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F111 Aardvark - History

F111 Aardvark - History


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The versatile "swing wing" F-111 entered the Air Force inventory in 1967. The aircraft provided many firsts among weapons systems. It was the first production aircraft with variable swing wings that could be swept back or brought forward to increase efficiency. It also had the first terrain-following radar, allowing it to fly at night at high speeds and low altitudes, as well as the first crew escape module. The aircraft was one of the more controversial aircraft ever to fly, yet it achieved one of the safest operational records of any aircraft in USAF history.

The F-111 can exceed twice the speed of sound (Mach 2) by sweeping its wings rearward while in flight. The wings are swept forward for takeoffs, landings or slow speed flight. The two-person cockpit was also an advanced design module that served as an emergency escape vehicle and as a survival shelter on land or water.

During a 1972 - 1973 tour of duty in Vietnam, F-111As flew more than 4,000 combat missions. In 1986, the F-111F was used during El Dorado Canyon, the raid on Libya, and bombed five targets in retaliation for terrorist attacks. It also played a major role in the Persian Gulf War, flying more than 2,500 missions. The most notable was when two GBU-15 precision guided munitions were used to destroy the oil manifolds at the Al Almadi pumping station, effectively shutting down the Iraqi-made oil slick in the Persian Gulf and averting an environmental disaster.

Originally known as the TFX (Tactical Fighter Experimental), the F-111 was conceived to meet an Air Force requirement for a new tactical fighter-bomber. In 1960, the Department of Defense combined the Air Force's requirement with a Navy need for a new air superiority fighter, then launched a competition among aircraft manufacturers for the final design. In 1962, General Dynamics and Boeing were selected as finalists with the General Dynamics TFX design eventually winning out. The Navy version was known as the F-111B and the Air Force version the F-111A. Eventually the Navy's F-111B program was canceled.

The first flight of the F-111A took place in December 1964, and the first production models were delivered to the Air Force in 1967. In all, 566 F-111s of all series were built.The aircraft was produced in seven different variants until the last delivery in September 1976. The aircraft was unofficially nicknamed the Aardvark until its retirement ceremony July 27, 1996 where the name was made official.

General Characteristics
* Primary function: fighter
* Span: 32 feet swept; 63 feet extended
* Length: 73 feet 6 inches
* Height: 17 feet
* Weight: 92,657 lbs. max.
* Armament: One 20mm M61A1 gun, plus a mix of up to 24 conventional or nuclear weapons
* Engines: Two Pratt & Whitney TF30-P-3 of 18,500 pounds thrust each with afterburner
* Crew: Two
* Cost: $8.2 million
* Maximum speed: 1,452 mph
* Cruising speed: 685 mph
* Range: 3,632 miles
* Service ceiling: 57,000 feet


F-111 Aardvark

Boeing won all four stages of the competition, but McNamara overruled the source selection board. After extensive study of the recommendations of a joint Air Force-Navy evaluation board, McNamara decreed on 24 November 1962, that the General Dynamics and Grumman Team would build the TFX.

In 1963, political turmoil surfaced as a special Senate subcommittee chaired by Senator McClellan of Arkansas held hearings on the award of the TFX Program. The decision, based on cost-effectiveness and efficiency considerations, irritated the chief of naval operations and the Air Force chief of staff, both of whom preferred separate new fighters for their services and Boeing as the contractor. Under the new management policies of Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and the "flexible response" military strategy of Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen Maxwell D. Taylor, Air Force Chielf of Staff Curtis E. LeMay found himself at constant odds. In his four years as chief, LeMay argued strenuously for new air weapons like the Skybolt missile and B-70 bomber, and against the swingwing "fighter" plane, the General Dynamics TFX. He lost all these battles.

As a result of a poorly thought-out development specification, both the Navy and Air Force had become committed, much against their will, to the civilian-inspired TFX program. The program was designed to save $1 billion in development costs by using a common airframe to fulfill the Navy's fleet air-defense fighter requirement and the Air Force's long range nuclear and conventional tactical fighter requirement. In retrospect, this was impossible to achieve, especially since planners placed priority upon the Air Force requirement, and then tried to tailor this heavy landplane to the constraints of carrier-based naval operations.

On December 19, 1962, representatives of General Dynamics and Grumman visited NASA Langley for discussions of the supersonic performance of the F-111. The manufacturers were informed that the supersonic trim drag of the aircraft could be significantly reduced and maneuverability increased by selecting a more favorable outboard wing-pivot location. Unfortunately, the manufacturers did not act on this recommendation, and it was subsequently widely recognized that the F-111 wing pivots were too far inboard. (It should be noted that the F-14 designers, aware of this shortcoming, designed the F-14 with a more outboard pivot location.) The F-111 subsequently exhibited very high levels of trim drag at supersonic speeds during its operational lifetime.

The first F-111A flew in December 1964, and the first F-111B flew in May 1965. The most positive result from early flight evaluations was the very satisfactory behavior of the variable-sweep wing system. However, the aircraft were judged to be sluggish and underpowered. Furthermore, the engines exhibited violent stalling and surging characteristics.

As concern over the aerodynamic performance of the F-111 increased in 1964, it was also suggested that the wing with the longer span of the Navy aircraft be used on the Air Force aircraft. During 1965 Grumman discussed methods of improving the acceleration and maneuverability of the Navy F-111B. Modifications considered by Grumman included modified wing and pivot location, a straightened tailpipe, and an improved interengine fairing. In addition, Grumman examined a modified horizontal tail, alternate missile arrangements, and an aft-fuselage modification. Although these modifications never came to fruition for the F-111B, the discussions had a large impact on the later design of the F-14 by Grumman, which became an outstanding Navy aircraft.

Unfortunately, the naval F-111B configuration was too long to met the requirements for aircraft carrier elevator spotting (compatibility of the aircraft dimensions with the elevator on the aircraft carrier that transports aircraft to and from the flight deck and the lower hangar area).

The early F-111A exhibited numerous engine problems, including compressor surge and stalls. NASA was a participant in finding solutions to these problems, as its pilots and engineers flew test flights of the aircraft to determine inlet pressure fluctuations (dynamics) that led to these events. Eventually, as a result of NASA, Air Force, and General Dynamics studies, the engine problems were solved by a major inlet redesign.

Because of high cost overruns, trouble in meeting performance objectives, flight test crashes, and difficulties in adapting the plane to Navy use, the TFX's future became more and more uncertain. In 1968, the Navy TFX program was canceled due to the test aircraft's poor performance and incompatibility with carrier operations. After 1968, the Air Force was left with a TFX design that was compromised by McNamara's original commonality requirement. Ultimately, the Air Force fielded the TFX as different variants of the F-111 at five times the planned unit cost per airframe. The aircraft never developed all the performance capabilities proposed in the original program. The problems with the TFX can be directly attributed to the restrictions and requirements imposed by the common development program. Some of McNamara's critics in the services and Congress labeled the TFX a failure, but versions of the F-111 remained in Air Force service two decades after McNamara decided to produce them.

By far the most sophisticated design of its time, the F-111 pushed the state of the art and, in doing so, it opened up a Pandora's box of surprises. For example, integrating all of those new little black boxes, in a "fly-fix-fly" fashion, proved to be an extremely laborious and, more important, time-consuming process. And this was only one of many problems encountered in the program.

Secretary McNamara's reach exceeded his grasp. The contrast between his success with the F-4 (an operational Navy fighter that McNamara persuaded the Air Force to buy by refusing to authorize purchase of any more F-105's) and his failure with the F-111 is instructive. In the first, he could get what he judged best for the nation by saying: no. In the second. his affirmative decision amounted to an order, the accomplishment of which depended on actions over a period of many years by individuals and organizations, semi-independent of his control, with objectives different from his. By stopping Air Force purchase of F-105's, and offering the Air Force F-4's if they liked, McNamara had leverage. In telling the Air Force and Navy to develop an aircraft jointly (the thought of which they abhorred) for a limited war mission (which TAC regarded as secondary), McNamara asked for too much. The principal power of a Secretary of Defme (and Secretaries in other departments) is the power to say no.


The F-111 Aardvark: One of the Most Dynamic Planes of the Modern Era

Its innovative design allowed for years of exciting deployments.

Here's What You Need To Remember: While the F-111 has been retired, a similar aircraft remains in use today.

The General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark was a low-altitude strike plane born out of a shotgun wedding between competing Air Force and Navy requirements—with Defense Secretary McNamara as the minister. Despite its troubled adolescence, it grew into a capable high-tech night bomber that lasted decades in service, noted for its sleekly elegant profile.

This first appeared earlier and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Troubled Conception

In the early 1960s, the Air Force came to realize that new, radar-guided surface-to-air missiles such as the Soviet SA-2 could reach its slow, high-altitude bombers. In response, it devised a new concept: a smaller long-range supersonic bomber that could skim close to the ground, below radar systems. At the same time, the U.S. Navy was looking for a fast, long-range carrier-based interceptor armed with air-to-air missiles that could take out Soviet bombers from a distance.

Newly appointed Defense Secretary Robert McNamara was convinced that a single aircraft could satisfy both requirements, thereby saving on development costs. The Army and Navy were less keen on compromising their visions but were forced to cooperate on the so-called TFX program. A contract was awarded to General Dynamics in 1962. Because the design was smaller than Air Force strategic bombers, and the service eschewed the “attack” designation used by the Navy, it was designated with an “F” for fighter.

Revolutionary Design

The F-111 was built around two powerful yet fuel-efficient TF30 turbofan engines with new afterburner technology. A capacious fuselage could accommodate bomb loads of up to 31,000 pounds and fuel for missions up 2,500 miles long, with external tanks adding another 1,000 miles. The large plane weighed twenty tons empty—or more than twice that loaded.

The designers of the F-111 faced a challenge: they needed a plane that could fly at very high speeds, but still take off or land on a short runway. Using smaller wings would create less drag, allowing the aircraft to fly faster—but also create less lift, requiring the aircraft achieve higher speeds before it take off, in turn necessitating a longer runway. For example, the other supersonic fighter-bomber of the era, the F-105 Thunderchief, had very small wings—and required airstrips over a mile long for takeoff, limiting which airfields it could operate from.

The F-111’s designers adopted the new technology of variable-geometry, or “swing” wings. These permitted the wings to swing out during takeoff to generate maximum lift and then would tuck inward midflight to achieve higher speeds. The F-111 was the first of several major designs that used the technology.

The two-man crew sat side by side in a cockpit pod. If they needed to escape, a rocket boosted the pod upward, which then floated to the ground on a parachute, just like a space capsule.

A key innovation was the F-111’s revolutionary new terrain-following radar, which mapped the ground directly in front of the plane and then automatically adjusted the flight path to avoid a collision. This allowed F-111s to fly as low as two hundred feet above the surface and make precise adjustments at high speed without crashing—even when flying at night, or in bad weather conditions. The F-111’s talent for hunting in darkness, nose close to the ground, was what earned it the appellation “Aardvark.”

Early F-111s did show promise, capable of flying over the speed of sound at Mach 1.2 at low-altitude, or more than double that (Mach 2.5) at high altitude—all the while requiring only a 2,000-foot runway to land. It was the first tactical aircraft to cross from the United States to Europe without mid-air refueling.

However, the F-111’s design was biased in favor of the Air Force’s specifications. The carrier-based interceptor version, the F-111B, performed abominably in trials, struggling to exceed Mach 1. The expensive forced compromise that was the naval version was finally scrapped, leaving everyone millions of dollars poorer. Many of the more promising design elements of the F-111B made it over to the F-14 Tomcat, however.

Deployment in Asia

The Air Force F-111s didn’t have an auspicious debut in combat. After a detachment of six F-111As was deployed to Vietnam in 1968, three of them crashed in just fifty-five missions, all of the accidents linked to defective wing stabilizers. The Air Force was forced to withdraw the F-111 and correct the flaw at a cost of $100 million.

It wasn’t until the Linebacker raids in 1972 that the F-Aardvark finally demonstrated its potential. Skimming beneath North Vietnam’s extensive radar network at night, F-111s blasted North Vietnamese airfields and air defense batteries, weakening the resistance to incoming B-52 raids. Aardvarks didn’t require the fighter escort, electronic warfare support, or midair refueling that other bombers required, and could operate in inclement weather. Only six F-111s were lost in combat over the course of 4,000 missions during the war, one of the lowest loss rates of the war

F-111s ended up participating in the last combat operation undertaken by the U.S. military in South East Asia, when the Cambodian Khmer Rouge seized the container ship S.S. Mayaguez in May 1975. Two Aardvarks diverted from a training flight were the first to locate the Mayaguez. Later, an F-111 sank a Khmer Rouge patrol boat escorting the seized ship.

