RVAH-3 Sea Dragons RA-5c Model
Fly with the RVAH-3 Sea Dragons again with this 18 inch wood model that has been carefully carved and hand painted to provide a unique memory of this great squadron and jet!
RVAH-3 was a Reconnaissance Attack (Heavy) Squadron of the U.S. Navy that served as the Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) for the RVAH community. Originally established as Heavy Attack Squadron Three (VAH-3) on 15 June 1956, it was redesignated as Reconnaissance Attack (Heavy) Squadron Three (RVAH-3) on 1 July 1964. The squadron was disestablished on 17 August 1979
HISTORY OF RECONNAISSANCE ATTACK SQUADRON THREE
Reconnaissance Attack Squadron THREE (RVAH-3) was originally
commissioned Heavy Attack Squadron THREE (VAH-3) on 15
June 1956, at Naval Air Station, Jacksonville, Florida, as an
operational A3D-1 (A-3A) squadron of Heavy Attack Wing ONE.
CDR H. H. MOREHOUSE, USN, was its first Commanding Officer.
The first A-3A “Skywarrior” was received by the Squadron on
8 October 1956, and the Squadron commenced carrier qualifications
aboard the USS FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT (CVA-42).
On 9 July 1957, VAH-3 deployed aboard the FDR as a unit of
Carrier Air Group SEVENTEEN (CAG-17). This cruise with the
SIXTH Fleet in the Mediterranean provided the WING with its
first extensive A-3A operations from a MIDWAY class carrier.
Upon return to Mayport, Florida, on 4 March 1958, the Squadron
was ordered to NAS Sanford, Florida, where it was merged
with the Heavy Attack Training Unit (HATULANT) on 10 June 1958.
VAH-3 thus became the Heavy Attack Replacement Training Squadron
(RAG Squadron) for the Atlantic Fleet, and its new mission
included the “Basic Readiness Qualification” of all replacement
flight crews and maintenance support personnel within HATWING
ONE. VAH-3 offered nine crews and thirty “key” enlisted maintenance
personnel each month.
Late in 1959, VAH-3 received the first of six A3D-2T (TA-3B)
aircraft which had been specifically designed and built as a
Bombardier/Navigator airborne trainer. This aircraft replaced
the former training vehicle, the P2V-3B “NEPTUNE.”
The year of 1960 was one of change. A completely revised
curriculum was developed and the squadron’s organizational
structure was adjusted to meet the new challenge. Anticipating
the arrival of the new A3J-1 (A-5A) “VIGILANTE,” the training
facilities were expanded and a total of eighteen courses, totaling
some 14,000 instructional hours, were prepared. With Bureau
approval of the new squadron organization, which was boldly
conceived to execute its training mission, VAH-3 responded successfully
to the challenge imposed by a 50 percent increase in
On 16 June 1961, the first four (A3J-1) A-5A aircraft were
received and replacement flight crew and a maintenance on-thejob
training commenced immediately. VAH-3, in cooperation with
North American Aviation Corporation, introduced the A-5A weapons
system and an innovational concept of the Fleet introduction
of a naval aircraft, including the readiness qualification of
flight crews and support personnel. The Squadron broke the
Wing’s record for monthly flight time logged with a total of
1,082.7 flight hours. In September, VAH-3 assumed responsibi-
lity for carrier qualifying all replacement pilots prior to
their assignment to an operational squadron. Only one minor
A-5A accident marred an otherwise highly successful year in
terms of safety and the additional training requirements of
the A-5A program.
At the beginning of 1962, VAH-3 was assigned the following
aircraft: one R4D-7 (TC-47K), four F9F-8T (TF-9J), six A3D-1
(TA- 3B), twelve A3D-1 (A-3A), and eight A3J-1 (A-5A). A-3A
training continued and A-5A replacement training intensified.
The first flight crews were qualified for assignment to VAH-7,
which became the first operational A-5A squadron on 27 January
1962. In September, VAH-3’s aircraft inventory was reduced to
one TC747K, four TF-9J, six TA-3B, ten A-3A, and four A-3B.
Highlighting the 196 3 scene was the introduction of the
RA-5C weapons system which combined the highly versatile A-5A
attack capability with a new and highly efficient electronic
and photographic reconnaissance system. A limited version of
the A-5A was delivered in June, and five of these A-5C (L) aircraft
were used for transitional training of crews from the
A-5A to the RA-5C aircraft. The first RA-5C aircraft was received
on 10 December. After the remaining A-3A aircraft were
transferred, the Squadron aircraft inventory consisted of A-5A,
RA-5C, TA-3B, TF-9J, and TC-37K.
