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The F-111 Down Under

Last Updated 6 December, 2003

(or Pigs in OZ!)

 

The Early Years...

On 19 November 1963, the then President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, the Australian Minister of Defence Athol Townley, and the U.S. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, shook hands in McNamara's Pentagon office over the Australian decision to buy the F-111A 'off the drawing board'. This was a bold decision, particularly as it was to be another 13 months until aircraft 63-9766, the first pre-production F-111A, was to fly on 21 December 1964.

The decision was made to fulfil the Australian Air Staff Requirement 36 (ASR-36) for a Strike / Reconnaissance aircraft to replace the Canberra bombers. On 24 October 1963, the Australian Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, confirmed press reports that Australia was buying 24 of the world's most modern strategic warplanes, capable of bombing the then belligerent Jakarta, for the bargain price of $100 million. At that time, Indonesia and the new federation of Malaysian states were in confrontation. The first payment of $USD 20 million per month was to be made within two months of the contract being signed. The aircraft were to be delivered in 1967.

The Australian selection of the F-111A to replace the aging Canberra bombers was seen as endorsement to the F-111 programme. The day before his assassination, JFK was at Fort Worth to praise the F-111, and to sing praises to Australia for buying it. Leading up to the decision to purchase the F-111A, Australia had been offered a number of other strike / bomber aircraft to satisfy the ASR.

The Department of Air in the Top Secret 'Report of the Evaluation on a Strike/Reconnaissance Aircraft for the Royal Australian Air Force', considered the F-4C Phantom II and RA-5C Vigilante from the USA, the two seat Mirage IVO bomber by the French and the ill fated British TSR2. The report, completed in August 1963, concluded that there was no aircraft, then flying, that could fulfil all the requirements of the ASR, but that the TSR2 or TFX (F-111) appeared on paper to be suitable.

Report Cover
Dept. of Air Report
(Australian Archives)

The ill fated British TSR.2 (with original official release note)

TSR2 and F-111E at Duxford Museum, UK.

The ill fated British TSR.2 under construction.
The attached note declares that the image is not to be released to the media or public (early 1960s).
Image sourced from the
Australian Archives (http://www.aa.gov.au).

TSR.2 XR222
photographed at Duxford
1998.

Although the TSR2 met the requirements, the report assessed that the TFX was superior to the TSR2 in relation to weapon carriage, range, short take off and landing performance, reconnaissance capability and cost. The unavailability of the TFX until the late 1960's resulted in the recommendation that the Australian Government purchase the RA-5C Vigilante. The Government rejected this on cost as the Vigilante was expected to need replacing itself in the short term. On 24 October 1963, the Australian Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies communicated with the British Prime Minister, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, the Australian decision against the TSR2 in favour of the TFX (by then named F-111A). Towards the end of the three page Top Secret message, Sir Robert Menzies stated the strategic significance of the decision, which would sustain the United States' interest 'in this corner of the world'.

As reported in the December 1964 issue of 'Aircraft' magazine "Australia itself adds something to the unique character of the F-111 project." Of Australia's part of ordering 24 F-111A one month after tooling began, Defense Secretary McNamara said that:

"This is the only time, to my knowledge, that a foreign Government has made a firm purchase commitment for a military aircraft before the plane has flown".

The US Air Force Secretary, Eugene Zuckert, also paid tribute to the initiative marking this decision...

"The great confidence the Australians have shown in deciding to purchase the F-111 early in its development has been more than gratifying. Their investment in the program came only after careful study and deliberation so their optimism, and faith in the program have given us added incentive...There is no finer camaraderie anywhere than that of our Air Force personnel and the men of the Royal Australian Air Force. Our wish is that the F-111 will help it to grow."