563 F-111s of all variants were built. After the F-111A, the F-111D and E models upgraded the Aardvark’s electronics and engine inlets, and increased the thrust of the engines. Another variant, the FB-111, was designed as a strategic bomber with improved engines, stretched two feet longer to accommodate additional fuel. Seventy-five of these served in Strategic Air Command units.

The F-111C was sold exclusively to Australia. It incorporated a mixture of design elements of the FB-111 and F-111E.

The definitive F-111F sported engines with thirty-five percent more thrust, upgraded radar and a Pave Tack infrared targeting pod that allowed the crew to identify targets on the ground and hit them with precision-guided munitions.

Starting in the mid–1970s, forty-two F-111As were converted into unarmed EF-111A Raven electronic jamming platforms at a cost $1.5 billion. The EF-111’s key system was an ALQ-99E jamming pod that emitted radiation that scrambled radars in the vicinity, permitting entire formations of aircraft to pass in its wake undetected. When active, the jammer’s current literally caused the hairs on the crew’s heads to stand as it crackled through the plane. Thus, the Raven was known as the “Spark Vark” to its pilots. The EF-111 is distinguishable by the receiver pod on the tail fin.

El Dorado Canyon Raid

The F-111 would return to the stage of world history in 1986 after the bombing of the La Belle nightclub perpetrated by Libyan agents in Berlin killed two U.S. servicemen. Reagan ordered an attack on Libyan dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi’s personal compound near Tripoli codenamed Operation El Dorado Canyon. It was an early attempt to assassinate a head of state by air attack.

An array of twenty-five SAM sites defended Tripoli. A squadron of eighteen F-111Fs carried out the main attack, joined by four EF-111 Ravens to electronically scramble the defense radars. A separate Navy strike hit targets near Benghazi.

Because the United States couldn’t get approval from mainland European countries for the raid, the Aardvarks took off from the UK and had to circumnavigate Spain, increasing total flight time to thirteen hours. In all, they would need to be refueled six times on the roundtrip. It was the longest fighter mission in history.

As a feat of logistics, the raid was impressive—but unfortunately, both F-111’s performance and the conception of the operation as a whole left something to be desired. One F-111 was shot down, probably by a SAM, and its crew was lost. Four were unable to release weapons because of avionics failures, and one F-111 had to land in Spain because of an overheating engine. Seven missed their target, with several of the bombs landing in civilian areas, nearly hitting the French embassy.

Qaddafi managed to escape thanks in part due to a last-minute warning from the prime minister of Italy. Eight of his children and his wife were wounded, and his infant adopted daughter Hanna reportedly killed. (There is some controversy as to Hanna’s identity and whether she survived). Though Qaddafi was shaken, he went on to instigate further terrorist attacks, notably the hijacking of Pan Am 73 and the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Aardvarks and Ravens Over Iraq

On January 17, 1991, the opening night of Operation Desert Storm, Aardvarks zipped across the desert at a low altitude, targeting Iraqi air defenses and key military installations with laser-guided bombs. Meanwhile, EF-111 Ravens accompanied strike packages of coalition aircraft flying deep into Iraq, their jammers disabling Iraqi air-defense radars. In all, sixty-six F-111Fs and 18 F-111Es were deployed in the 1991 Iraq War, flying 5,000 missions.

Contrary to popular belief, the Iraqi Air Force didn’t make things a cakewalk on the first day. Two F-111s were hit by infrared-guided R-23 missiles fired by MiG-23s. Another was struck by an R-60 missile shot by a MiG-29. In all three cases, the hardy Aardvarks made it back to base.


Over 500 Built: How the F-111 Aardvark Smashed Into the History Books

This plane was very innovative, but ultimately it was the Air Force and not the Navy that really took a liking to it.

Conceived as an exercise in bureaucratic compromises, the F-111 Aardvark served for three decades as a unique blend between a strategic bomber and tactical strike aircraft.

In the early years of the Cold War, the U.S. Air Force prioritized the development of strategic bombers and speedy long-range escorts to accompany them. When the Soviets responded with a slew of new surface-to-air missile systems, the Air Force realized that it needed to change course and began to make plans for a fast, low-flying bomber that could effectively evade Soviet radar systems. Meanwhile, the Navy was in the midst of a procurement search for a carrier-based interceptor to support its carrier strike groups (CSG’s). Defense Secretary Robert McNamara rolled both projects into a single program called Tactical Fighter Experimental (TFX). McNamara’s decision did not particularly please either party, but it was in keeping with his prior efforts to reduce outlays by consolidating the Navy and Air Force rosters—the prolific F-4 Phantom II is another famous fruit of McNamara’s bureaucratic labors.

The eventual product of this uneasy collaboration, the F-111 Aardvark, entered service in 1967. Its dual purpose forced some unique design innovations. With its variable-geometry wings, the F-111 overcame the traditional trade-off between high flight speeds and the ability to take off across short distances, thus satisfying the Air Force demand for speed as well as the Navy’s requirement for carrier-based deployment. The F-111’s new Pratt & Whitney TF30 afterburning engines proved an ideal match for the aircraft’s high-speed, low-altitude penetration mission, but the implementation was not without design problems that would only be solved in later F-111 variants. Yet another of the F-111’s innovations was its use of a terrain-following radar, continuously adjusting the aircraft’s flight path to avoid ground collision. This allowed the F-111 to fly remarkably low—as low as 200 feet above the surface—even during nighttime or in poor weather. Side-by-side seating facilitated improved communication between the F-111’s two crew members, giving them access to the same display interface.

The F-111’s Naval and Air Force variants were differently outfitted. In keeping with its strategic purpose, the latter could carry as many as four AGM-69 nuclear missiles. For tactical missions, the F-111 could carry AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missiles. Meanwhile, the Naval variant boasted AIM-54 long-range air-to-air missiles. The aircraft was likewise compatible with a wide array of heavy bombs, spread across its internal bay and four external pylons.

The F-111’s dual purpose spurred its many innovations, but ultimately proved to be its downfall. Vexed by a constant stream of performance issues, the Navy simply couldn’t make the F-111 work efficiently in a carrier-based role. The Aardvark’s design favored the Air Force, where it served until 1996.

Over 500 hundred F-111 models were built, and the Aardvark went on to serve in high-profile conflicts from the Vietnam War to Operation Desert Storm. The aircraft’s later F-111D and F-111F revisions added a slew of modern features that included a glass cockpit and the latest targeting technology, but the F-111 platform was itself becoming somewhat dated. Toward the end of the Cold War, the Aardvark was phased out by more specialized aircraft: the F-15E Strike Eagle became a staple for medium-long range strike missions, while the F-111’s strategic bomber duties were offloaded to the newer B-1B Lancer.

Mark Episkopos is the new national security reporter for the National Interest.


Contents

Background Edit

The F-111B was part of the 1960s TFX program. The USAF's Tactical Air Command (TAC) was largely concerned with the fighter-bomber and deep strike/interdiction roles their version of the aircraft would be a follow-on to the F-105 Thunderchief fighter-bomber. In June 1960, the USAF issued a specification for a long-range interdiction and strike aircraft able to penetrate Soviet air defenses at very low altitudes and very high speeds to deliver tactical nuclear weapons against crucial targets. [1]

Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy sought a long-range, high-endurance interceptor to defend its aircraft carrier battle groups against long-range anti-ship missiles launched from Soviet jet bombers, such as the Tupolev Tu-16, Tupolev Tu-22, and Tupolev Tu-22M, along with submarines. The Navy needed a Fleet Air Defense (FAD) aircraft with a more powerful radar, and longer range missiles than the F-4 Phantom II to intercept both enemy bombers and missiles. [2]

Tactical Fighter Experimental (TFX) Edit

The Air Force and Navy requirements appeared to be different. However, on 14 February 1961, the new U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, formally directed that the services study the development of a single aircraft that would satisfy both requirements. Early studies indicated the best option was to base the Tactical Fighter Experimental (TFX) on the Air Force requirement and a modified version for the Navy. [3] In June 1961, Secretary McNamara ordered the go ahead on TFX despite Air Force and the Navy efforts to keep their programs separate. [4]

The USAF and the Navy could only agree on swing-wing, two seat, twin engine design features. The USAF wanted a tandem seat aircraft for low level penetration, while the Navy wanted a shorter, high altitude interceptor with side by side seating. [3] Also, the USAF wanted the aircraft designed for 7.33 g with Mach 2.5 speed at altitude and Mach 1.2 speed at low level with a length of approximately 70 ft (21 m). The Navy had less strenuous requirements of 6 g with Mach 2 speed at altitude and high subsonic speed (approx. Mach 0.9) at low level with a length of 56 ft (17.1 m). [3] [5] The Navy also wanted a 48-inch (120 cm) radar dish for long range and a maximum takeoff weight of 50,000 pounds (23,000 kg). [6] So McNamara developed a basic set of requirements for TFX based largely on the Air Force's requirements. He changed to a 36-inch (91 cm) dish for compatibility and increased the maximum weight to approximately 60,000 lb (27,200 kg) for the Air Force version and 55,000 lb (24,900 kg) for the Navy version. Then on 1 September 1961 he ordered the USAF to develop it. [5] [6]

A request for proposal (RFP) for the TFX was provided to industry in October 1961. In December of that year Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed, McDonnell, North American and Republic submitted their proposals. The proposal evaluation group found all the proposals lacking, but the best should be improved with study contracts. Boeing and General Dynamics were selected to enhance their designs. Three rounds of updates to the proposals were conducted with Boeing being picked by the selection board. Instead Secretary McNamara selected General Dynamics' proposal in November 1962 due to its greater commonality between Air Force and Navy TFX versions. The Boeing aircraft versions shared less than half of the major structural components. General Dynamics signed the TFX contract in December 1962. A Congressional investigation followed but did not change the selection. [7]

Design phase Edit

The Air Force F-111A and Navy F-111B variants used the same airframe structural components and TF30-P-1 turbofan engines. They featured side by side crew seating in an escape capsule as required by the Navy, versus individual ejection seats. The F-111B's nose was 8.5 feet (2.59 m) shorter due to its need to fit on existing carrier elevator decks, and had 3.5 feet (1.07 m) longer wingspan to improve on-station endurance time. The Navy version would carry an AN/AWG-9 Pulse-Doppler radar and six AIM-54 Phoenix missiles. The Air Force version would carry the AN/APQ-113 attack radar and the AN/APQ-110 terrain-following radar and air-to-ground ordnance. [8]

Lacking experience with carrier-based fighters, General Dynamics teamed with Grumman for assembly and test of the F-111B aircraft. In addition, Grumman would also build the F-111A's aft fuselage and the landing gear. The first test F-111A was powered by YTF30-P-1 turbofans and used a set of ejection seats, since the escape capsule was not yet available. [8] It first flew on 21 December 1964. [9] The first F-111B was also equipped with ejection seats and first flew on 18 May 1965. [10] To address stall issues in certain parts of the flight regime, the F-111's engine inlet design was modified in 1965–66, ending with the "Triple Plow I" and "Triple Plow II" designs. [11] The F-111A achieved a speed of Mach 1.3 in February 1965 with an interim intake design. [8] [11]

F-111B Edit

The weight goals for both F-111 versions proved to be overly optimistic. [12] Excessive weight plagued the F-111B throughout its development. The prototypes were far over the requirement weight. Design efforts reduced airframe weight but were offset by the addition of the escape capsule. The additional weight made the aircraft underpowered. Lift was improved by changes to the wing control surfaces. A higher thrust version of the engine was planned. [13] During the congressional hearings for the aircraft, Vice Admiral Thomas F. Connolly, then Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Air Warfare, responded to a question from Senator John C. Stennis as to whether a more powerful engine would cure the aircraft's woes, saying, "There isn't enough power in all Christendom to make that airplane what we want!" [14]

With the F-111B program in distress, Grumman began studying improvements and alternatives. In 1966, the Navy awarded Grumman a contract to begin studying advanced fighter designs. Grumman narrowed down these designs to its Model 303 design. [15] With this the F-111B's end appeared near by mid-1967. [16] By May 1968 both Armed Services committees of Congress voted not to fund production and in July 1968 the DoD ordered work stopped on F-111B. [17] A total of seven F-111Bs were delivered by February 1969. [18]

Replacement Edit

The F-111B's replacement, the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, which derived from Grumman's initial Model 303 design, reused the TF30 engines from the F-111B, though the Navy planned on replacing them with an improved engine later. [19] Although lighter than the F-111B, it was still the largest and heaviest U.S. fighter to takeoff and land from an aircraft carrier. [20] Its size was a consequence of the requirement to carry the large AWG-9 radar and AIM-54 Phoenix missiles, both from the F-111B, while exceeding the F-4's maneuverability. [21] While the F-111B was armed only for the interceptor role, the Tomcat incorporated an internal M61 Vulcan cannon, provisions for Sidewinder and Sparrow air-to air missiles, and provisions for bombs. [22] [23] While the F-111B did not reach service, land-based, non-fighter F-111 variants were in service with the U.S. Air Force for many years, and with the Royal Australian Air Force until 2010.