On 23 January 1964, the graduation of the last class of
A-3B pilots and bombardiers from VAH-3 brought to a close an era
of training and marked the beginning of a new and ‘more advanced
one. From 1 May 1958 through 31 December 1964, 350 Replacement
Pilots (R/P), 450 Bombardier Navigators (B/N), 350 third crewmen,
some 2700 maintenance support personnel, 44 weapons delivery
instructors, and 45 Air Intelligence Specialists successfully
completed the rigid courses of instruction to qualify for
assignment to operational commands. To accomplish this training,
the Squadron logged close to 18,000 sorties, expended
12,000 practice bombs, 335 training SHAPES, and simulated
10,500 (RBS) bomb drops on Radar Bomb Scoring sites. In July,
VAH-3 was redesignated Reconnaissance Attack Squadron THREE
(RVAH-3) with its primary mission being “to indoctrinate and
train pilots, aircrewmen, and maintenance personnel in current
combat aircraft in order to provide a minimum level of air combat
readiness in the attack carrier striking forces.” Providing
instruction and training to assume optimum utilization of both
aircraft and the ground support center of the Integrated Operational
Intelligence System (IOIC), became RVAH-3’s secondary
mission. The IOIC was also established at NAS Sanford in
At the coming of Spring, 1965, RVAH-3 again proved its
effectiveness by capturing the Reconnaissance Attack Wing ONE
Bombing Derby Trophy. Winning by over 700 points, Squadron
personnel brought home six trophies at this annual event which
tested not only the abilities of the pilots and navigators but
the maintenance personnel as well. The summer saw RVAH-12
commissioned on 1 July after completion of training in RVAH-3.
In addition, five squadrons, RVAH-1, RVAH-6, RVAH-7, RVAH-9,
and RVAH-13 completed transition training to the RA-5C aircraft.
The year 1965 produced the following graduates: 39 RP’s, 40
RAN’s, 26 Navy A-6 Navigators, 13 Marine A-6 Navigators, 2026
“key” enlisted maintenance personnel, 56 IOIC Officers, 99 IOIC
enlisted maintenance/operators, and approximately 40 Reserve
Air Intelligence Officers. The Fleet Photographic Laboratory
was established under the IOIC as a Special Class Photo Lab
where from 100,000 to 120,000 prints are turned out annually.
Winding up the year, RVAH-3, demonstrating a high degree of
professionalism, won the WING REDEX exercise.
The month of August 1966 saw the last A-5A aircraft depart
the Squadron for conversion at the manufacturer’s plant. RVAH-3
then became a straight RA-5C training squadron and in August
1966, a record number of 1126.6 flight hours were achieved.
In September, a record flight delivered an RA-5C to the Western
Pacific area in four days. The Squadron completed five carrier
qualifying periods and in November 1966, qualified a record 12
flight crews with 122 day and 72 night landings. September
also saw the completion of Phase II of the JTF-2 project in
low level flight evaluation. In.July, the Rating Advancement
Assistance Team was established in the command and,the Squadron
received an “Outstanding” on its annual ADMAT Inspection in
November 1966. In December, the first RA-5C to achieve the
1000 flight hours mark occurred during a routine training flight
by the Commanding Officer. The Squadron graduated 27 RP’s, 31
RAN’s, 33 Navy A-6 Navigators, 30 Marine A-6 Navigators, 2340
“key” enlisted maintenancemen, 73 IOIC Officers, 122 IOIC
enlisted technicians/operators, and 2 civilians from IOIC.
The end of 1966 showed an accident-free, 10,000 flight hour
In May 1967, the RVAH-3 “key” Enlisted Maintenance Office
started the new Advanced Recruit Training Maintenance Program.
Since beginning the program, eight classes were graduated for
a total of 105 maintenance personnel. Graduating from other
training programs during the year were 71 IOIC officers, 145
IOIC enlisted maintenance personnel, 6 civilian IOIC personnel,
24 RP’s, 28 RAN’s, 25 Navy A-6 Navigators, 46 Marine A-6 Navigators,
and 953 “key” enlisted maintenance personnel. On 20
October, RVAH-3 received the first WAVE Officer in the history,
of the Squadron. In December, 1500 flight hours were marked
for the first time by an RA-5C “Vigilante.”
