F-111 Aardvark in USA and Austalia

F-111C_A8-113_ex-USAF-_67-0113_3-2009

On December 21, 1964, the first F-111 took off on its maiden flight. In June 1960, the United States issued Specific Operational Requirement 183 (SOR 183), calling for a tactical fighter plane for nuclear combat missions. General Dynamics built this marvel of technology; a whole new generation of aircraft emerged. Unfortunately there were severe losses for the F-111 (based on Takhli AB / Thailand) in its first days of use during the Vietnam War; 3 F-111A were lost in one month, all machines came from the 474th TFW / 428th TFS from the Nellis AFB:

COMBAT LANCER
-66-0022 march 28, 1968, callsign Omaha 77
-66-0017 march 30, 1968, callsign Hotrod 76
-66-0024 april 21, 1968, callsign Tailbone 78

When it was found that all machines were lost due to malfunctions and not through enemy action, this triggered wave of blame. Surveys in 1969 had revealed that a contractor had bribed inspectors so that they approved below-average work on structural wing components. The affected, already completed F-111As had to be dismantled at high cost in order to be able to replace the parts. In 1972 the F-111A returned to Vietnam and took part in the Linebacker II air offensive against the north. F-111A missions did not require air refueling or ECM support, and they could operate in weather conditions that forced most other aircraft to stay on the ground. Since an F-111 could carry the bomb load of four McDonnell Douglas F-4s, the value of the new aircraft slowly became apparent. Over 4,000 combat missions were flown over Vietnam in F-111As, with only six aircraft being lost in combat.

CONSTANT GUARD V
-67-0078 sep. 28, 1972, 474th TFW / 429thTFS, callsign Ranger 23
-67-0066 oct. 16, 1972, 474th TFW / 429th TFS, callsign Coach 33
-67-0063 nov 07, 1972, 474th TFW / 429th TFS, callsign Whaler 57
-67-0092 nov 20, 1972, 474th TFW / 429th TFS, callsign Burger 54
-67-0099 dec. 18, 1972, 474th TFW / 430th TFS, callsign Snug 40
-67-0068 dec 22, 1972, 474th TFW / 430th TFS, callsign Jacket 33

The F-111As were stationed at the Cannon AFB when it was launched, but they were quickly moved to Nellis AFB in Nevada. All F-111As were later stationed at Mountain Home AFB in Idaho – with the 366th TFW. 158 -A’s were built, including 17 pre-series aircraft, and 42 were later converted to EF-111As and 4 sold to Australia. The F-111A visually differed from the D, E or F versions only in the “Triple Plow I” air intake and the black glare protection in front of the cockpit glazing. In 1990 all USAF F-111As were taken out of service from Mountain Home and replaced with F-15E Strike Eagles.

474th TFW– Nellis AFB NA tail code
428th TFS F-111A (1968-1977)
429th TFS F-111A (1969-1977)
430th TFS F-111A (1969-1977)

366th TFW – Mountain Home AFB MO Tailcode
389th TFS Yellow Fin Stripe
390th TFS Green Fin Stripe
391st TFS Blue Fin Stripe

The F-111B version was to be built for the US Navy; basically the AWG-9 weapon system was a major component added to the carrier-based variant of the F-111. It had a bow section that was shortened by 2.59 meters and wings extended by 1.07 meters. The first flight took place in 1965, but in 1968 the decision was made against producing the F-111B and in favor of production of the Grumman F-14 Tomcat. Realistically, the F-111 was too heavy for the US Navy. 7 F-111Bs were built, two crashed (151971, 151973), two were scrapped in Lakehurst (151970, 151972) and one in Moffet (151974). The 152714 has long been on Route 58 in Mojave and the only complete one is the 152715 in China Lake.

Twenty four 24 F-111Cs were ordered for Australia in 1963; these were then built in 1968, but were hangared at General Dynamics until 1973 because of structural problems. During that time, the RAAF leased 24 F-4E Phantoms from the USAF. The F-111C had larger wings and a reinforced landing gear and substructure. Four of these F-111Cs were converted to RF-111Cs, but retained their ground attack ability. The F-111C was similar to the F-111A, i.e. Triple Plow I, but with extended wings. The F-111Cs were stationed in Amberley at No 1 (Yellow lightning bolt) and No 6 Squadron (Blue lightning bolt). The Australian F-111s were modernized to carry the Pave Tack Pod, TV-guided bombs like the GBU-15, AGM-84 Harms and the AGM-142 Have Nap anti-shipping missile. Australia kept its F-111s in service until 2010. Before they were retired, The F-111Cs and RF-111Cs visited Las Vegas a few times, at Nellis AFB for Operation Red Flag exercises; the last visit was in March 2009.