The F-111B was an all-weather interceptor aircraft intended to defend U.S. Navy carrier battle groups against bombers and anti-ship missiles. [24] The F-111 features variable geometry wings, an internal weapons bay and a cockpit with side by side seating. The cockpit is part of an escape crew capsule. [25] The wing sweep varies between 16 degrees and 72.5 degrees (full forward to full sweep). [26] The airframe consisted mostly of aluminum alloys with steel, titanium and other materials also used. [27] The fuselage is a semi-monocoque structure with stiffened panels and honeycomb sandwich panels for skin. [26] [27] The F-111B was powered by two Pratt & Whitney TF30 afterburning turbofan engines and included the AN/AWG-9 radar system for controlling the AIM-54 Phoenix air-to-air missiles. [28] Poor visibility over the nose made the aircraft more difficult to handle for carrier operations. [29]

The F-111 offered a platform with the range, payload, and Mach-2 performance to intercept targets quickly, but with swing wings and turbofan engines, it could also loiter on station for long periods. The F-111B would carry six AIM-54 Phoenix missiles, its main armament. Four of the Phoenix missiles mounted on wing pylons and two in the weapons bay. [24] The missile pylons added significant drag when used. [29]

Flight testing Edit

Flight tests on the F-111B continued at NAS Point Mugu, California and NAWS China Lake, California even after the program had been terminated. [10] In July 1968, the pre-production F-111B Bureau Number 151974, was used for carrier trials aboard USS Coral Sea. The evaluation was completed without issue. [30]

Hughes continued Phoenix missile system development with four F-111Bs. [30] In all, two F-111Bs were lost in crashes and a third seriously damaged. [18] The F-111B's last flight was with 151792 from California to New Jersey in mid-1971. The seven F-111Bs flew 1,748 hours over 1,173 flights. [30]

F-111B numbers 1 to 3 were initial prototypes and No. 4 and 5 were prototypes with lightened airframes. [31] No. 6 and 7 had lightened airframes and improved TF30-P-12 engines and were built to near production standard. [31] These were also approximately 2 feet (0.6 metres) longer due to an added section between the cockpit and radome. [32] The first five aircraft included Triple Plow I intakes. The last two had Triple Plow II intakes. [33] The first three B-models were fitted with ejection seats and the remainder included the escape crew capsule. [34]


Contents

Early requirements Edit

The May 1960 U-2 incident, in which an American CIA U-2 spy plane was shot down over the USSR, stunned the United States government. Besides greatly damaging US-Soviet relations, the incident showed that the Soviet Union had developed a surface-to-air missile that could reach aircraft above 60,000 feet (18,000 meters). The United States Air Force Strategic Air Command (SAC) and the RAF Bomber Command's plans to send subsonic, high-altitude B-47 and V bomber formations into the USSR were now much less viable. [2]

By 1960, SAC had begun moving to low-level penetration which greatly reduced radar detection distances. At the time, SAMs were ineffective against low-flying aircraft, and interceptor aircraft had less of a speed advantage at low altitudes. [3] The Air Force's Tactical Air Command (TAC) was largely concerned with the fighter-bomber and deep strike/interdiction roles. TAC was in the process of receiving its latest design, the Republic F-105 Thunderchief, which was designed to deliver nuclear weapons fast and far, but required long runways. [4] A simpler variable geometry wing configuration with the pivot points farther out from the aircraft's centerline was reported by NASA in 1958, which made swing-wings viable. [5] This led Air Force leaders to encourage its use. [6] In June 1960, the USAF issued specification SOR 183 for a long-range interdiction/strike aircraft able to penetrate Soviet air defenses at very low altitudes and high speeds. [7] The specification also called for the aircraft to operate from short, unprepared airstrips. [6]

In the 1950s, the United States Navy sought a long-range, high-endurance interceptor aircraft to protect its carrier battle groups against long-range anti-ship missiles launched from Soviet jet bombers and submarines. The Navy needed a fleet air defense (FAD) fighter with a more powerful radar, and longer range missiles than the F-4 Phantom II to intercept both enemy bombers and missiles. [8] Seeking a FAD fighter, the Navy started with the subsonic, straight-winged aircraft, the Douglas F6D Missileer in the late 1950s. The Missileer was designed to carry six long-range missiles and loiter for five hours, but would be defenseless after firing its missiles. [8] [9] The program was formally canceled in 1961. [8] The Navy had tried variable geometry wings with the XF10F Jaguar, but abandoned it in the early 1950s. It was NASA's simplification which made the variable geometry wings practical. [5] By 1960, increases in aircraft weights required improved high-lift devices, such as variable geometry wings. [10] [11] Variable geometry offered high speeds, and maneuverability with heavier payloads, long range, and the ability to take off and land in shorter distances. [10]

Tactical Fighter Experimental (TFX) Edit

The U.S. Air Force and Navy were both seeking new aircraft when Robert McNamara was appointed Secretary of Defense in January 1961. [12] The aircraft sought by the two armed services shared the need to carry heavy armament and fuel loads, feature high supersonic speed, twin engines and two seats, and probably use variable geometry wings. [13] On 14 February 1961, McNamara formally directed the services to study the development of a single aircraft that would satisfy both requirements. Early studies indicated that the best option was to base the design on the Air Force requirement, and use a modified version for the Navy. [14] In June 1961, Secretary McNamara ordered the go ahead of Tactical Fighter Experimental (TFX), despite Air Force and Navy efforts to keep their programs separate. [15] [16]

The Air Force and the Navy could agree only on swing-wing, two-seat, twin-engine design features. The Air Force wanted a tandem-seat aircraft for low-level penetration ground-attack, while the Navy wanted a shorter, high altitude interceptor with side-by-side seating to allow the pilot and radar operator to share the radar display. [14] Also, the Air Force wanted the aircraft designed for 7.33 g with Mach 2.5 speed at altitude and Mach 1.2 speed at low level with an approximate length of 70 ft (21.3 m). The Navy had less strenuous requirements of 6 g with Mach 2 speed at altitude and high subsonic speed (approx. Mach 0.9) at low level with a length of 56 ft (17.1 m). The Navy also wanted the aircraft with a nose large enough for a 48 in (1.2 m) diameter radar dish. [14] [17]

McNamara developed a basic set of requirements for TFX based largely on the Air Force's requirements and, on 1 September 1961, ordered the Air Force to develop it. [14] [17] A request for proposals (RFP) for the TFX was provided to industry in October 1961. In December, proposals were received from Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed, McDonnell, North American and Republic. The evaluation group found all the proposals lacking, but Boeing and General Dynamics were selected to submit enhanced designs. Boeing's proposal was recommended by the selection board in January 1962, with the exception of the engine, which was not considered acceptable. Switching to a crew escape capsule, instead of ejection seats and alterations to radar and missile storage were also needed. Both companies provided updated proposals in April 1962. Air Force reviewers favored Boeing's offering, while the Navy found both submissions unacceptable for its operations. Two more rounds of updates to the proposals were conducted, with Boeing being picked by the selection board. [16] [18]

In November 1962, McNamara selected General Dynamics' proposal due to its greater commonality between Air Force and Navy versions. The Boeing aircraft shared less than half of the major structural components. General Dynamics signed the TFX contract in December 1962. A Congressional investigation followed, but would not change the selection. [16] [18] [19]

Design phase Edit

The F-111A and B variants used the same airframe structural components and Pratt & Whitney TF30-P-1 turbofan engines. They featured side-by-side crew seating in an escape capsule as required by the Navy. The F-111B's nose was 8.5 feet (2.59 m) shorter so as to fit on existing carrier elevator decks, and had 3.5-foot-longer (1.07 m) wingtips to improve on-station endurance time. The Navy version would carry an AN/AWG-9 Pulse-Doppler radar and AIM-54 Phoenix missiles. The Air Force version would carry the AN/APQ-113 attack radar and the AN/APQ-110 terrain-following radar and air-to-ground armament. [20] A team of engineers at General Dynamics was led by Robert H. Widmer. [21]

Lacking experience with carrier-based fighters, General Dynamics teamed with Grumman for the assembly and testing of the F-111B aircraft. In addition, Grumman would also build the F-111A's aft fuselage and the landing gear. [22] The General Dynamics and Grumman team faced ambitious requirements for range, weapons load, and aircraft weight. [23] The F-111 design also included new features on a production military aircraft, such as variable-geometry wings and afterburning turbofan engines. [22]

The F-111A mockup was inspected in September 1963. The first test F-111A was rolled out of Plant 4 of General Dynamics' Fort Worth, Texas facility on 15 October 1964. It was powered by YTF30-P-1 turbofans and used a set of ejector seats as the escape capsule was not yet available. [20] The F-111A first flew on 21 December 1964 from Carswell Air Force Base, Texas, U.S. [24] The first F-111B was also equipped with ejector seats and first flew on 18 May 1965. [25] [26]

Initially there were compressor surge and stall issues in certain parts of the flight regime. NASA, the Air Force, and General Dynamics studies resulted in the engine inlet design being modified in 1965–66, ending with the "Triple Plow I" and "Triple Plow II" designs. [27] [28]

The F-111A achieved a speed of Mach 1.3 in February 1965 with an interim intake design. [20] [27] Cracks in the F-111's wing attach points were first discovered in 1968 during ground fatigue testing - an F-111 crashed the following year due to this issue. [19] The attach structure required redesign and testing to ensure adequate design and workmanship. [29] Flight testing of the F-111A ran through 1973. [30]

The F-111B was canceled by the Navy in 1968 due to weight and performance issues, along with the need for additional fighter requirements. [31] [32] The F-111C model was developed for Australia. Subsequently, the improved F-111E, F-111D, F-111F models were developed for the U.S. Air Force. The strategic bomber FB-111A and the EF-111 electronic warfare versions were later developed for the USAF. [33] Production ended in 1976 [34] after 563 F-111 aircraft were built. [1]

Overview Edit

The F-111 was an all-weather attack aircraft, capable of low-level penetration of enemy defenses to deliver ordnance on the target. [35] The F-111 featured variable-geometry wings, an internal weapons bay and a cockpit with side-by-side seating. The cockpit was part of an escape crew capsule. [36] The wing sweep varied between 16 degrees and 72.5 degrees (full forward to full sweep). The wing included leading edge slats and double slotted flaps over its full length. [37] The airframe was made up mostly of aluminium alloys with steel, titanium and other materials used in places. [38] The fuselage was made of a semi-monocoque structure with stiffened panels and honeycomb structure panels for skin. [37] [38]

The F-111 used a three-point landing gear arrangement, with a two-wheel nose gear and two single-wheel main landing gear units. The landing gear door for the main gear, which was positioned in the center of the fuselage, also served as a speed brake in flight. [37] [39] Most F-111 variants included a terrain-following radar system connected to the autopilot. The aircraft was powered by two Pratt & Whitney TF30 afterburning turbofan engines. The F-111's variable-geometry wings, escape capsule, terrain following radar and afterburning turbofans were new technologies for production aircraft. [40]

Armament Edit

Weapons bay Edit

The F-111 featured an internal weapons bay that could carry bombs, a removable 20 mm M61 cannon or auxiliary fuel tanks. [41] [42] For bombs, the bay could hold two 750 lb (340 kg) M117 conventional bombs, one nuclear bomb or practice bombs. The F-111B for the US Navy was to carry two AIM-54 Phoenix long-range air-to-air missiles in the bay. The cannon had a large 2,084-round ammunition tank, and its muzzle was covered by a fairing however, it was rarely fitted on F-111s. [43]

The F-111C and F-111F were equipped to carry the AN/AVQ-26 Pave Tack targeting system on a rotating carriage that kept the pod protected within the weapons bay when not in use. Pave Tack featured a forward looking infrared (FLIR) sensor, optical camera and laser rangefinder/designator. The Pave Tack pod allowed the F-111 to designate targets and drop laser-guided bombs on them. [44] Australian RF-111Cs carried a pallet of sensors and cameras for aerial reconnaissance use. [45]