From January to November 1968, RVAH-3 graduated 28 Replace-
ment Pilots, 22 Naval Flight Officers and 41 A-6 Navigators.
A-6 Navigator training was deleted from RVAH-3’s training commitments
and the last of the A-6 students, a Marine, was
graduated in September. The KEMTO (Key Enlisted Maintenance
Training Office) continued to be a success and graduated over
800 during the year. On 1 May, the Squadron, as well as the
rest of Reconnaissance Attack Wing ONE, transferred from NAS
Sanford, Florida, to NAS Albany, Georgia. The “Dragons” also
participated in the introductory flyover and airshow for Albany,
having provided nine aircraft for the event. Despite the complexity
and size of the task, RVAH-3 was completely operational
within only a few days after the move. The very next month, the
Squadron made a grade of “OUTSTANDING” on the annual Administrative/Material
inspection. On 18 October, Naval Air Station
Albany, in recognition of RVAH-3’s material contribution to the
Commissioned Officers’ Mess (OPEN), dedicated a room to an
From December 1968 to December 1969, RVAH-3 graduated 26
Replacement Pilots and 23 Reconnaissance Attack Navigators.
The Key Enlisted Maintenance Training Office (KEMTO) trained
1,644 enlisted maintenance personnel for fleet squadrons. This
number approximately doubled the figure of over 800 personnel
trained under the Advanced Recruit Training Program in the previous
year. Keeping pace with modernization requirements, on
4 April, RVAH-3 received delivery of the first of a new series
of RA-5C aircraft from North American Rockwell. The new RA-5C
came equipped with the more powerful GE-J79-10 jet,engines, and
also incorporated an airframe structural change for improved
flight characteristics. Several more deliveries are expected
during the coming year. The Integrated Operational Intelligence
Center (IOIC), formerly a department of RVAH-3, became a separate
command within Reconnaissance Attack Wing ONE on 1 July.
The IOIC assumed the new name NIPSTRAFAC (Naval Intelligence
Processing System Training Facility). Commander J. E. WISE
was appointed as the facility’s first Commanding Officer. On
1 November, another change in RVAH-3 squadron organization
occurred. In recognition of its expanding responsibility,
KEMTO was promoted to the status of a squadron department and
was redesignated as FRAMP (Fleet Replacement Aviation Maintenance
From December 1969 to December 1970, RVAH-3 graduated 29
Replacement Pilots and 27 Reconnaissance Attack Navigators.
Fleet Replacement Aviation Maintenance Program (FRAMP). trained
813 enlisted maintenance personnel for fleet squadrons. The
last C-47 was sent to the “bone-yard”, making RVAH-3 an all
jet squadron. In April 1970, LTJG David “Skip” JONES became
the first “nugget” to fly the RA-5C “Vigilante.” A nugget is
a newly designated Naval Aviator. Previously, only second
tour pilots flew Vigilantes. In October 1970, Vice Admiral
TOWNSEND, Commander, Naval Air Force, U. S. Atlantic Fleet,
presented a Chief of Naval Operations Safety Service Award to
RVAH-3 for Outstanding Achievement in Aviation Safety for
Fiscal Year 1970.
Beginning in January 1970 with 434.7 hours, the figure for
flight hours has climbed each month until in October 1970, a
high of 847.9 hours was established. Total flight hours for
1970 was 7,181.4, with 18 Replacement Pilots and 30 Reconnaissance
Attack Navigators graduating. Fleet Replacement Aviation
Maintenance Program (FRAMP) trained 1,226 enlisted maintenance
personnel for fleet squadrons.
Capping a highly successful year of operation, the command
of RVAH-3 changed hands on 18 December 1970. Commander P. E.
O’GARA was relieved by Commander R. S. DONALDSON. Commander
DONALDSON became the 18th Commanding Officer of RVAH-3 since
its commissioning as a heavy attack squadron in 1956.
The year 1971 was the most profitable year ever for Reconnaissance
Attack Squadron THREE (RVAH-3) in operational readiness
and in the production of qualified flight crews and maintenance
personnel. Total sorties flown in 1971 were 4,645 of which
3,278 were RA-5C sorties. In July, Vice Admiral R. L. TOWNSEND
presented RVAH-3 with the CNO Award for Outstanding Achievement
in Aviation Safety for the second consecutive year. This made
RVAH-3 the first Vigilante Squadron and the only Replacement
Air Group of any type to ever achieve this goal.