Press Conference
(Image source: Karen Hagar, Lockheed Martin 1998)

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshall Sir Valston E. Hancock, seated next to General Dynamics (GD) test pilots Richard L. Johnson and Val E Phahl at the news conference following the first flight, expressed his satisfaction at its success. Secretary Zuckert, spoke of his confidence in the project. He stated,

"The effectiveness of our air power in the late 1960's and in the decade of the 70s, as well as those of our allies such as Australia, will be vitally enhanced by the success of the F-111 program. The versatility of this aircraft promises to meet the demands for mobility, supersonic performance and great striking power."
(Aircraft magazine February 1965)

The decision to acquire the F-111A was not seen in Australia with such egalitarianism though. Being announced just before an election, Labor's Defence Spokesman in 1966, Mr Galvin, showing traces of the original resentment of the decision, stated that

"All Australia was astir, and the then Minister for Defence ran off to America and ordered these aircraft quicker than he could have gone to the shop and bought a handkerchief". "The ordering was done specifically for electioneering purposes. There was no ten year advanced planning then." (Aircraft magazine June 1966)

Sir Robert Menzies admitted in the Top Secret message to Sir Alec Douglas-Home that the announcement date was indeed due to the upcoming election, but stated that the substance of the decision was irrespective of the domestic political situation. Although Australia originally ordered the F-111A, the planned longer wings for extended range and strengthened undercarriage for the greater all up weight of the planned FB-111A were added to the Australian requirement. By the end of September 1966, HQ USAF directed that the RAAF F-111A be designated the F-111C, after the F-111A USAF tactical fighter, the F-111B USN air defence fighter and the FB-111A USAF Strategic Air Command bomber version. The F-111C was to have the wings and undercarriage of the FB-111A; the removeable right control stick of the F-111K and the TF-30 P3 engines, Triple Plow 1 intakes and MK-1 avionics of the F-111A. Inside the weapons bay, the gun was to be installed at the expense of the GAR-8/AIM-9 Sidewinder Trapeze system. The RAAF toyed with the UK paint scheme before settling on the scheme used by TAC.  This scheme was changed during the five years that the F-111C remained in the US. During the late 1960s the RAAF had already discussed its interest in modifying the last six F-111C to perform reconnaissance duties. The change of baseline added to the increasing delays and cost over-run of the F-111 programme. At the same time, the F-111 was receiving increased and undeservedly hostile attention from the media on both sides of the Pacific.

The British Government ordered 50 F-111K in April 1965 after the cancellation of the TSR2 project, but were to cancel the F-111 order by January 1968 and settle with F-4 Phantoms until the Tornado (European mini F-111) was finally developed. Two TF-111K had almost completed construction, but were dismantled to spares as were many of the following F-111K on the production line.

The Troubled Times...

Alarmingly for the Australian Government and the RAAF, the F-111C programme began to rapidly increase in price. From the initial estimate of $100 million in 1963, the costs were $142 - $205 million in 1966; $237 million in 1967; $266 million in 1968; and $300 million in 1969. By the end of 1969, $210 million had already been paid by the Australian Government. By 1967, the Australian Government found it increasingly difficult to keep up with the payments. US President Lyndon Johnson's administration was pressuring the Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt to expand the Australian commitment to the conflict in Vietnam by sending a third battalion. Revelations in Secret Cabinet documents declassified 30 years after the event, show that the Holt government's decision to send the third Australian battalion was influenced by a need to renegotiate the payments for the F-111, and not by for genuine military reasons.

handover-A8-125 In September 1968, the first RAAF F-111, A8-125 was officially 'handed over' to the Australian Minister of Defence Mr Fairhill, but remained in the USA for test flying.

By about this time, the USAF's 428th TFS (Buccaneers) of the Nellis based 474th TFW had deployed to Takhli RTAFB for combat operations against targets in Vietnam.  The first RAAF personell outside those in the USA saw, or rather heard first hand F-111 operations.  At Ubon RTAFB at the time was a squadron of RAAF CAC F-86 Sabre fighters to provide Australia's commitment to the air defence of Thailand. (Fortunately they never had to go into combat against the superior NV Migs.) At least one of the RAAF junior fighter pilots present to witness USAF night practise airfield attacks on Ubon later became a F-111 pilot himself (and twenty years later Commander of the SRG).