The FB-111 could carry two AGM-69 SRAM air-to-surface nuclear missiles in its weapons bay. [46] General Dynamics trialed an arrangement with two AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles carried on rails in a trapeze arrangement from the bay, but this was not adopted. [43] Early F-111 models had radars equipped to guide the AIM-7 Sparrow medium-range air-to-air missile, but it was never fitted. [47]

External ordnance Edit

Each wing was equipped with four underwing pylons. The inner two pylons on each wing rotated to align with the fuselage, while the outer two were fixed. Each pylon had a capacity of 5,000 pounds (2,300 kilograms). Various bombs and missiles could be carried on the pylons. Auxiliary fuel drop tanks with 600 US gallons (2,300 litres) capacity each could be fitted. [42]

The design of the F-111's fuselage prevented the carriage of external weapons under the fuselage, but two stations were available on the underside for electronic countermeasures (ECM) pods and/or datalink pods one station was on the weapons bay, and the other on the rear fuselage between the engines. [47] The F-111's maximum practical weapons load was limited, since the fixed pylons could not be used with the wings fully swept. [48]

Tactical F-111s were fitted with shoulder rails on the four inner swiveling pylons to mount AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles for self-defense. [43] Australian F-111Cs were equipped to launch the Harpoon anti-ship missile, and the Popeye stand-off missile. [49] FB-111As could carry the same conventional ordnance as the tactical variants, but their wing pylons were more commonly used for either fuel tanks or strategic nuclear gravity bombs. They could carry up to four AGM-69 SRAM nuclear missiles on the pylons. [50]

Historical significance Edit

The F-111 was the first production variable-geometry wing aircraft. [40] Several other types have followed with similar swing-wing configuration, [40] including the Soviet Sukhoi Su-17 "Fitter" (1965), Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23 "Flogger" (1967), Tupolev Tu-22M "Backfire" (1969), Sukhoi Su-24 "Fencer" (1970) and Tupolev Tu-160 "Blackjack" (1981) the U.S. Rockwell B-1 Lancer bomber (1974) and the European Panavia Tornado (1974). The Sukhoi Su-24 was very similar to the F-111. [51] The U.S. Navy's role intended for the F-111B was instead filled by another variable-geometry design, the Grumman F-14 Tomcat.

U.S. Air Force Edit

The first of six initial production F-111s was delivered on 17 July 1967 to fighter squadrons at Nellis Air Force Base. [52] [53] These aircraft were used for crew training. 428th Tactical Fighter Squadron achieved initial operational capability on 28 April 1968. [53]

After early testing, a detachment of six aircraft from the 474th Tactical Fighter Wing (474th TFW Roadrunners) were sent in March 1968 to Southeast Asia for Combat Lancer testing in real combat conditions in the Vietnam War. During the deployment, 55 night missions were flown against targets in North Vietnam, but two aircraft had been lost. 66–0022 was lost on 28 March, and 66-0017 on 30 March. Replacement aircraft left Nellis, but the loss of a third F-111A (66-0024) on 22 April halted F-111A combat operations. The squadron returned to the United States in November. The cause of the first two losses is unknown as the wreckages were never recovered. It turned out that the third loss was traced to a failure of a hydraulic control-valve rod for the horizontal stabilizer which caused the aircraft to pitch up uncontrollably. Further inspection of the remaining fleet of F-111As revealed 42 aircraft with the same potential failures. [54] It is speculated that this failure could also have contributed to the two earlier losses had the failure caused a pitch down while at low altitude. It was not until 1971 that 474 TFW was fully operational. [55]

The word "aardvark" is Afrikaans for "earthpig" and reflects the look of the long nose of the aircraft that might remind one of the nose of the aardvark. The name is attributed to F-111A Instructor Pilot Al Mateczun in 1969, as the aircraft had not received an official Air Force name. [56]

September 1972 saw the F-111 back in Southeast Asia, stationed at Takhli Air Base, Thailand. F-111As from Nellis AFB participated in the final month of Operation Linebacker and later flew 154 low-level missions in the Operation Linebacker II aerial offensive against the North Vietnamese, [57] who called the aircraft "Whispering Death". [58] They also supported regional aerial operations against other communist forces such as Operation Phou Phiang III during the Laotian Civil War in Laos. [59] Crews described their flying in Vietnam as "speed is life", "one pass, haul ass", and "you do more than one pass in a target area you die". The F-111's ability with terrain-following radar ("the best in the fighter world", according to F-111 pilot Richard Crandall) to fly as low as 200 feet above ground level at 480 knots or faster in most weather conditions made it very effective [58] missions did not require tankers or ECM support, and they could operate in weather that grounded most other aircraft. One F-111 could carry the bomb load of four McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom IIs. The worth of the new aircraft was beginning to show F-111s flew more than 4,000 combat missions in Vietnam with only six combat losses. [57]

From 30 July 1973 F-111As of the 347th Tactical Fighter Wing (347th TFW) were stationed at Takhli Air Base. The 347th TFW conducted bombing missions in Cambodia in support of Khmer Republic forces until 15 August 1973 when US combat support ceased in accordance with the Case–Church Amendment. [60] The 347th TFW was stationed at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base from 12 July 1974 until 30 June 1975. In May 1975 347th TFW F-111s provided air support during the Mayaguez incident. [61] [62] [63]

On 14 April 1986, 18 F-111s and approximately 25 Navy aircraft conducted air strikes against Libya under Operation El Dorado Canyon. The 18 F-111s of the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing and 4 EF-111As from the 20th Tactical Fighter Wing flew what turned out to be the longest fighter combat mission in history. [64] The round-trip flight between RAF Lakenheath/RAF Upper Heyford, United Kingdom and Libya of 6,400 miles (10,300 km) spanned 13 hours. One F-111 was lost over Libya and crashed into the Mediterranean Sea, probably shot down. [64]

F-111s participated in the Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm) in 1991. During Desert Storm, F-111Fs completed 3.2 successful strike missions for every unsuccessful one, better than any other U.S. strike aircraft used in the operation. [65] The group of 66 F-111Fs dropped almost 80% of the war's laser-guided bombs, including the penetrating bunker-buster GBU-28. [66] Eighteen F-111Es were also deployed during the operation. [65] [67] The F-111s were credited with destroying more than 1,500 Iraqi tanks and armored vehicles. [67] Their use in the anti-armor role was dubbed "tank plinking". [68]

The F-111 [N 1] was in service with the USAF from 1967 through 1998. The FB-111s were operated by Strategic Air Command from 1969 before conversion to F-111G and transferred to Air Combat Command (ACC) until their retirement in 1993. [71] At a ceremony marking the F-111's USAF retirement, on 27 July 1996, it was officially named Aardvark, its long-standing unofficial name. [70] The USAF retired the EF-111 electronic warfare variant in 1998. [72]

Royal Australian Air Force Edit

The Australian government ordered 24 F-111C aircraft to replace the RAAF's English Electric Canberras in the bombing and tactical strike role. [73] While the first aircraft was officially handed over in September 1968, structural issues delayed the entry into service. [74] The first F-111C was accepted at Nellis Air Force Base on 15 March 1973. [75] The RAAF's first six F-111Cs arrived at Amberley on 1 July 1973, and three subsequent flights of six F-111s arrived on 27 July, 28 September and 4 December. [75] F-111Cs were allocated to No. 1 Squadron and No. 6 Squadron, under the control of No. 82 Wing. In Australia, the F-111 was affectionately known as the "Pig", due possibly to its long nose, terrain-following ability, [76] [77] and/or the origins of the word aardvark (i.e. a loanword in English from Afrikaans, in which it originally meant "earth-pig"). [78]

The purchase proved to be highly successful for the RAAF. Although it never saw combat, the F-111C was the fastest, longest range combat aircraft in Southeast Asia. [79] Aviation historian Alan Stephens has written that they were "the preeminent weapons system in the Asia-Pacific region" throughout their service and provided Australia with "a genuine, independent strike capability". [80] Benny Murdani, Indonesian defense minister in the 1980s, told his Australian counterpart Kim Beazley that when others became upset with Australia during Indonesian cabinet meetings, Murdani told them "Do you realise the Australians have a bomber that can put a bomb through that window on to the table here in front of us?" [81]

Australian F-111s were armed with bombs at RAAF Base Tindal ready to attack Indonesian forces and command systems during the tension in 1999 during the establishment of East Timor's independence and the deployment of the Australian-led International Force for East Timor. [82]

In 2006, an RAAF F-111 was chosen to scuttle the North Korean ship Pong Su that had been seized in 2003 in one of the largest drug hauls in Australia. The Pong Su was sunk on 23 March 2006 by two GBU-10 Paveway II laser-guided bombs. [83]

The drawdown of the RAAF's F-111 fleet began with the retirement of the F-111G models operated by No. 6 Squadron in late 2007. There was controversial procurement of 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets as an interim replacement for the F-111s while the F-35 program suffered delays. [84] [85] One of the reasons given for the F-111s' retirement was the high maintenance time required for every flight hour [86] Crandall said that the USAF's F-111 "was nine percent of Tactical Air Command's fleet but ate up a whopping 25 percent of the maintenance budget". [58] The last F-111s were retired on 3 December 2010. [87]

F-111A Edit

The F-111A was the initial production version of the F-111. Early A-models used the TF30-P-1 engine. Most A-models used the TF30-P-3 engine with 12,000 lbf (53 kN) dry and 18,500 lbf (82 kN) afterburning thrust [20] and "Triple Plow I" variable intakes, providing a maximum speed of Mach 2.3 (1,450 mph, 2,300 km/h) at altitude. [88] The variant had a maximum takeoff weight of 92,500 lb (42,000 kg) and an empty weight of 45,200 lb (20,500 kg). [89]

The A-model's Mark I avionics suite included the General Electric AN/APQ-113 attack radar mated to a separate Texas Instruments AN/APQ-110 terrain-following radar lower in the nose and a Litton AJQ-20 inertial navigation and nav/attack system. The terrain-following radar (TFR) was integrated into the automatic flight control system, allowing for "hands-off" flight at high speeds and low levels (down to 200 ft). [90]

Total production of the F-111As was 159, including 30 pre-production aircraft that were later brought up to production standards. [91] [92] 42 F-111As were converted to EF-111A Ravens for an electronic warfare tactical electronic jamming role. [93] In 1982, four surviving F-111As were provided to Australia as attrition replacements and modified to F-111C standard these were fitted with the longer-span wings and reinforced landing gear of the C-model. [94]

Three pre-production F-111A were provided to NASA for various testing duties. The 13th F-111A was fitted with new wing designs for the Transonic Aircraft Technology and Advanced Fighter Technology Integration programs in the 1970s and 1980s. [95] It was retired to the United States Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in 1989. The remaining unconverted F-111As were mothballed at Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in June 1991. [96]

F-111B Edit

The F-111B was to be a fleet air defense (FAD) fighter for the U.S. Navy, fulfilling a naval requirement for a carrier-based fighter aircraft capable of carrying heavy, long-range missiles to defend aircraft carriers and their battle groups from Soviet bombers and fighter-bombers equipped with anti-ship missiles. General Dynamics, lacking experience with carrier-based aircraft, partnered with Grumman for this version. The F-111B suffered development problems and Navy requirements changed to an aircraft with maneuverability for dogfighting. The swing-wing configuration, TF-30 engines, AIM-54 Phoenix air-to-air missiles and AWG-9 radar developed for this aircraft were used on its replacement, the Grumman F-14 Tomcat. The Tomcat would be large enough to carry the AWG-9 and Phoenix weapons system while exceeding both the F-111's and the F-4's maneuverability. [97] Seven aircraft were completed for testing but the model never entered fleet service.

F-111C Edit

The F-111C is the export version for Australia, combining the F-111A with longer F-111B wings and strengthened FB-111A landing gear. Australia ordered 24 F-111s and, following delays, the Royal Australian Air Force accepted the aircraft in 1973. [98] Four of these were converted to the RF-111C reconnaissance variant in 1979–80. Australia also purchased four ex-USAF F-111As and converted them to C standard. [94] [99]

In the 1990s, F-111C aircraft underwent a comprehensive digital avionics upgrade (known as the AUP) which introduced new nav/attack systems (PAVE TACK Laser /infrared targeting system) and flight control computers. [99] [100] The RAAF retired its last F-111Cs in December 2010. [101]

F-111D Edit

The F-111D was an upgraded F-111A equipped with newer Mark II avionics, more powerful engines, improved intake geometry, and an early glass cockpit. The variant was first ordered in 1967 and delivered from 1970–73. The F-111D reached initial operational capability in 1972. Deliveries were delayed due to avionics issues. 96 F-111Ds were built. [102] The sole operator of this variant was the 27th TFW stationed at Cannon AFB, New Mexico.