The next Aardvark version, packed with electronics, was the F-111D, equipped with two heads-up displays, more powerful engines, modified air intakes (Triple Plow II) and glass cockpit. The new electronics caused a lot of problems, so that all 96 built F-111Ds were only ready for use in 1974. The technical problems with the avionics package could never be completely remedied during the entire service period, which is why the D variant showed the least operational readiness of all F-111 models put into service. By December 1992, all F-111Ds were taken out of service and replaced at Cannon AFB by the F-111Es / Fs coming from Europe. The latter aircraft flew on until July 29, 1996 and were then added in storage at AMARG. Today all F-111s from AMARG are scrapped; 301 Aardvark were chopped up. On the last flight of the F-111F to AMARG in Arizona, the Aardvark flew a souvenir of a crashed F-111A from the Vietnam War.

-71-0888 = Coach 33
-74-0178 = Whaler 57
-70-2362 = burger 54
-74-0187 = Cougar 41

27th TFW-Cannon AFB CC Tailcode
522nd TFS / FS Red Fin Stripe
523rd TFS / FS Blue Fin Stripe
524th TFS / FS Yellow Fin Stripe
428th TFS / TFTS / FS Blue Fin Stripe

The FB-111A was designed as a strategic bomber and meant to close the gap between the B-58 Hustler and B-52 Stratofortress. 263 of these Aardvarks were planned, but only 76 were completed. The FB-111A has a 65cm fuselage extension and its wings were extended by 2.10 meters to hang more external loads on the wings… when compared to earlier “tactical” F-111s. The armament for the role of strategic bomber consisted of the Boeing AGM-69A SRAM with nuclear warhead, two of which could be carried in the internal weapon bay and two more under the inner wing pylons. The remaining four wing pylons carried external fuel tanks, which increased the range of the aircraft. The FB-111A has a take-off weight that is 10,000KG higher than the other variants, has a somewhat low service ceiling height, but has the highest range at approximately 7,700 KM.

In 1989/90, the role of the FB-111A was no longer necessary, so 34 FB-111As were converted into F-111Gs, taking away the on-board equipment needed for their atomic role. These 34 upgraded aircraft were then deployed on the Cannon AFB at the 428th TFS, and operational pilots were trained on them. In September 1993 the last F-111G left active service with the USAF, and the ALC in Sacramento retired their 68-0247 airframe in December 1993. These went to storage in AMARG in Tucson, Arizona. Fifteen of these F-111Gs were then bought by Australia… and the RAAF got the best F-111s they ever had. The –Gs were removed from active service in 2010 and partly buried in the desert.

380th BW Plattsburgh AFB
-528th BS Yellow Fin Stripe (later Blue Fin Stripe)
-529th BS Red Fin Stripe
-4007th CCTS

509th BW Pease AFB
-393rd BS
-715th BS

The EF-111As all had lives as F-111As before its entry into service; 42 machines were converted at Grumman into EF-111A Ravens. They were delivered from 1982 through 1985, the initial modified aircraft’s first flight occurred earlier in 1977. It got the same container as the EA-6 Prowler’s AN / ALQ-99E in the tail, plus a bottom hull radome which was almost 5 meters long. Additional equipment included the Tactical Interference system from Eaton Corporation with ten interference transmitters, five energy groups and six digitally tuned multi-channel receivers for seven frequency bands. The Ravens were stationed on Upper Heyford AFB in Europe and initially at the Mountain Home AFB in the USA, later all machines went to Cannon AFB under the 27th FW. In terms of flight performance, the Raven, when compared to other models, had a few disadvantages in terms of flight duration and range, with a bit lower maximum payload, but it excelled when it came to service ceiling, cruising speed and top speed. The EF-111A was the only aircraft in the USAF inventory that specialized in electronic interference/jamming. Unfortunately the last Raven was taken out of service in 1998 and the pilots of the USAF’s jammers became part of the Navy’s EA-18G Growler squadrons on NAS Whidbey Island. Interestingly enough, they still have a patch of the 390th ECS on their mounts and fly today on behalf of the USAF.

Years after retiring the F-111, the USAF regretted this cost saving and an F-111 would still be able to do its job very well today. The Ravens were also used in the Middle East’s Gulf region from 1991 to June 1997, the 429th ECS flew 2800 sorties in support of Operations Provide Comfort, Northern Watch and Southern Watch. The first EF-111A was flown to AMARG in July 1997 (66-0041), the last one in June 1998. This ended the F-111 era in the USA.

366th TFW Mountain Home AFB MO Tailcode
390th ECS Blue Fin Stripe
429th ECS Black Fin Stripe

27th TFW Cannon AFB CC Tailcode
429th ECS Black with black Falcon on Tail cap antenna fairing
430th ECS Black Fin Stripe

All USAF variants of the F-111 were also flown in test units.

 46th TW Eglin AFB AD & ET Tailcode
3247th TS

 6510th Edwards AFB ED Tailcode
6512th TS
431st TS

Eglin AFB USAF Warfare Center OT Tailcode
4485th TS

Sacramento Air Logistics Center SM Tailcode

2875th TS
337th TS

All F-111s were modernized at the Sacramento Air Logistics Center; the large depot inspected and carried out aircraft modernization for resale of the F-111A /G aircraft destined for Australia.

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Peter Boschert

Peter is a photographer covering events in the United States and in Europe. He likes to cover Nellis AFB, NAS Fallon and RAF Lakenheath.

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