Concern grew about the structural integrity of a few key points including the Wing Carry Through Box (WCTB), which holds the pivots of the wings. Delays and increasing costs had reached the point where speculation of the cancellation of the Australian order was rife. But on the 17 October 1969, Prime Minister Gorton refuted the speculation by rejecting the offer to acquire F-4E Phantoms instead of the F-111Cs. He also said that the F-111Cs would be delivered to Australia 'next year'. The new Australian Defence Minister, Malcom Fraser, decided to wait for the report from the retest programme on the F-111C even though US Senate sub-committee stated the F-111 project was a fiasco and financial blunder. By 5 December 1969, Australia said that it would go ahead for pickup after deciding that the WCTB was satisfactory. As luck would have it, two events in quick succession once again almost halted the RAAF plans to acquire the F-111C.

On 20 December 1969, three weeks after the RAAF said that it was confident of the integrity of the WCTB assembly, reports of a major crack in a WCTB test article at 8000 simulated hours of fatigue testing caused major concern. Only two days later on 22 December 1969, F-111A 67-0049, assigned to the 428th TFS of the 474th TFW, crashed and was destroyed. The mission had been the operational testing of rockets on the Nellis ranges. During a rocket delivery recovery, a wing of the F-111A completely detached in flight. The highly experienced crew of Maj Thomas Mack and Maj James Anthony were killed after the unsuccessful out-of-module-limits ejection from the rapidly rolling, out of control aircraft.

F-111C in storage
F-111C A8-125 to A8-140 in storage at Carswell AFB.
Notice the light coloured underside of the aircraft, and
the GD aircraft number on the nose wheel doors.
(photo courtesy of Harold Wise via his son Eric)

The RAAF was bitterly disappointed at indications that the Australian Government might cancel its now $336 million order for 24 F-111C.

As this aircraft already had the modified carry through box, the loss caused the grounding of all F-111s for an extended period, and nearly the cancellation of the Australian order for 24 F-111C. US F-111s had strict restrictions placed on them until after inspections and testing. The Australian F-111C were partially dissembled and placed into storage at Carswell AFB indefinitely.

F-111C in storage
F-111C A8-141 to A8-148 in storage at Carswell AFB
(photo courtesy of Harold Wise via his son Eric)

The first six crews were scheduled to leave Amberley for the US in January 1970, in the midst of the US magazine 'Newsweek' reporting that the US Department of Defense may abandon the F-111 programme. The US Defense Secretary, Mr Laird announced that the planned 84 F-111 to be produced that year was to be cut, with only 40 being funded. Further fatigue testing showed fails at between 3000 and 4000 hours, equating to about a seven and a half year airframe life. At least ten years was wanted at that time. GD filed a $3 million writ against Selb Manufacturing Co, having accused it of 'fraudulently having corrupted two inspectors to conceal defective parts and welds made by Selb'. By February 1970, GD announced that all F-111 were to return to Fort Worth for crack testing (Cold Proof Load Test) and were limited to a mere 3G.

By March 1970, the Australian Defence Minister Malcolm Fraser, stated five options to parliament:

  • 1 - cancel the F-111C order within 3 months;
  • 2 - cancel the F-111C order within 3 months and get F-4E, tankers and recce aircraft;
  • 3 - cancel the F-111C order within 3 months and wait for the F-111F to become available;
  • 4 - place the F-111C in long term storage pending investigation of technical problems; and
  • 5 - place the F-111C in long term storage pending investigation of technical problems and get interim aircraft

Speculation for aircraft to form a replacement for the F-111C included the A-7 Corsair II or the F-4E Phantom II.

With cancellation penalties of more than $200 million, and although originally scheduled for a 1968 delivery, the F-111C remained at Carswell AFB incurring storage costs of $1 700 per day per aircraft. The RAAF crews at Nellis were brought home, and 24 F-4E Phantom II were eventually leased by the Australian Government for interim use by No.s 1 and 6 Squadrons of No 82 Wing based at RAAF Amberley. By this stage, all 24 F-111C had flown a total of 240 hours in 116 sorties, of which four had been flown by RAAF crews (all in A8-125). Over $25 million had been spent on preparing Amberley for the F-111, and the original Simulator (only decommissioned in 1996) was operational.