The F-111D used the new Triple Plow II intakes, which were located four inches (100 mm) further away from the airframe to prevent engine ingestion of the sluggish boundary layer air that was known to cause stalls in the TF30 turbofans. It had more powerful TF30-P-9 engines with 12,000 lbf (53 kN) dry and 18,500 lbf (82 kN) afterburning thrust. [103]

The Mark II avionics were digitally integrated microprocessor systems, some of the first used by the USAF, offering tremendous capability, but substantial problems. The Rockwell Autonetics digital bombing-navigation system included inertial navigation system, AN/APQ-130 attack radar system and Doppler radar. It also included digital computer set and multi-function displays (MFDs). The terrain-following radar was the Sperry AN/APQ-128. [104] The attack radar featured a Doppler beam-sharpening, moving target indication (MTI), and Continuous-wave radar for guiding semi-active radar homing missiles. [45] [105]

It took years to improve the reliability of the avionics, but issues were never fully addressed. [45] [102] According to Crandall, "The truth is that the D model didn't work. They parked every single one of them in Fort Worth for several years as they worked to fix the bugs". [58] The F-111D was withdrawn from service in 1991 and 1992. [106]

F-111E Edit

A simplified, interim variant ordered after the F-111D was delayed, the F-111E used the Triple Plow II intakes, but retained the F-111A's TF30-P-3 engines and Mark I avionics. [107] The weapon stores management system was improved and other small changes made. [108] Crandall described the F-111E as "all analog, just like the A model, but It worked". [58]

The E-model was first ordered in 1968 and delivered from 1969–71. It achieved initial operational capability in 1969. [109] The variant's first flight occurred on 20 August 1969. 94 F-111Es were built. [108] Many F-111Es were assigned to the 20th TFW at Upper Heyford, UK until 1991. The avionics were upgraded on some E-models as part of an Avionics Modernization Program. The variant served in 1990-91 during the Gulf War. Some F-111Es received improved TF30-P-109 engines in the early 1990s. All F-111Es were retired to AMARC by 1995. [110]

F-111F Edit

Crandall described the F-111F as "the Cadillac of the F-111 force". [58] It was the final variant produced for Tactical Air Command, with a modern, but less expensive, Mark IIB avionics system. [111] The USAF approved development of the variant in 1969. It also included the more powerful TF30-P-100 engine and strengthened wing carry-through box. 106 were produced between 1970 and 1976. [112]

The F-111F's Mark IIB avionics suite used a simplified version of the FB-111A's radar, the AN/APQ-144, lacking some of the strategic bomber's operating modes but adding a new 2.5 mi (4.0 km) display ring. Although it was tested with digital moving-target indicator (MTI) capacity, it was not used in production sets. [111] The Mark IIB avionics combined some Mark II components with FB-111A components, such as the AN/APQ-146 terrain-following radar. The F-111E's weapon management system was also included. [113]

The F-model could reach Mach 1.2 at sea level on full afterburner. [114] It used the Triple Plow II intakes, along with the substantially more powerful TF30-P-100 turbofan with 25,100 lbf (112 kN) afterburning thrust, 35% more thrust than the F-111A and E. [28] An adjustable engine nozzle was added to decrease drag. [112] The P-100 engine greatly improved the F-111F's performance. [115] The engines were upgraded to the TF30-P-109 version, [116] later in the 1985–86 timeframe.

In the early 1980s, the F-111F began to be equipped with the AVQ-26 Pave Tack forward looking infrared (FLIR) and laser designator system, which provided for the delivery of precision laser-guided munitions and was mounted in the internal weapons bay. [117] [58] The Pacer Strike avionics update program replaced analog equipment with new digital equipment and multi-function displays. [118] The last USAF F-111s were withdrawn from service in 1996, replaced by the McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle. [119]

F-111K Edit

The British government canceled the BAC TSR-2 strike aircraft in 1965, citing the lower costs for the TFX and ordered 50 F-111K aircraft in February 1967 for the Royal Air Force. [120] The F-111K was to be supplemented later by the Anglo-French Variable Geometry Aircraft then under development. The F-111K was based on the F-111A with longer F-111B wings, [120] FB-111 landing gear, Mark II navigation/fire control system, and British supplied mission systems. Other changes included weapons bay modifications, addition of a centerline pylon, a retractable refueling probe, provisions for a reconnaissance pallet, and a higher gross weight with the use of FB-111A landing gear. [121]

In January 1968, the United Kingdom terminated its F-111K order, [121] citing higher cost increased costs along with devaluation of the pound had raised the cost to around £3 million each. [122] The first two F-111Ks (one strike/recon F-111K and one trainer/strike TF-111K) were in the final stages of assembly when the order was canceled. [121] All of the components that had been assembled for the production of the main F-111K fleet that shared commonality were diverted to the FB-111A program, while the two aircraft under construction were re-designated as YF-111As with the intention that they be used as test aircraft in the F-111A program. Ultimately however, the two F-111Ks were never operated as test aircraft – in July 1968, almost exactly a year after the first airframe began construction, the US Air Force decided not to take them over, and General Dynamics were ordered to use them for component recovery. [120]

FB-111A / F-111G Edit

The FB-111A was a strategic bomber version of the F-111 for the USAF Strategic Air Command. With Air Force's Advanced Manned Strategic Aircraft program proceeding slowly, and concerns of fatigue failures in the B-52 fleet, the service needed an interim bomber quickly. The FB-111A was selected in 1965 to replace the supersonic Convair B-58 Hustler and early B-52 variants. [123] The Air Force signed a contract for the FB-111A in 1966. In 1968, plans called for 263 FB-111s, but the total was reduced to 76 in 1969. The first production aircraft flew in 1968. [124] Deliveries began in 1969 and ended in 1971. [125]

When the UK canceled its order for the F-111K in 1968, components for the 48 F-111Ks in manufacturing were diverted to FB-111A production. [126] [127] The FB-111A featured longer F-111B wings for greater range and load-carrying ability. [128] The bomber variant had a redesigned aft fuselage and its maximum speed was limited to Mach 2. [125] Its fuel capacity was increased by 585 gallons (2,214 L) and it used stronger landing gear to compensate for the higher maximum takeoff weight of 119,250 lb (54,105 kg). All but the first aircraft had the Triple Plow II intakes and the TF30-P-7 with 12,500 lbf (56 kN) dry and 20,350 lbf (90 kN) afterburning thrust. [129]

The FB-111A had new electronics, known as the SAC Mark IIB avionics suite. For the FB-111A the system used an attack radar improved from the F-111A's system, along with components that would be used later on the F-111D, including the inertial navigation system, digital computers, and multi-function displays. [130] The SAC Mark IIB kit included custom items added to support the strategic mission, such as a star tracker navigation system mounted forward of the cockpit, a satellite communications receiver, and an automatic stores release system, replacing the manual stores release system used on other F-111 variants. [131] Armament for the strategic bombing role was the Boeing AGM-69 SRAM (short-range attack missile) two could be carried in the internal weapons bay and four more on the inner underwing pylons. Nuclear gravity bombs were also typical FB armament. Fuel tanks were often carried on the third non-swivelling pylon of each wing. The FB-111A had a total weapon load of 35,500 lb (16,100 kg). [129]

Multiple advanced FB-111 strategic bomber designs were proposed by General Dynamics in the 1970s. The first design, referred to as "FB-111G" within the company, [132] was a larger aircraft with more powerful engines with more payload and range. The next was a lengthened "FB-111H" that featured more powerful General Electric F101 turbofan engines, a 12 ft 8.5 in longer fuselage and redesigned fixed intakes. The rear landing gear were moved outward so armament could be carried on the fuselage there. The FB-111H was offered as an alternative to the B-1A in 1975. [132] [133] The similar FB-111B/C was offered in 1979 without success. [134]

The FB-111A became surplus to SAC's needs after the introduction of the B-1B Lancer. The remaining FB-111s were subsequently reconfigured for tactical use and redesignated F-111G. The conversions began in 1989 and ended after 34 F-111G conversions were completed. With the disestablishment of SAC, the FB-111As and F-111Gs were transferred to the newly established Air Combat Command (ACC). They were used primarily for training. [135] The remaining FB-111As were retired in 1991 and the F-111Gs were retired in 1993. [71] Australia bought 15 F-111Gs in 1993 to supplement its F-111Cs. [71] They were retired in 2007.

EF-111A Raven Edit

To replace the aging Douglas EB-66, the USAF contracted with Grumman in 1972 to convert 42 existing F-111As into electronic warfare aircraft. The EF-111A can be distinguished from the F-111A by the equipment bulge atop their tails. In May 1998, the USAF withdrew the final EF-111As from service, placing them in storage at Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center (AMARC) at Davis–Monthan Air Force Base. [136]

United States Air Force operated F-111A/D/E/F/G, FB-111A and EF-111A. [137] Officially retired its F-111s in 1996 and the EF-111A in 1998.

Australia Edit

United Kingdom Edit

  • 67-0120 – American Air Museum, Imperial War Museum Duxford, Duxford, England. The last F-111E from 20th Tactical Fighter Wing in the UK. It was directly transferred from USAF service at RAF Upper Heyford to the museum in late 1993, prior to the base closure in 1994. [139]
  • 68-0011 – RAF Lakenheath, England (in front of base post office, marked as 48th TFW F-111F) [140]
  • 74-0177 – National Cold War Exhibition, Royal Air Force Museum Cosford[141]

United States Edit

  • 63-9766 – Air Force Flight Test Center Museum, Edwards AFB, Palmdale, California (first F-111) [142]
  • 63-9767 – Waukegan National Airport, Waukegan, Illinois. To be put on display at the Lake County Veterans Memorial at the airport. Formerly on display at Octave Chanute Aerospace Museum (former Chanute AFB), Rantoul, Illinois. [143][144]
  • 63-9771 – Cannon AFB, Clovis, New Mexico[145]
  • 63-9773 – Sheppard AFB Air Park, Sheppard AFB, Wichita Falls, Texas[146]
  • 63-9775 – United States Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, Alabama[147]
  • 63-9776 – Mountain Home AFB, Idaho (the only RF-111A, marked as 66-0022) [148]
  • 63-9778 – Air Force Flight Test Center Museum, Edwards AFB, Palmdale, California (TACT/AFTI F-111) [149]
  • 66-0012 – Battle Mountain Air Museum, Battle Mountain, Nevada[150]
  • 67-0046 – Brownwood Regional Airport, Brownwood, Texas[151]
  • 67-0047 – American Airpower Museum, Long Island, New York[152]
  • 67-0051 – Historic Aviation Memorial Museum, Tyler Pounds Regional Airport, Tyler, Texas (marked as 67-0050) [153]
  • 67-0057 – Dyess Air Force Base Linear Air Park, Abilene, Texas[154]
  • 67-0058 – Carl Miller Park, Mountain Home, Idaho[155]
  • 67-0067 – National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, Dayton, Ohio[156]
  • 67-0069 – The Southern Museum of Flight, Birmingham, Alabama[157]
  • 67-0100 – Nellis Air Force Base, Las Vegas, Nevada (aircraft display park) [158]
  • 68-0140 – Clovis, New Mexico (F-111 "Vark" Memorial Park) [159]
  • 68-0009 – Fort Worth Aviation Museum[160]Fort Worth, Texas[161]
  • 68-0020 – Hill Aerospace Museum, Hill AFB, Utah (nicknamed "My Lucky Blonde") [162]
  • 68-0027 – Commemorative Air Force, Midland, Texas[163]
  • 68-0033 – Pima Air and Space Museum (adjacent to Davis-Monthan AFB), Tucson, Arizona[164]
  • 68-0039 – Shaw AFB, Sumter, South Carolina[165]
  • 68-0055 – Museum of Aviation, Robins AFB, Warner Robins, Georgia (nicknamed "Heartbreaker") [166]
  • 68-0058 – Air Force Armament Museum, Eglin AFB, Valparaiso, Florida[167]
  • 70-2364 – In the median strip of U.S. Highway 70, in Portales, New Mexico[168]
  • 70-2390 – National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, Dayton, Ohio[169]
  • 70-2408 – Santa Fe County Municipal, Santa Fe, New Mexico[170]
  • 74-0178 – Aviation Heritage Park, Bowling Green, Kentucky[171]
  • 67-0159 – Aerospace Museum of California, McClellan AFB (formerly), Sacramento, California (FB-111A development aircraft, converted to F-111G) [172]
  • 68-0239 – K. I. Sawyer Heritage Air Museum, formerly K.I. Sawyer AFB, Marquette, Michigan (nicknamed the "Rough Night") [173] converted to F-111G
  • 68-0245 – March Field Air Museum, March ARB, Riverside, California (nicknamed "Ready Teddy") [174]
  • 68-0248 – South Dakota Air and Space Museum, Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota (nicknamed "Free For All") [175]
  • 68-0267 – Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum in Ashland, Nebraska (nicknamed "Black Widow") [176]
  • 68-0275 – Kelly Field Heritage Museum, Lackland AFB / Kelly Field San Antonio, Texas (painted in tactical scheme) [177]
  • 68-0284 – Barksdale Global Power Museum, Barksdale AFB, Bossier City, Louisiana[178]
  • 68-0286 – Clyde Lewis Airpark (adjacent to former Plattsburgh AFB), Plattsburgh, New York (nicknamed "SAC Time") [179]
  • 68-0287 – Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum (former Lowry AFB), Denver, Colorado[180]
  • 69-6507 – Castle Air Museum (former Castle AFB), Atwater, California (nicknamed "Madam Queen") [181]
  • 69-6509 – Whiteman AFB, Knob Noster, Missouri (gate guard) (Converted to F-111G nicknamed "The Spirit of the Seacoast") [182]

