The Chicken Works: The Aviation Art of JP Santiago

PIMP MY VIGILANTE! A past kitbash all y'all might appreciate!

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This was one of my favorite kitbash projects of all time. I used the ARII 1/144 scale RA-5C Vigilante kit as the basis for what a modernized heavy attack Vigilante might look like. I won first in the scale back around 2001 at the North Central Texas IPMS show.

Overview shot. Basically it has the following features:

-Reprofiled nose radome for the terrain-following/attack radar
-More sturdy nose gear to handle the increased gross weight
-LANTIRN pods under each engine intake
-A multitude of ECM/EW antennas all over the airframe
-Paveway III series 2000 lb laser-guided bombs, 2 under each wing
-Light outboard pylon for self-defense Sidewinder missiles
-Chaff/flare launchers on the aft fuselage decking

Side/top elevation. The camouflage is the same as is used on the US Navy's F/A-18 Hornet fleet, using three FS standard colors of gray. Markings were a combination of 1/144 scale F-15 decals (for the low-voltage formation lighting) and 1/72 scale USN Hornet markings. I modified the decals so they were for a fictional squadron VA-25 (which in reality is VFA-25 "Fist of the Fleet") embarked on the USS Constellation. I got a bit more silvering than I cared to have, but it's tolerable to me.

Underside view. I deleted the distinctive ventral canoe of the RA-5C as that house reconnaissance systems. I thought at first about belly pylons, but after more research found that the main landing gear wells occupied a significant portion of the underfuselage. The baseline ARII kit has crappy landing gears, so I scratch built landing gear wells and doors and used a 1/144 scale F/A-18 Hornet nose gear.

I then added several little vents/air scoops all along the underfuselage where the engine bays would be and weathered the hell out of it. You can also see the LERXes on the sides of the engine intakes, the LANTIRN pods (came from a 1/144 F-15E Strike Eagle kit), and some of the ECM/EW antennas on the nose. I even crafted little pitot probes to replace the displaced pitot from the nose cone in the baseline kit.

The LGBs I'm proud of. All of them are scratchbuilt and hand-painted. The Sidewinders and their launchers came from another ARII kit.

Front quarter eye level shot. You can see the LANTIRN pods and how I adjusted the "sit" of the aircraft to reflect a more stout landing gear. The real RA-5C sat nose high- it was the one aspect Vigi crews hated about the plane, the cockpt was so far up.

Head on shot. This highlights the LERXes and the weapon pylons nicely. I don't particularly care about detailing the cockpits, so I usually spray the cockpit transparencies with a dullcote before an overspray of light gloss.

When I had first posted this on Airlinebuzz, forum member Studley had a few questions that spawned this post from me:

Quote Originally Posted by Studley
And how would she be powered, so she can lug all of this stuff with her? F414-GE-400 turbofans, as found on the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet? F100-PW-229 low-bypass turbofans, as found on the F-15E Strike Eagle?
The final version of the Vigilante, the RA-5C (actually a misnomer as there were two versions of the C, the latter version was different enough it was to have been the RA-5D) had two General Electric J79-GE-10s with 17,860 lbs of thrust each. I would imagine that between the last C variants coming off the line to the present, there would have to be a gradual shift from the older J79s to a turbofan. Yes, I've actually been trying to come up with a hypothetical service history of the modernized attack the way I see it, the -10 variant of the J79 had pretty much been tweaked out for more power- the ultimate versions of the J79 would have only given any modernized Vigilante less than another 500 lbs thrust per engine.

The F404 would have been the most logical choice, as it was developed as a turbofan derivative of the J79 to replace the latter engine. That's what the "legacy" Hornets use. But the thrust available is only about 16,000 lbs for the F404-400 and 17,700 lbs for the uprated F404-402. Given that combat aircraft gain weight during their service lives as equipment gets added, either we'd have to accept lower performance from a modernized Vigilante or find a more powerful engine even though the F404-402 is close to the thrust levels of the J79.

So I imagine some sort of interim version between the RA-5C and my "Vigilante 2000" that might have used either the F404 and accepted the performance/payload penalty or stuck with the J79.

You're spot on, the F414-GE-400 would be my preferred engine in this bird. With 22,000 lbs of thrust, two of those should be enough for this bird to bore holes in the sky. This brings up an interesting point. One of the reasons carrier captains didn't like the Vigilante much was that it was a pain in the ass to change the engines. In the RA-5C, you had to slide the J79 out the back and that took up a lot of room in the hangar deck. So any upgraded Vigilante follow on is gonna have to have a drop-down engine and ventral bay doors to be practical.

Quote Originally Posted by Studley
In the bird's new role, how viable would it be to utilize the rear bomb bay (which really didn't work for the nuclear bomb role, although it would have been very cool) to hold two of the Paveways?
Great observation, Efrem. The orignal attack Vigilante had a linear bomb bay that was between the engines and the nuke was kicked out the back after popping off the tail cone. Not very practical. The RA-5Cs used the bomb bay to carry fuel tanks and if they weren't secured/connected properly, they'd fall out the back during a catapult shot with some very fiery results on the deck (pics of this have to be seen to be believed).

Given that an interim Vigilante between the RA-5C and my hypothetical construct would be saddled with underpowered engines as it grew in weight, I would go for an empty bay in that version and in my current version the bay would get re-utilized for fuel tanks. I can just picture some wicked cost-overruns to engineer a bomb bay with ventral doors.