Iconic Military Jet Retired From Service
The retirement of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF)’s General Dynamics F-111s marked the end of service for an extraordinary aircraft design. The RAAF’s F-111 fighter-bombers served for 37 years in Australia’s defense, until December 3, 2010 when the last six jets made a final parade flight from their base at Amberley, Queensland. Besides the United States Air Force (which retired their bombers in 1996, and their EF-111 “Spark Vark” electronic countermeasures jets in 1998), Australia was the only nation to operate the swing-wing jet. It was known as the “Pig” in service Down Under, possibly in reference to its’ ground-hugging propensities (pigs root in the ground for food; the F-111 and its’ terrain-following radar allowed for low-altitude “under the radar” attacks). Then again, it might be a nod towards the U. S. Air Force, which called the F-111 the Aardvark, which means “earth pig” in Dutch or Afrikaans. The RAAF operated 43 jets in three main versions – their original -C versions, a follow-on group called the -G version (ex-USAF FB-111A strategic bombers), and four RF-111Cs which were the world’s only photo-reconnaissance variants (photo-pigs?).
After enduring protracted development difficulties during the late 1960s and early 1970s which delayed their delivery, the type was declared operational in 1973. The Pig ultimately gave Australia critical capabilities with its long endurance and highly valued land and sea attack options. Together, the jet and its’ crews were an imposing deterrent; they never fired a shot in anger. Only the RF-111C was ever used on an “offensive” mission, taking photos of an area of interest in East Timor while Australia spearheaded a United Nations effort to support that nation’s independence from Indonesia. Another noteworthy event occurred with the Pig in RAAF service; hundreds of maintainers who had to seal the jets’ extensive fuel tanks within the wings were exposed to hazardous conditions during their work. The Government settled a series of health claims with a care program for the effected personnel and families.
The official retirement event for the RAAF’s F-111s was entitled ” Pig’s Tales”, and scores of F-111 veterans and fans attended. With the six-ship farewell flight, and one last brilliant burst of flame during the final “dump and burn” pass (called by some the world’s best party trick), the Pigs were put out to pasture. Boeing F-18F Super Hornets have now replaced the F-111s in the interim until the planned F-35 Joint Strike Fighter joins the RAAF around 2020.
December 19, 2010
All my photos too…