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1960 Navy World Altitude Record With Payload

Waring Hills Dec 13, 2011

U.S. Navy North American RA-5C Vigilante preparing to launch from USS America (CVA-66), in 1966/67 (Photo US Navy).

On 13 December 1960 an A-3J Vigilante crewed by naval aviator Commander Leroy Heath and bombardier-navigator Lieutenant Henry Monroe ascended to an altitude of 91,450.8 feet with a payload of 1,000 kilograms (2,402.62  pounds).  The setting was overhead Edwards Air Force base in California and the official world record broke the previous record by the altitude of over 4 miles!

A three-quarter port aerial view of an RA-5C (BuNo 156608) Vigilante aircraft, Reconnaissance Attack Squadron 7 (RVAH-7) known as the "Peacemakers of the Fleet" and was assigned to the USS Ranger (CV-61) and Carrier Air Wing Two (CVW-2) from February 21 to September 22, 1979 (Photo US Navy).

The Vigilante was originally designed as a  strategic bomber for the Navy (It would be the last strategic Navy bomber). It was designed to fly a high altitude, supersonic speed attack profile and first flew in August 1958. Unfortunately the design for the linear bomb bay between the engines underneath the aircraft caused serious problems. Upon bomb jettison from the aircraft, the bomb packet tended to continue to draft the aircraft like a NASCAR race driver. No surprise here, no live weapons were ever dropped from the Viggie! Soon after its development, the Navy’s Polaris missile program spelled the end for Navy strategic bombing and the Vigilante was adopted for the aerial reconnaissance role. During the Vietnam War, eighteen Vigilantes were lost in combat which was  the highest loss rate of any Naval aircraft in the war.  Eventually the high tech aircraft was phased out by the Navy from 1979-1980. One hundred and fifty-six Viggies were produced by North American Aircraft.

Watch this video on the Viggie!


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2 thoughts on “1960 Navy World Altitude Record With Payload

  1. Mark E. Guy, ADJ3 says:

    You don’t seem to know your threes from your fives.
    While I have no idea what an A-3 is or was, I do know it was not a Vigilante. Vigilante was an A-5 or, in my personal experience, an RA-5. We had one (and a squadron detachment) aboard CVA-42, U.S.S. Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was, compared to the F-4’s, F-8’s, A-6’s and A-7’s, a gigantic aircraft. Putting that mammoth down onto the flight deck could not have been any fun.

    1. Tom Swanson says:

      Mark, the Vigilante was originally designated the A3J, before being re-designated the A5.

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