Vigilante! A Pilot’s Story: 1,200 Hours Flying the Ultimate U. S. Navy Reconnaissance Aircraft

Published on
Review Author(s)
Book Author(s)
CDR Robert R. “Boom” Powell
Other Publication Information
Hardback, 192 pages, Illustrations: 142 color, 125 b/w
Product / Stock #
Provided by: Specialty Press
Product Picture

Thank you very much to Specialty Press for providing a review copy of their new release, Vigilante! A Pilot’s Story: 1,200 Hours Flying the Ultimate U. S. Navy Reconnaissance Aircraft, by CDR Robert R. “Boom” Powell. As always, I appreciate all those in the IPMS Reviewer Corps, whose work is critical to sharing new and exciting modeling publications and products with the world.


This book is not simply one pilot’s compiled experience, nor is it merely a description of operational and combat records of the Vigilante. It tells the fascinating story of the entire Vigilante’s lifespan in an extraordinary anthology of forty-plus aircrew and support staff stories in context of the aircraft’s history. An excellent balance of technical language and human perspective makes for an engaging read with a relaxed style. Both naval aviation fans and scale modelers will find a wealth of information throughout the publication. The photographs and details are excellent, wrapped within an easy-to-read narrative. The hardback format has 192 glossy pages, 142 color images, and 125 B&W images. The book dimensions are 10 x 10 inches, with a colorful dust jacket.

I highly recommend this book! It was a very enjoyable read.

Content Coverage

Brief highlights of each chapter are included here. While each chapter has a specific historical focus, Vigilante stories and intersting sidebars are included throughout. The designation of the Vigilante evolved throughout its lifetime, dependent on mission, from early YA3J to a final RA-5C

  • Dedication, Preface, Acknowledgments, Introduction, & Prologue - All of these sections provide a nice run-up to the following chapters. A reader will get important context for the book in this preamble material.
  • Chapter 1: The Bomb Goes to Sea - The early USN need for the Vigilante was for large “device” delivery. Many adaptions of existing aircraft were attempted for this mission. The A3 (an early designation) incorporated many of these ideas.
  • Chapter 2: Concept and Construction - Making the aircraft operational and effective was a challenge. “Space suits,” weapon drops, electronics, and simple things like barrel nuts all had something to add to these challenges. The Vigilante has a striking profile, however, consider aircrew egress without a ladder!
  • Chapter 3: Vigilante at Sea - The Vigilante passed carrier qualifications with little trouble. Early squadron development and training followed quickly. If the evolution of designations is confusing, the sidebar on p. 53 translates the changes quite nicely.
  • Chapter 4: “R” Is for Reconnaissance - In late 1961, the new nuclear triad of heavy bombers, ICBMs, and ballistic missile submarines rendered the Vigilante’s original purpose moot. Fortunately, the conversion potential for a dedicated reconnaissance platform was recognized. This was a natural change-over, that resulted the RA-5C having a much longer operational history.
  • Chapter 5: Freshman Term - With a complete conversion to a reconnaissance mission, squadrons newly equipped with the RA-5C entered into the air war environment of Vietnam. Combat losses were significant, with many lessons learned.
  • Chapter 6: Hard Times: 1967–1968 - The air war intensified in Vietnam during this time and Vigilante combat losses doubled. This was also the year of the disastrous Forrestal fire that resulted in significant loss of life and aircraft.
  • Chapter 7: Master’s Degree: 1969–1972- The air war over Viet Nam changed, and so did the missions of the RA-5C. NAS Albany became the new base for Vigilante squadrons. Interesting nugget and NFO stories are highlighted.
  • Chapter 8: There Was Still a War On: 1969–1972- More details on the missions flown in hot areas are interspersed with aspects of everyday operations. Other missions outside of Vietnam provide more perspective on what the Vigilante could do.
  • Chapter 9: Linebacker and Beyond: 1972–1973 - The last years of the Vietnam war are covered, with the intense bombing campaigns of Linebacker I and II. More operational stories show lighter sides as well as the more serious ones.
  • Chapter 10: Seven Years - The last operational phase of the Vigilante began with the cessation of Vietnam. However, other hotspots in the Middle East kept RA-5Cs employed. Furthermore, NAS Albany was closed and all squadrons were transferred to NAS Key West. The final disposition of squadrons and aircraft describes the wrap-up to the Vigilante’s history.
  • Epilogue - Several paintings, including a Hank Caruso rendition, provide a memorial in this section. Images of aircraft that followed in a reconnaissance role make a fitting epitaph for the Vigilante.
  • Remaining sections - A biographies section, glossary, end notes, and index provide important addition information and utility to this book. The glossary is particularly useful.

Overall Recommendation

I absolutely recommend this volume, from both the scale-model and historical perspectives. I will also add that the scope of book, focusing a series of experiential anecdotes, gives a more “in the plane” sense than many historical aviation books.

Thanks again to Andrea at Specialty Press, you and your company’s work helps keep history alive. CDR Powell, you clearly put heart and soul into your book; that effort is very appreciated. Thank you again to the stalwart Reviewer Corps for your hard work in making these review opportunities happen, Go Team!


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