That time an RA-5C pilot jokingly said the Vigilante was aimed to replace the SR-71 Blackbird

That time an RA-5C pilot jokingly said the Vigilante was aimed to replace the SR-71 Blackbird

By Dario Leone
Oct 21 2021
Sponsored by: Osprey Publishing
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The legendary SR-71 Blackbird was then operating from Kadena AFB. The visiting RA-5C Vigilante drew its usual oohs and aahs…

Developed from the A-5 nuclear bomber, the RA-5C Vigilante was the largest and fastest aeroplane to ever operate from the deck of an aircraft carrier. The operational debut of the ‘Vigi’ coincided with the build-up of the Vietnam War.

Throughout the war, there was always a ‘Vigi’ squadron on the line providing commanders with the latest intelligence.

Nevertheless, the Vigilante also flew missions outside the South-east Asia theatre.

As explained by Robert R “Boom” Powell in his book RA-5C Vigilante Units in Combat, in January 1968, USS Pueblo (AGER-2) intelligence ship was fired upon, boarded and captured by the North Korean Navy. USS Ranger and RVAH-6 had completed their second line period on Yankee Station when they were ordered to head north. Enterprise, with RVAH-1 on board, was in Sasebo, Japan, at the beginning of their deployment.

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

Lt Cdr Larry DeBoxtel was the junior pilot in RVAH-6, and had been sent to Cubi Point to pick up an aeroplane and fly it back to Yankee Station. While he and his reconnaissance/attack navigator (RAN) were in Cubi, Ranger sailed for Korea, and they were told to go to NAS Atsugi, in Japan. When they stopped in Kadena, Okinawa, it was already cold. Since their anti-exposure suits were on the ship, they drew flight jackets and thermal underwear from the USAF supply depot (DeBoxtel wore the Air Force style flight jacket with the orange liner for years afterwards).

The legendary SR-71 was then operating from Kadena AFB. The visiting Vigilante drew its usual oohs and aahs. One Air Force officer asked DeBoxtel what the aeroplane did. ‘Box’ looked around to see who was near and whispered, ‘It’s the replacement for that’, pointing toward the SR-71 Blackbird. The legend of the Vigilante grew.

Both RVAH squadrons flew extensively of the North Korean coast while the rest of the air wing remained clear, standing by in support. The ‘Fleurs’ tried out their new IR scanners over South Korea during night flights. After a month the situation had quieted down, although Pueblo and its crew remained in the hands of the North Koreans. Enterprise and Ranger headed for the Tonkin Gulf.

RA-5C Vigilante Units in Combat is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.

Photo credit: U.S. Navy and NASA

Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird model
This model is available in multiple sizes from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

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Dario Leone

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.
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