The Maintenance Department of RVAH-3 enjoyed another outstanding
year in 1971. Almost every important statistic
indicative of Maintenance Department performed showed substantial
improvement over the 1970 totals. RVAH-3 Maintenance
provided superior aircraft and systems for two scheduled readiness
exercises, resulting in a first-place finish for the
Squadron on both occasions.
November 12, 1971 marked the change of command for RVAH-3
with Commander Robert S. DONALDSON being relieved by Commander
Edward 0. WILLIAMS.
1972 showed the Operations Department utilizing all available
resources to combine safe and efficient flight training in
producing highly qualified RP’s (Replacement Pilots) and RAN’s
(Reconnaissance Attack Navigators). During a period in which
the Squadron’s RA-5C inventory declined from 14 to 8 aircraft,
4,953.5 RA- 5C hours were flown.
In September 1972, the COMNAVAIRLANT Maintenance Advisory
Team visited the command and found the Maintenance Department
to be operating in an outstanding manner. The team commented
that RECONATKRON THREE was by far the best Readiness Training
Squadron in the Atlantic Fleet.
Commander Edward 0. WILLIAMS was relieved as Commanding
Officer of RVAH-3 in December by Commander Shelley P. GALLUP.
1972 ended as a most productive one for RECONATKRON THREE in
terms of operational readiness and transfer of qualified
flight crews and maintenance personnel for fleet assignments.
In spite of the impending closure of Naval Air Station,
Albany, Georgia, and the gradual deployment of assets to its
new home, Naval Air Station, Key West, Florida, RVAH-3 continued
to successfully train ready flight crews and maintenance
personnel for transfer to the RA-5C fleet squadrons throughout
1973. While flying 3, 565.6 hours, 22 replacement pilots and
23 replacement reconnaissance attack navigators were trained
for fleet squadrons. In August 1973, LCDR SMITTLE checked
aboard, becoming the first ex-RAN to return to the Vigilante
community as a pilot.
On 15 January 1974, after almost six years at NAS Albany,
Georgia, RVAH-3 and Reconnaissance Attack Wing ONE transferred
to NAS Key West, Florida. In February, shortly after the move,
Commander Harry W. WRIGHT relieved Commander Shelley P. GALLUP,
thus becoming the twenty-first Commanding Officer of RVAH-3.
On 13 June 1975, Commander Arthur R. SKELLY relieved
Commander Harry W. WRIGHT as Commanding Officer. RVAH-3 continued
to qualify fleet replacement pilots and navigators along
with maintenance personnel to augment the Vigilante community in
the fleet. Successful carrier qualifications were held aboard
the USS RANGER, USS FORRESTAL and the USS NIMITZ.
30 September 1976 saw Commander SKELLY being relieved as
Commanding Officer by Commander Thomas W. BROWN. RVAH-3
completed its second accident-free year of flying in early
1977. On 6 December 1977, Commander William P. SMITH assumed
command of RVAH-3 from Commander BROWN.
In preparation for the RA-5C phaseout, 1978 became a year
of “lasts” for RECONATKRON THREE. 27 April 1978 marked the
end of over 22 years that A-3’s have been operated by the
Squadron. On that date the final remaining “Skywarrior” was
flown to NAS Oceana to be turned over to VAQ-33. 27 June 1978
saw the last student training flight. Two CARQUALS were conducted
this year, one in March and the other in August. On
23 August 1978, after a night trap aboard the USS EISENHOWER,
CDR Fred LITVIN had the honor of being the last replacement
aviator qualified by this command. In October, the Squadron
underwent a major shift in mission emphasis from training
replacement aircrews to keeping ex-instructor flight crews in
a high state of readiness in a contingency status for the
remaining fleet squadrons. On 19 November 1978, after 11,478
flight hours, RVAH-3 celebrated its fourth year of accidentfree
flying. Two days later, an RA-5C was flown to NAS Pensacola
to serve as a permanent static display in front of the
Navy Photographic School which has trained many of the photographers
mates that have served in the “Vigilante” community.
The last FRAMP student graduated on 15 December 1978. For the
year, five replacement pilots, four RAN’s and two prospective
CAG’s were completed. Reconnaissance Attack Squadron THREE
was disestablished on 17 August 1979.
As in the past, the challenging requirements of providing
the fleet with highly trained reconnaissance attack pilots,
navigators, and key enlisted maintenance personnel for the
RA-5C community are being met. This achievement is accomplished
through the talented efforts of the dedicated officers and men
of RVAH-3, thus substantiating our motto–“Professionalism Is