RAAF F-111C A8-126 (now an AUP RF-111C) taxies at Fort Worth
(photo courtesy of Karen Hagar, Lockheed Martin 1998)

In May 1970, the Australian Government announced that the RAAF would not take delivery of the F-111C 'until 1974'.

RAAF staff inspect the proceedings at GD Fort Worth Structural MOD Area.
Pictured are WGCDRs Collins and Funnell, GPCAPTs Newham and Cotee and WGCDR Owen.
(photo courtesy of Harold Wise via his son Eric)



Months later.....
The handover of the last F-111C to complete the Structural Modifications.
(photo courtesy of Harold Wise, GD program manager pictured immediately on the right of the sign)

Finally 'Home'...

By 16 December 1971, the Defence Minister Mr Fairbairn announced the Cabinet decision to accept aircraft out of storage. Modifications to the original F-111C included the installation of the new low stress wing carry through box, and cold proof load testing. Australian aircrew and maintenance personnel were once again readied for training in the United States. By 4 October 1972, much to the regret of most aircrew, the last 6 Squadron F-4E sorties, (an eight ship), were flown. By January 1973, aircrew were once again at Nellis AFB for training.

Training had previously been performed at Nellis by the 4527th CCTS.  After training, some RAAF aircrew were returned as staff.
The continual delays in delivery must have been very trying on those involved. The 'Commanders comments' on the graduation ceremony pamphlet for course 69-F were in hindsight optimistic.  The pamphlet read

"Congratulations to you of Class 69-F on completion of your course of flying instruction in the F-111A.  Yours is the next to last class of RAAF crews to be trained here at Nellis AFB.  I sincerely hope that you have found the training which you have received to have been up to your expectations, and that you are adequately trained to fly the long flight back to Australia when that day arrives.  We think you are.  We of the 474th Tactical fighter Wing, and particularly of the 4527th Combat Crew Training Squadron, hate to see you leave, as we have become good friends during your stay with us.  However, I know that you are ready to return home, for you have been away from your native land for some time - longer than you expected to have been gone.  in any event, we will not say goodbye, as we will see you back here for refresher training before you pick up your aircraft at the factory.  in the meantime, best of luck.   -- Gabriel P. Bartholomew, Colonel, USAF Commander, 4527th CCTS.

Class 69-F
Wg Cmdr Roy E. Frost
Sqdn Ldr Ashley W. Clarke
Flt Lt Graham R. Barker
Flt Lt Desmond H. Gibbs
Flt Lt William J. Emery
Flt Lt James W. Garland
Flt Lt Alfred J. Green
Flt Lt Michael A. McMahon
Flt Lt Patrick J. Doyle
Flt Lt John G. Gazley
Fly Off Cecil M. Lucas
Flg Off Alan D. Kirby
1st Class 1972 RAAF Aircrew pose with the Commander of the 442nd TFTS prior to the start of Class 72-U on
22 February 1972.

From L to R:
FLTLT Christopher Hancock,
FLTLT Richard Kelloway,
SQNLDR Gilbert Moore,
LTCOL Kenneth Frank,
FLTLT Juilinne Wills and
FLTLT Alan Lockett.

The class was scheduled to graduate 2 May 1972.
Photo by 474th TFW Historian Jack Hays.
(Image supplied by Doc Servo and Jeff)

Finally, on 1 June 1973 at 11.23am local time, the first six RAAF F-111C arrived in the skies over Amberley after being flown from McClellan AFB via Pago Pago. The crews of the first six aircraft were:

A8-125 GPCAPT Jake Newham (pilot) WGCDR T.C. Owen (Nav)
A8-126 WGCDR Ray Funnell (Pilot) SQNLDR N. Pollock (Nav)
A8-127 SQNLDR Ian Westmore (Pilot) FLTLT J.A. Bushell (Nav)
A8-128 SQNLDR John Emery (Pilot) FLTLT Ross Hardcastle (Nav)
A8-129 SQNLDR W.F. Walters (Pilot) FLGOFF P.J. McDonald (Nav)
A8-130 FLTLT R.T. Sivyer (Pilot) FLTLT P.W. Growder (Nav)

