at Mach 1.96 in this cockpit.” Vigilante pilot recalls giving a nearly Mach 2 ride to Jackie Cochran in the A3J

The Vigilante

Originally designed as a Mach 2 all-weather bomber capable of delivering nuclear weapons, the North American A3J Vigilante was eventually modified into a high-speed reconnaissance aircraft after the Navy’s strategic deterrence mission was assumed by nuclear submarines. The resulting RA-5C Vigilante incorporated sophisticated electronic equipment in its bomb-bay that included side-looking airborne radar and passive electronic countermeasures, along with vertical, oblique and split-image cameras.

The Vigilante first flew in August 1958 and by June 1960 the Vigilante had achieved several impressive performance milestones, and the Navy was eager for publicity. As told by Mark A. Frankel in the book North American Aviation Jet Age The Columbus Years 1941-1988, the NAA public-relations department was authorized to invite noted aviatrix Jackie Cochran to ride in the rear cockpit of a Vigilante as it exceeded Mach 2.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. RA-5C Vigilante RVAH-6 Fleurs, AJ601 / 156620 / 1972

A nearly Mach 2 ride to Jackie Cochran

Test pilot John Moore recalls the event:

‘We checked Jackie out in the rear seat of the A3J-1 Vigi. There were no flight controls in that cockpit, but she really did not care on this mission. She just wanted to achieve Mach 2. With the wisdom of a woman who held many aviation records, she carefully reviewed and digested cockpit matters related to safety-the ejection system, radios, and the like. But she was impatient and wanted to get on with it.

‘The day was clear and warm, which caused me some concern. At 35,000 feet the temperature norm is minus 65 degrees[,] but on this day the weatherman gave us a minus 56 degree reading, which would be marginal for attaining Mach 2. Our performance guys said it might be close, but I should make that speed okay with my precious cargo in the back seat. So off we went. Our FAA[-]assigned supersonic corridor stretched from Knoxville, Tennessee[,] to Columbus, Ohio[,] with the provision that we be subsonic over both cities.

A3J Vigilante test pilot John Moore

‘About Mach 1.6 our acceleration rate became noticeably slower as the “Vigi” engines struggled with the warmer air. At Mach 1.9 we were accelerating very slowly, and I was running out of fuel and supersonic corridor at the same time. But I knew exactly what to do I pushed the intercom button and said with pride, “Jackie, here we are at Mach 2.” There was a moment’s silence, then she replied, “Buster, you may be at Mach 2 in the front cockpit, but I am only at Mach 1.96 in this cockpit.”

‘Rats! I had forgotten that she had a Mach meter on the instrument panel in her cockpit…’

At last, Jackie Cochran reaches Mach 2

Moore concludes;

‘She elected to stay another day to try again with more optimum temperatures projected along with a faster pilot. So, our boss, Jim Pearce, saved the day by taking his elegant passenger to Mach 2,01 in both cockpits of the Vigilante at the same time.’

North American Aviation Jet Age The Columbus Years 1941-1988 is published by Schiffer Publishing and is available to order here.

Jackie Cochran

Photo credit: U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

Recent Posts

The ringmaster’s Grand Finale: Legendary German Ace Adolf Galland recalls his last combat mission

Legendary German Ace Adolf Galland By far the best-known of Germany’s World War II fighter… Read More

21 hours ago

Impressive video shows 509th Bomb Wing and 131st Bomb Wing performing mass fly-off of 12 B-2 Spirit bombers

Mass fly-off of 12 B-2 stealth bombers Filmed on Apr. 15, 2024 15 at Whiteman… Read More

21 hours ago

Alligator blocks USAF KC-135 Stratotanker, fights with FWC Officers at MacDill AFB

Alligator blocks KC-135 Stratotanker Taken on Apr. 22, 2024 the curious photos in this post… Read More

2 days ago

South Korean F-4 Phantom IIs conduct final live-fire training of AGM-142 Popeye before retirement

South Korean F-4 Phantom IIs conduct final live-fire training Ahead of the official retirement of… Read More

2 days ago