Data from Miller, [183] Donald [184]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 2
  • Length: 73 ft 6 in (22.40 m)
  • Wingspan: 63 ft (19 m)
  • Lower wingspan: 32 ft (9.8 m) swept
  • Height: 17 ft 1.5 in (5.220 m)
  • Wing area: 657.4 sq ft (61.07 m 2 ) spread, 525 sq ft (48.8 m 2 ) swept
  • Aspect ratio: 7.56 spread
  • Airfoil:root:NACA 64-210.68 tip:NACA 64-209.80[185]
  • Empty weight: 47,200 lb (21,410 kg)
  • Gross weight: 82,800 lb (37,557 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 100,000 lb (45,359 kg)
  • Zero-lift drag coefficient: 0.0186 [186]
  • Zero-lift drag coefficient area: 9.36 sq ft (0.87 m 2 )
  • Aspect ratio: spread:
  • Powerplant: 2 × Pratt & Whitney TF30-P-100afterburning turbofan engines, 17,900 lbf (80 kN) thrust each dry, 25,100 lbf (112 kN) with afterburner
  • Maximum speed: 1,434 kn (1,650 mph, 2,656 km/h) at altitude
  • Maximum speed: Mach 2.5
  • Range: 3,210 nmi (3,690 mi, 5,940 km)
  • Ferry range: 3,210 nmi (3,690 mi, 5,940 km) with external drop tanks
  • Service ceiling: 66,000 ft (20,000 m)
  • Rate of climb: 25,890 ft/min (131.5 m/s)
  • Wing loading: 126 lb/sq ft (620 kg/m 2 ) spread
  • Thrust/weight: 0.61
  • Guns: 1× 20 mm (0.787 in)M61A1 Vulcan 6-barreled Gatling cannon in weapons bay (seldom fitted)
  • Hardpoints: 9 in total (8× under-wing, 1× under-fuselage between engines) plus 2 attach points in weapons bay with a capacity of 31,500 lb (14,300 kg),with provisions to carry combinations of:
    • Missiles:
        thermonuclear air-to-surface missile (FB-111A only) stand-off bomb
      • Free-fall general-purpose bombs including Mk 82 (500 lb/227 kg), Mk 83 (1,000 lb/454 kg), Mk 84 (2,000 lb/907 kg), and Mk 117 (750 lb/340 kg) (2,000 lb/907 kg) hardened penetration bomb laser-guided bombs, including 2,000 lb (907 kg) GBU-10, 500 lb (227 kg) GBU-12, and 4,800 lb (2,200 kg) GBU-28 penetration bomb runway-cratering bomb electro-optical bomb or B43 nuclear bombs

      American artist James Rosenquist portrayed the aircraft in his acclaimed 1965 room-sized pop art painting entitled F-111 that features an early natural-finish example of the aircraft in USAF markings. The painting hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. [187]


      Contents

      Background Edit

      In the early 1960s, the British Aircraft Corporation was in the process of developing a new strike aircraft for the Royal Air Force to replace the English Electric Canberra. This aircraft, designated as "TSR-2" (Tactical Strike and Reconnaissance), had a large set of requirements listed by the government, and had led to TSR-2 becoming a hugely complex machine it was intended that it be able to undertake both conventional and nuclear strike missions at high and low level, in all weathers, at supersonic speeds. As a consequence, the costs of the project began to increase, leading to it becoming the most expensive aviation project in British history, at a time when defence spending was being cut. This led to the RAF being asked to look for potential alternatives to TSR-2, in the event of it being cancelled.

      At the same time, the Australian government was looking for a replacement for the Canberras operated by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), and was investigating a number of options, including the TSR-2 and the General Dynamics F-111 then being developed for the US TFX Program. The versatility of the F-111 and uncertainty over the TSR-2 led, in 1963, to contracts for the RAAF-specific General Dynamics F-111C.

      An incoming Labour government expressed its support for the TSR-2, although the RAF was asked to also evaluate the F-111 as a cheaper option. In April 1965, the TSR-2 was officially cancelled and the RAF again looked at the possibility of acquiring up to 110 F-111s. [2]

      No firm commitment was made to the F-111 until the publication of the 1966 Defence White Paper, although it was the government's preferred option. [4] Following the publication of the defence review, it was announced that up to 50 F-111s would be procured for the RAF like the Australian version, these would be highly adapted to suit the unique set of British requirements. The intention was to form an initial four operational squadrons, plus an Operational Conversion Unit, with two stationed in the UK and two forming part of the UK's forces East of Suez. [5] The intention was that long-range, land based F-111s would be used to replace the strike capability of the CVA-01 aircraft carriers that were cancelled in the White Paper. [6] Although there was no public announcement as to specific squadrons that would receive the F-111, a document from early 1966 by the AOC-in-C of Bomber Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Wallace Kyle, indicated that 12 Squadron (then a Vulcan squadron assigned to the strategic nuclear role), together with the inactive 7 (previously Valiant), 15 (Victor) and 40 (Canberra) Squadrons, would receive the aircraft upon their delivery. [7]

      In April 1966, a firm order was placed for 10 F-111s for the RAF, with options for another 40, covering the standard F-111K models and a number of dual-control TF-111K trainers, with the purchase price set around £2.1m ($5.95m) per unit (1965 prices). [5] This was intended to show a significant reduction in cost when compared with the development and estimated production costs of TSR-2. At the same time, a pair of Victor squadrons had been moved out of RAF Honington, which was earmarked for conversion to accommodate the F-111 force. [8] However, at the same time the actual cost of F-111 production had increased in April 1967, when the RAF's 40 additional aircraft were ordered, the per unit cost of the F-111C for the RAAF was US$9m. [5] This eventually led to an admission from the British government that the cost would increase from the initial figure set out – in 1967, the then Secretary of State for Defence, Denis Healey, stated that adjusting for inflation was taken into account, which would add approximately 2.5% to the cost of each aircraft. This did not include the cost of installing the British adaptations. The total estimate cost per unit by the time the last aircraft was due to be delivered in 1970 was approximately £2.7m. [9] Despite this, the government still maintained that the F-111 programme (combined with the proposed AFVG aircraft) would be cheaper than TSR-2 to the tune of approximately £700m. [10]

      Cancellation Edit

      The first two aircraft began assembly in July 1967, and were issued with the serial numbers XV884 and XV885. [11] These were intended as development aircraft, to undertake airframe, avionics and weapons testing prior to them being refurbished as operational units. [12] At the same time, the remainder of the planned 50 strong fleet were allocated serials from XV886-887 (TF-111K) and XV902-947 (F-111K). [1] The first two airframes were in the final stages of assembly at General Dynamics' plant at Fort Worth, Texas in early 1968 when the Government then issued a new policy that would see the majority of British forces stationed East of Suez withdrawn by 1971. At the same time it also decided to cancel the F-111K procurement. The devaluation of sterling in 1967 had led to the per unit cost rising to approximately £3m. [13] Additionally, the production schedules were slipping while the RAAF had its first F-111 delivered in 1968, official acceptance of the type into service did not occur until 1973 due to structural and development problems (which led to the RAAF having to lease 24 F-4 Phantoms as an interim measure [14] ). All of the components that had been assembled for the production of the main F-111K fleet that shared commonality were diverted to the FB-111A program, while the two aircraft under construction were re-designated as YF-111As with the intention that they be used as test aircraft in the F-111A program. [11] Ultimately however, the two F-111Ks were never operated as test aircraft – in July 1968, almost exactly a year after the first airframe began construction, the US Air Force decided not to take them over, and General Dynamics were ordered to use them for component recovery. [11]


      F-111 Aardvark

      The F-111 Aardvark, built by General Dynamics, was the world's first swing wing production aircraft. It was conceived by its builders as a fighter for use by both the U.S.A.F. and the U.S.N.

      While the aircraft was being developed, a number of problems were discovered with the navalized aircraft, which the U.S. Navy felt would be too time consuming and costly to overcome. Thereafter development of the aircraft proceeded solely to U. S. Air Force specifications .

      Although it retained it's "F" for fighter designation, the resultant aircraft, which first flew in December of 1964, became the world's fastest strategic bomber. The aircraft employed the first all-weather ground following radar system. It was proven in combat in Desert Storm, Libya and Vietnam.

      A unique feature of the F-111 Aardvark was its ejection pod. The pod was originally stipulated by the Navy, but it was retained by the Air Force. The aircraft crew were seated within an air conditioned, pressurized module. They had no need for ejection seats or pressurized flight suits. The module was activated by an "eject' handle on the aircraft's center console. A rocket motor propelled the module in its entirety from the aircraft until it was clear. Parachutes opened for its descent to the ground. It was possible to eject from ground level, or under water. Flotation bags were fitted to the watertight and airtight module for water landings.

      The model A was deployed in October of 1967. After some initial problems were resolved, the aircraft had a relative trouble-free record .

      On January 17, 1991, F-111 Aardvark aircraft flew the first of many sorties of Desert Storm. In addition to bombing missions, specially equipped EF-111A Raven aircraft flew electronics counter measure (ECM) missions, primarily as radar jammers. Using precision guided ordnance, F-111 bombers took out reinforced bunkers by day and enemy armor by night .

      The F-111 Aardvark had a wide flight envelope, using its swing wings for relatively slow speeds when extended, to high supersonic speeds when the wings are folded back. Its mission was to deliver nuclear or conventional ordnance from low altitude. Additional mission roles included the support of ground forces, reconnaissance, and strategic bombing .

      Much of the fuselage of the F-111 Aardvark and the wings were devoted to holding a total of 34,494 lbs. of internal fuel. That, plus an additional 16,416 lbs. of fuel carried in external tanks gave it a long range without refueling. The external fuel tanks could be jettisoned, if necessary. Its internal weapons bay could hold bombs or additional fuel. The aircraft's weapons nearest its fuselage pivoted as the wings swept back, keeping them parallel to the fuselage. Although the outer pylons were fixed in place, they could be jettisoned if needed to improve aerodynamics at higher speeds.

      The F-111 model B was intended for the U.S. Navy. Its primary role would have been as a carrier based fleet defense fighter.

      The F-111 model C was exported to the Royal Australian Air Force. Australia was the only country that purchased the aircraft, outside of the United States.

      The F-111 Aardvark model D was fitted with new engines which produced more thrust than their predecessors. Its engine air intakes were moved away from the fuselage by about four inches. This was to lessen the intake of turbulent air coming from the aircraft's fuselage that was known to cause engine stalls. An all glass cockpit was added, including digitally computer controlled avionics. These early systems had reliability issues which were never fully resolved. The model D was deployed to the 27th Tactical Fighter Wing at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, U.S.A.

      Of interest is that the F-111 Aardvark model E was introduced before the model D due to avionics reliability issues. It had modified engine air intakes to improve supersonic flight performance. The majority of F-111 model E aircraft served with the 20th Fighter Wing based at RAF Upper Heyford, England, in support of NATO.

      The F-111 model F was fitted with more powerful, efficient engines, developing 35 percent additional thrust over previous models. The final model F was delivered to the U.S.A.F. in November of 1976. It went on to be deployed with RAF Lakenheath's 48th Fighter Wing. The model F was proven in combat in Libya in 1986.

      Although the F-111 was retired from the USAF in 1996, it continued to operate in the Australian Air Force through 2010.