On 28th May 1973 arrived @ Hickham
On 30th May 1973 arrived @ Pago Pago
On 1st June 1973 arrived @ Amberley

(GPCAPT Jake Newham was OC82WG and later CAS, WGCDR Ray G. Funnell was CO6SQN and later CAS, WGCDR T.C. Owen - navigator of first F-111C and over 20 years later, who's son was to be the navigator of the first F-111G to Australia, SQNLDR N.M. Pollock - navigator and survivor of a USAF F-111A crash at Nellis.)

The crews had spent five months away from their families. The arrival was delayed until the Defence Minister, Mr Barnard, arrived at Amberley. The delay caused some anxiety for the six crews arriving from Pago Pago as they had low fuel reserves.

Steve Emery writes of the welcome parade...

On the day of the first arrival, my mother, my brother and myself were there at the parade.  The guys were late (7 minutes I believe - basically because they were holding out the back of the Gold Coast in a 10 min pattern to be told that they were due on in 2 min and could they get there in a hurry.  Apparently they proof tested the speed restrictions on the external tanks.)   When they got there, the speeches were going on and on and on and on and on.... and my brother was getting really restless.  We were standing next to the rails behind the reviewing platform (there's a PR photo of it taken over the heads of the crowd onto the tarmac with the a/c and crews all lined up - we're in the photo)  One of the senior officers at the back reached over the barrier and said to my brother "Go and find your Dad"  So my brother (3 yrs old at the time BTW), in the middle of the parade, speeches etc goes running across the tarmac screaming "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy".  He did find him and spent the rest of the ceremony out there with Dad.   There's a couple of PR photos of the guys standing in front of their aircraft with this little boy mixed in with them.

Like my father, I ended up joining the RAAF.  It's a sad twist of fate that both aircraft that Dad brought back from the US have crashed.  It's even sadder when the last two pilots that have been killed in RAAF F-111 - Jezza McNess and Shorty Short were both of my Academy Course.  But welcome to the world of military aviation.

AIRCDRE C.H. Spurgeon CBE DFC associated with F-111 from the start as the first F-111C Programme Manager was present for the arrival. During the welcoming speech, Mr Barnard stated, "I’m sure this aircraft will be flying well into the 80s, and beyond". No-one present would have guessed that 'beyond' will now probably be 47 years after that date! The aircraft had arrived five years late, having been ordered off the drawing board ten years earlier. During that time, Australia had seen five Prime Ministers and ten Defence Ministers.

 

Only days later, the Pentagon announced the halt in manufacture of the F-111. By then, 31 had crashed, including a reported 8 ‘shot down’ over South East Asia. (In reality, as more of the missing F-111A are even now discovered in the jungle mountains of SEA, only one definite and possibly another F-111A were actually shot down.) The economies of scale had never been realised. In 1962, the planned 1726 aircraft production produced at an estimated cost of $US 3.4 million each, but by 1973, the 543 produced were costed at $US 14.6 million each. A spokesman for the Australian Defence Minister said the decision to end production of F-111s would not affect the supply of spares for the RAAF's 24 F-111s through their life span, which will go well into the 1980s. Three more six ships were to arrive at Amberley on 27 July, 28 September and 4 December 1973. With no official name, the F-111 (F one eleven or F triple one) were soon known fondly as 'Pigs' by the RAAF crews and maintainers.

Late Arrivals...

Since the early 1970's, the RAAF F-111s have been subject to many updates. In early January 1977, the subject of attrition replacement aircraft had been raised, and at the ANZUS conference, six USAF F-111A at a cost of $AUD 42 million were offered to the Australian Government. Not all aircraft were purchased, and until recently, some F-111A at the Davis-Monthan 'Boneyard' had been kept aside for Australia.