      Of a total of 563 F-111 Aardvark aircraft, 77 were lost while totaling over a million hours of flight. That makes them the safest "Century Series" aircraft produced, and one of the aircraft with the best safety records in the history of the U.S.A.F.

      RC F-111 Aardvark

      The great looking RC F-111 Aardvark built by Frank Selby features swing wings, has an open wingspan of 101 in., a length of 117 in., and weighs about 52 lbs. Power comes from a pair of jet turbine engines producing 28 lbf. thrust each.


      When Bill Wilson was captured by the North Vietnamese, one of his captors pointed an accusing finger at him, exclaiming: “YOU! F-One Eleven!” and, with a sweeping palm down gesture, “WHOOOOSH!” It was a simple eloquence that described the fear and awe that the North Vietnamese felt for the swing-wing marauders that came in the night, unheralded, to sow their seeds of destruction with pin-point accuracy. When Wilson collected his “Golden BB”, he had been flying the F-111 for just over a year.

      Originally known as the TFX (Tactical Fighter “X”), the F-111 was conceived to meet a U.S. Air Force requirement for a new tactical fighter-bomber. In 1960 the Department of Defense combined the USAF’s requirement with a Navy need for a new air superiority fighter. The USAF’s F-111A first flew in December 1964, and the first production models were delivered to the USAF in 1967. Meanwhile, the Navy’s F-111B program was canceled. In all, 566 F-111s of all series were built 159 of them were F-111As. Although the F-111 was unofficially referred to as the Aardvark, it did not receive the name officially until it was retired in 1996.

      An interesting feature of the aircraft was its variable-geometry wings. While in the air, the wings could be swept forward for takeoffs, landings or slow speed flight, and swept rearward for high-speed flight. The F-111 could also fly at very low level and hit targets in bad weather.

      In the spring of 1968 the USAF operationally tested the F-111A in Southeast Asia with mixed success. In 1972, after correcting early problems, the USAF returned the F-111A to Southeast Asia for Operation Linebacker II as former F-111A weapon system officer (WSO) Bill Wilson remembers in Lou Drendel book F-111 In Action. “My last mission was by far the most memorable, though the memories are anything but happy. It was our second mission of Linebacker II. Our first mission was the strike against Hoa Lac Airfield on the night of December 18. Following that mission, we had a break of four days to allow the operations people to distribute the missions equally among all of the crews. During that break, I made the mistake of asking the Ops Officer for a mission to “downtown”. We had never been to any of the targets close in to Hanoi, and both Bob [Wilson’s pilot, Capt. Robert Sponeybarger] and I were curious about the area. We had confidence in the F-111 and our tactics, and I guess we were eager to prove that we could challenge the most formidable air defense system ever devised and survive. It was not the first dangerous mission I had volunteered for, but I later promised myself that it was the last.

      “The target we were assigned was the river docks right in the center of Hanoi. Now, “downtown” was a euphemism used to describe the magic ten mile radius of the most intensive air defenses around Hanoi. I really hadn’t expected to be sent right to the center of it!

      “We took off from Takhli about 2100, climbed to a medium altitude, and proceeded up through the Plain des Jars area of Laos into the Gorilla’s Head area of North Vietnam, where we began our let-down to penetration altitude.

      “This was December 22, which was really the height of the battle. The enemy was not as exhausted as he would become a week later, and the air defense crews were at their sharpest. We had been striking all around the Hanoi area, and, in fact, the river docks had been hit previously. Most of the strikes had been coming in from the south-east, since this gave the crews a more direct route out of the area, and minimized their exposure to the defenses. We figured that they would be looking more closely at these southeast approaches, so we planned our run-in to the target from the north. After stabilizing in the TFR mode, we crossed into North Vietnam at 500 feet. The closer we got to Hanoi, the more we hugged the terrain. Our last leg before turning south was on the north side of Thud Ridge, which gave us complete masking from the air defense radars. When we came around the corner and turned south, we broke out of the weather. We were at three hundred feet, and there was a broken overcast above, with a full moon showing through the breaks in the clouds. Hardly the ideal F-111 weather. Visibility under the overcast was unlimited, and we could see the lights of Hanoi in the distance. We picked up our final run-in heading at Duc Noi, about 10 miles due north of the target. At this point we were doing about 480 knots, and my impressions of the world outside the airplane are fragmentary, limited as they had to be since I was spending the majority of my time on the radar. I remember that they never did turn the lights off. They were welding the superstructure of the Paul Doumer Bridge, which we used for our radar offset in the final attack phase. We started to pick up some AAA fire, mostly 37-57mm stuff, five miles before we got to the target. It was the typical stuff, coming up in clips of five, red and orange golf balls and, though there was a lot of it, it was all behind us since they didn’t have us on radar and it was all directed at our sound. At that time I remember feeling a little let-down. since I had expected much heavier resistance. We had seen bigger stuff . . . 85 and 100mm . . . on a previous mission to Thai Nguyen. We later learned that the enemy had stopped shooting the big guns at low-level high speed targets because the rapid rate of traverse required was throwing the gun crews off the gun mounts and injuring them, and they had no hope of hitting us anyway. [As Drendel explains, many of the civilian casualties claimed by North Vietnam to have been inflicted by U.S. bombers were actually self-inflicted by the large caliber shells detonating at low altitude and spewing shrapnel indiscriminately about the countryside.]

      “But, though they weren’t coming close to us with their AAA, they were quite effectively tracing our path in the sky. They had developed the tactics of blasting away with small arms fire . . . straight up . . . along this path, in the hope of getting a lucky hit. Two nights previous to our mission, one of the airplanes had come back with a hit in the extreme rear of its tailpipe. The previous night an airplane had returned with a hit in the stabilator. It seemed that they were getting the hang of their new tactics. And if I had been superstitious at all, I probably wouldn’t have flown the mission at all. Every one of the previous F-111s lost had a call sign ending in 3, and they had all gone down on a Monday night. December 22 was a Monday, and our call sign was Jackal 33.

      “Our weapons system pickled off the twelve 500 pound Snakeyes as we roared over the docks at better than 550 miles an hour. With the F-111’s sophisticated system, and the good radar offset we had gotten from the Doumer Bridge, there was never much doubt that we would hit the target, and we could see the docks exploding as we rolled off the target and headed for the turn point for our initial leg back to base. As soon as we looked back in the cockpit, we saw that we had a utility hydraulic failure light. We didn’t think much of it at the time . . . we hadn’t felt any hits on the airplane, and we had gotten one of these lights on a previous mission. It was more of a minor irritation than anything else. But less than a minute later, we got a right engine fire warning light. We went through the bold-face procedures, shutting the engine down. (Bold face refers to the instructions for emergency operations which appear in the flight manual.) I called Moonbeam, reporting that we were off the target and had lost an engine, and they acknowledged the call.

      “We had just reached the first set of foothills and I had told Bob that we could start to climb, when I heard him say: “What the hell . . . !” I looked up from the radar to see him moving the control stick like he was operating a butter churn, and I saw that the entire warning-caution light panel was lit. There was no doubt about our next move, and with Bob’s command, “Eject! Eject!”, we fired the capsule rockets.

      Everything worked as advertised, and it was a smooth ejection. When the parachutes opened, we were in the overcast, so we didn’t see the airplane hit, but we did see the glow of the explosion, and when we broke out we could see the wreckage burning fiercely. We came down on the side of a hill, and the capsule rolled over onto my side. But it was a real nice landing . . . like someone had raised your chair a couple of feet into the air and dropped it . . . and we both exited from Bob’s side completely unhurt. It was probably about 2230 when we hit the ground.

      “Fortunately, we had attended a jungle survival school a couple of weeks previously, and the lessons learned were still fresh in our minds. We had been told to separate as soon as possible, since it was much easier for one person to hide than two. We would try to stay within a few hundreds yards of each other to make the rescue as quick as possible when the Jolly Greens got to us . . . and we never doubted that they would come. We both had survival radios, and they were working just fine. It was the last I was to see of Bob for more than a month.

      “It was the beginning of the wet season in North Vietnam, and though the area we were in was not thick jungle, the tall grass was quite wet, which made for a high degree of discomfort in the cool temperature. I found what I thought was a good hiding place, and settled down to wait for daylight, and our rescuers.

      “The North Vietnamese were out in force by 0430 the next morning searching for us. I had picked a hiding place right next to what was apparently one of the main trails up the side of the hill, and I spent most of the day literally frozen in place. I was so motionless that I wound up with a pinched nerve in my arm, which was under me all lay. Shortly after dark, the last search party of the day came up the trail and paused next to my hiding place. They had a portable radio and were listening to Radio Hanoi, which I had assumed was knocked off the air by the bombing. After what seemed like an eternity, they moved off down the mountain.

      “I spent the next two nights moving to new hiding places. The weather in our area was so bad that we didn’t even see an airplane that we could call on our survival radios. On the third day, a flight of Sandy A-7s came into our area. Since Bob was closer to the top of the mountain, he did all the talking, relaying whatever I had to say. The clouds were still too low for them to come down through, but we were able to talk to them, and they pinpointed our position. Unfortunately, at the end of our transmission, I heard rifle fire from Bob’s position.

      “Bob had been hiding in some vines, and the North Vietnamese had apparently heard him talking. One of them came crashing down the hill and just by chance stepped on him. The startled Vietnamese backed up, and fired. Luckily, he missed, but that brought the rest of them down on Bob. The volleys of fire I had heard were signals that they had caught an American. They trucked him off to Hanoi, and I was left alone . . . almost. The patrols in my area continued.

      “On the fourth day, the A-7s returned, pinpointed my position, and then said that they were low on fuel and would go out to a tanker, gas up, and return. Well, by the time they got back, the weather had socked me in and they couldn’t get back down.

      “The next day the weather cleared, and the bombing of Hanoi resumed in earnest. I spotted a big V of A-7s outbound from their target and called them, but they wouldn’t answer. Apparently they reported the call to the Sandies though, because it wasn’t long before they were over me. After determining my position, they left to get a helicopter.

      “As luck would have it, there was just one .50 caliber gun position in the area, and helicopter flew right over it on his approach to my position, and they really hammered him. His refueling boom was all but shot off, the co-pilot was seriously wounded, and they were leaking fuel. To his credit, the pilot still tried for the pick-up. I had not given them real explicit instructions on my position though, and they came to a hover about twenty feet from me, on the steep side of the hill. I decided that it was now or never, and made a run for the penetrator, which was on the end of the cable. Just as I was about to make a grab for it, I lost my footing and the downwash from the big HH-53 knocked me to the ground. I did a backflip, and rolled down the hill. When I got up, the helicopter was leaving. I can’t really blame them . . . they were pretty well shot up, and may have thought that I had been hit by ground fire. As it was, they just barely made it out to a Lima Site in Laos, where the back-up Jolly Green picked them up. I later learned from the Combat Cameraman on that helicopter that the North Vietnamese were running towards them, firing their AK-47s, while they hovered over me.

      “Why the North Vietnamese didn’t really comb the area I’ll never know . . . they must have known the helicopter was trying to get someone. But they didn’t, and I moved again that night.

      “By this time, the two pints of water that had been in my survival gear was long since gone, and I was getting mighty thirsty. The light misty rain that fell most of the time only served to keep me wet, cold and miserable. The jungle instructors had told us about the water vines and bamboo that existed in North Vietnam, but they had neglected to tell us that they were dry until well into the wet season. I drilled into several of these looking for water, but only found cool air. While I was hiding the next day, several Vietnamese came up the trail close to where I was. I would swear that one of them spotted one of those drilled bamboo, and exclaimed: “LOOK! AMERICAN!” Anyway, whatever he said precipitated a search of the area. I heard one of them coming my way, and tucked everything in. I had lost my mosquito net in the jump for the helicopter, and that had provided most of the camouflage for my face. I put my gloved hand over my face, and held my breath. I heard and felt the grass being parted over my head, but again my luck held and he didn’t see me.

      “Shortly after that, a flight of F-4s came into the area and called me on the radio. The flight lead spotted my position and told me to move to a better area for pick-up. Rather than give instructions that the North Vietnamese might overhear and understand, he told me to move from Nellis to my home. Nellis AFB is where we had been based, and we had lived in Las Vegas, which is almost due south from Nellis. But I have always considered Iowa my home, and that, of course, is almost due east of Nellis.

      “The next day there was 10,000 foot overcast, and the A-7s punched down through it and found me again. The leader called me and said: “Hey, did you know you were right up against a house?” Well I didn’t of course, and I moved away from it while they strafed the house and environs. They picked up a lot of return fire, and told me that I was going to have to move to an area that was not quite so hot. In the meantime, they dropped a survival package that contained water, food, and batteries for my survival radio, which was getting weaker every time I used it. They gave me directions to the package and headed home.

      “I knew it was a hot area, because I had heard AK-47s firing at them from pretty close to my position. I had to decide whether it was best to just get the hell out of that area as quick as possible, forgetting the water in that package, or to go for that water. By this time, I was really thirsty, and the vote was 51 to 49 in favor of the water. I cautiously made for the area in which they had said the package had fallen. Suddenly, I came to a pretty well beaten path. I looked both ways and stepped gingerly across. The trip wire they had strung at the edge of the trail was practically invisible, and the explosive cap that announced it’s disturbance was the first indication that I had snagged it. I dove into a thicket of brush, but they had heard the cap go off, and the area was swarming with them in no time at all. It didn’t take them long to spot me. Then they just stood around jabbering and pointing at me. Finally, they got some guy to come up and tap me on the shoulder. I knew it was all over.

      “I stood up and made a gesture of surrender, and they were all over me. Funny thing, the first thing to come off was my Seiko watch . . . then they got around to my gun and knife. They stripped me down to my underwear and boots and marched me down the hill to a base camp they had set up as a holding area to await a truck to come out from Hanoi and get me. I had been on the ground, evading them, for a week.”


      F-111 Aardvark: The Fighter Jet Was Sent as an Assassin

      The General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark was a low-altitude strike plane born out of a shotgun wedding between competing Air Force and Navy requirements—with Defense Secretary McNamara as the minister. Despite its troubled adolescence, it grew into a capable high-tech night bomber that lasted decades in service, noted for its sleekly elegant profile.

      Troubled Conception

      In the early 1960s, the Air Force came to realize that new, radar-guided surface-to-air missiles such as the Soviet SA-2 could reach its slow, high-altitude bombers. In response, it devised a new concept: a smaller long-range supersonic bomber that could skim close to the ground, below radar systems. At the same time, the U.S. Navy was looking for a fast, long-range carrier-based interceptor armed with air-to-air missiles that could take out Soviet bombers from a distance.

      Newly appointed Defense Secretary Robert McNamara was convinced that a single aircraft could satisfy both requirements, thereby saving on development costs. The Army and Navy were less keen on compromising their visions, but were forced to cooperate on the so-called TFX program. A contract was awarded to General Dynamics in 1962. Because the design was smaller than Air Force strategic bombers, and the service eschewed the 𠇊ttack” designation used by the Navy, it was designated with an 𠇏” for fighter.

      Revolutionary Design

      The F-111 was built around two powerful yet fuel-efficient TF30 turbofan engines with new afterburner technology. A capacious fuselage could accommodate bomb loads of up to 31,000 pounds and fuel for missions up 2,500 miles long, with external tanks adding another 1,000 miles. The large plane weighed twenty tons empty—or more than twice that loaded.

      The designers of the F-111 faced a challenge: they needed a plane that could fly at very high speeds, but still take off or land on a short runway. Using smaller wings would create less drag, allowing the aircraft to fly faster𠅋ut also create less lift, requiring the aircraft achieve higher speeds before it take off, in turn necessitating a longer runway. For example, the other supersonic fighter-bomber of the era, the F-105 Thunderchief, had very small wings𠅊nd required airstrips over a mile long for takeoff, limiting which airfields it could operate from.

      The F-111’s designers adopted the new technology of variable-geometry, or “swing” wings. These permitted the wings to swing out during takeoff to generate maximum lift, and then would tuck inward midflight to achieve higher speeds. The F-111 was the first of several major designs that used the technology.

      The two-man crew sat side by side in a cockpit pod. If they needed to escape, a rocket boosted the pod upward, which then floated to the ground on a parachute, just like a space capsule.

      A key innovation was the F-111’s revolutionary new terrain-following radar, which mapped the ground directly in front of the plane and then automatically adjusted the flight path to avoid collision. This allowed F-111s to fly as low as two hundred feet above the surface and make precise adjustments at high speed without crashing𠅎ven when flying at night, or in bad weather conditions. The F-111’s talent for hunting in darkness, nose close to the ground, was what earned it the appellation �rdvark.”

      Early F-111s did show promise, capable of flying over the speed of sound at Mach 1.2 at low-altitude, or more than double that (Mach 2.5) at high altitude𠅊ll the while requiring only a 2,000 foot runway to land. It was the first tactical aircraft to cross from the United States to Europe without mid-air refueling.

      However, the F-111’s design was biased in favor of the Air Force’s specifications. The carrier-based interceptor version, the F-111B, performed abominably in trials, struggling to exceed Mach 1. The expensive forced compromise that was the naval version was finally scrapped, leaving everyone millions of dollars poorer. Many of the more promising design elements of the F-111B made it over to the F-14 Tomcat, however.

      Deployment in Asia

      The Air Force F-111s didn’t have an auspicious debut in combat. After a detachment of six F-111As was deployed to Vietnam in 1968, three of them crashed in just fifty-five missions, all of them accidents linked to defective wing stabilizers. The Air Force was forced to withdraw the F-111 and correct the flaw at a cost of $100 million.

      It wasn’t until the Linebacker raids in 1972 that the F-Aardvark finally demonstrated its potential. Skimming beneath North Vietnam’s extensive radar network at night, F-111s blasted North Vietnamese airfields and air defense batteries, weakening the resistance to incoming B-52 raids. Aardvarks didn’t require the fighter escort, electronic warfare support, or midair refueling that other bombers required, and could operate in inclement weather. Only six F-111s were lost in combat over the course 4,000 missions during the war, one of the lowest loss rates of the war.

      F-111s ended up participating in the last combat operation undertaken by the U.S. military in South East Asia, when the Cambodian Khmer Rouge seized the container ship S.S. Mayaguez in May 1975. Two Aardvarks diverted from a training flight were the first to locate the Mayaguez. Later, an F-111 sank a Khmer Rouge patrol boat escorting the seized ship.

      563 F-111s of all variants were built. After the F-111A, the F-111D and E models upgraded the Aardvark’s electronics and engine inlets, and increased the thrust of the engines. Another variant, the FB-111, was designed as a strategic bomber with improved engines, stretched two feet longer to accommodate additional fuel. Seventy-five of these served in Strategic Air Command units.

      The F-111C was sold exclusively to Australia. It incorporated a mixture of design elements of the FB-111 and F-111E.

      The definitive F-111F sported engines with thirty-five percent more thrust, an upgraded radar and a Pave Tack infrared targeting pod that allowed crew to identify targets on the ground and hit them with precision-guided munitions.

      Starting in the mid�s, forty-two F-111As were converted into unarmed EF-111A Raven electronic jamming platforms at a cost $1.5 billion. The EF-111’s key system was an ALQ-99E jamming pod that emitted radiation that scrambled radars in the vicinity, permitting entire formations of aircraft to pass in its wake undetected. When active, the jammer’s current literally caused the hairs on the crew’s heads to stand as it crackled through the plane. Thus, the Raven was known as the “Spark Vark” to its pilots. The EF-111 is distinguishable by the receiver pod on the tail fin.

      El Dorado Canyon Raid

      The F-111 would return to the stage of world history in 1986, after the bombing of the La Belle nightclub perpetrated by Libyan agents in Berlin killed two U.S. servicemen. Reagan ordered an attack on Libyan dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi’s personal compound near Tripoli codenamed Operation El Dorado Canyon. It was an early attempt to assassinate a head of state by air attack.

      An array of twenty-five SAM sites defended Tripoli. A squadron of eighteen F-111Fs carried out the main attack, joined by four EF-111 Ravens to electronically scramble the defense radars. A separate Navy strike hit targets near Benghazi.

      Because the United States couldn’t get approval from mainland European countries for the raid, the Aardvarks took off from the UK and had to circumnavigate Spain, increasing total flight time to thirteen hours. In all, they would need to be refueled six times on the roundtrip. It was the longest fighter mission in history.

      As a feat of logistics, the raid was impressive𠅋ut unfortunately, both F-111’s performance and the conception of the operation as a whole left something to be desired. One F-111 was shot down, probably by a SAM, and its crew was lost. Four were unable to release weapons because of avionics failures, and one F-111 had to land in Spain because of an overheating engine. Seven missed their target, with several of the bombs landing in civilian areas, nearly hitting the French embassy.

      Qaddafi managed to escape thanks in part due to a last-minute warning from the prime minister of Italy. Eight of his children and his wife were wounded, and his infant adopted daughter Hanna reportedly killed. (There is some਌ontroversy as to Hanna’s identity and whether she survived). Though Qaddafi was shaken, he went on to instigate further terrorist attacks, notably the hijacking of Pan Am 73 and the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

      Aardvarks and Ravens Over Iraq

      On January 17, 1991, the opening night of Operation Desert Storm, Aardvarks zipped across the desert at a low altitude, targeting Iraqi air defenses and key military installations with laser-guided bombs. Meanwhile, EF-111 Ravens accompanied strike packages of coalition aircraft flying deep into Iraq, their jammers disabling Iraqi air-defense radars. In all, sixty-six F-111Fs and 18 F-111Es were deployed in the 1991 Iraq War, flying 5,000 missions.

      Contrary to popular belief, the Iraqi Air Force didn’t make things a cakewalk on the first day. Two F-111s were hit by infrared-guided R-23 missiles fired by MiG-23s. Another was struck by an R-60 missile shot by a MiG-29. In all three cases, the hardy Aardvarks made it back to base.

      An EF-111 was not so lucky in February. While taking evasive maneuvers after detecting an enemy plane, it crashed into the ground, losing both crew members.

      However, a Raven piloted by James Denton went on to score one of the most unusual aerial victories of the conflict.

      On the opening day of Desert Storm, Denton’s EF-111 was skimming just 400 feet above the ground in the morning darkness, leading the way for a strike package of F-15E fighter bombers with F-15C fighters for top cover. While passing the H3 airfield, an Iraqi Mirage F1 fighter fell in behind the Raven. Denton rolled sharply to the left, then to the right and pumped out chaff, evading a heat-seeking missile. As the Iraqi pilot attempted to match the Raven’s evasive maneuvers, he lost situational awareness and his jet slammed into the ground.

      Thus, the unarmed Raven variant scored the only aerial victory for the F-111 𠇏ighter”.

      As Iraqi defenses thinned out, the Aardvarks were redirected to hit ground forces. The F-111F’s Pave Tack system proved effective at “tank plinking”—identifying Iraqi armored vehicles with its infrared scanner, and then precisely directing a laser-guided bomb on top of it. Over 1,500 Iraqi vehicles were “plinked” by F-111s.

      F-111s also targeted the oil manifold Saddam had sabotaged, stopping the flow of petroleum polluting the Persian Gulf.

      Desert Storm was the Aardvark’s last hurrah. The F-111 was finally withdrawn from U.S. Air Force service in 1998. Though the Aardvark was good at its job, it had high maintenance costs, and the Air Force judged that its fleet of F-15E Strike Eagles could take care of shorter-range attack missions, while B-1 bombers could handle longer range strikes.

      The EF-111, however, had no replacement in the Air Force inventory. It was left to Navy and Marine EA-6B Prowlers𠅊nd today, EA-18G Growlers—to fulfill the jamming role.

      Pigs of the Pacific

      The F-111 remained in service with the Australian Air Force until 2010, where it was affectionately known as the ‘Pig.’ Starting with a batch of 24 F-111Cs received in 1973, the Australians acquired an additional 15 FB-111s and four F-111As. Though never used in combat, the F-111s gave Australia the ability to project military force across the vast distances of the Pacific Ocean, enhancing its diplomatic clout.

      Pigs were the pride of Australian air shows, where they frequently performed a maneuver in which fuel was dumped and ignited with the afterburners, known as the Dump and Burn. Australia upgrades its F-111s to use anti-shipping missiles, and converted four into reconnaissance aircraft. Due to their high operating costs, however, they were finally replaced by twenty-four F-18F Super Hornets.

      While the F-111 has been retired, a similar aircraft remains in use today. The Russian Sukhoi Su-24 Fencer was conceived shortly after the F-111, and is remarkably similar in appearance and role, down to the swing wings. Not quite the Aardvark’s equal in terms of range, speed or weapons load, nearly three times more Su-24s were produced and over three hundred serve on today in various world air forces. They have been actively used in combat over Syria, Chechnya, Libya, Afghanistan and Ukraine. A Russian Su-24 attacking Syrian rebels was shot down in 2015 by a Turkish F-16, causing a major diplomatic incident.

      Sstien Roblin holds a Master’s Degree in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring*.*


      Watch the video: The Flying Pig - F-111 Aardvark (July 2022).


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