Four F-111A were eventually purchased (67-109, 67-112, 67-113, and 67-114) and delivered to 6 Squadron, who were later to fly the F-111C, RF-111C and unmodified F-111A. Over the next few years, the F-111A were modified by No. 482 Squadron (maintenance) and No 3 Aircraft Depot to F-111C standard excluding the wing carry through box. Some junior aircrew and maintenance personnel today do not even realise that the aircraft were F-111A. The four F-111A are now referred to as F-111C by all except logistics computers!

F-111A 67-113 F-111C A8-113

Image of 67-113 on its' final combat mission loaded with 24 Mk-82 LDGP.
The official date on the rear of the photo is 15 August 1973 and was sourced from the US DOD Still Media Depository, via Anthony Thornborough

Nearly a quarter of a century later...
Image of A8-113 with storm covers on after its' AUP upgrade in 1997. Note the three weapons pylons visible.
Sourced from 82WG Photographic Services.

Australia from the outset was interested in making reconnaissance modifications to some of the F-111C. In January 1975, suggestions had been made to use proposed recon pods built from F-14 Drop Tanks. The RF-111A, and the following RF-111D programs were both cancelled by the USAF, leaving Australia to 'go it alone' with GD Fort Worth to develop a reconnaissance capability. On 22 August 1979, the first RF-111C (A8-126 crewed by SQNLDR Jack Lynch and FLTLT Martin Chalk) arrived at Amberley from Fort Worth. The remaining three aircraft were to be modified by 3AD at Amberley. The RF modification only cost $AUD 27 million (1980 dollars).

The Modern RAAF F-111 Fleet ...

During the 1980's the RAAF also modified the remaining F-111C with the Pave Tack infra red laser target detection and designation system (as fitted to the F-111F), and incorporated hardware to fire the AGM-84 Harpoon anti shipping missile. At that stage, the F-111C, although updated with some digital systems, still retained the archaic Mark 1 avionics including the LN-14 navigation system of the Vietnam era F-111As. It was not until the early 1990s that the first digitally updated F-111C was to fly. The RAAF Avionics Update Programme (AUP) was overall an extension of the USAF Avionics Modernisation Program (AMP) to the FB-111A, and F-111A/E and the Pacer Strike update to the F-111F. Using the experiences of the USAF in these programs, the RAAF developed an aircraft with an indigenous software update facility.
A preview of Carlo Kopps' comprehensive article on the Avionics Update Programme (AUP) is now HERE

 

On 15 October 1992, the Australian Government announced the surprise decision to purchase of 15 ex USAF F-111G aircraft. The plan was ratified by parliament on 29 June 1993. Two RAAF crews (FLTLTs Lawrence and Riddel from 1SQN and FLTLTs Seaton and Gray from 6SQN) and a number of maintenance personnel were sent to train with the USAF 428th TFS at Cannon AFB New Mexico. The 428th 'Buccaneers' was one of the 'old timer' F-111 Squadrons, having seen combat in the Vietnam conflict twice. Over the following 18 months, the RAAF ferried all 15 F-111G's from McClellan AFB to Australia without tanker support or enroute maintenance personnel, and without incident. After a progressive series of induction servicings, the F-111G's are being released to 6 Squadron for operations.

Although the F-111G (which had previously been the SAC FB-111A) were used by the USAF for training, the RAAF uses them for operations. It is most ironic that these ex-nuclear missile armed strategic bombers are now used by the RAAF in amounst other roles, the tactical Close Air Support role.

As part of the July 1996 wing reorganisation, the RF-111C were transferred from 6 Squadron to 1 Squadron. All F-111G strike operations are performed by 6 Squadron. Since the reorganisation, No 6 Squadron had been the digital squadron, and 1 Squadron had flown the remaining analogue aircraft, while progressively exchanging these for AUP RF/F-111C from production. Not all of the F-111 are 'on the flightline'. To extend the viable life of the aircraft well into the next millennia, aircraft are being progressively rotated through long term storage.

A further F-111 was delivered to Australia in 1995. Pre-production F-111A 63-9768, once named 'City of Graham' was the third F-111 off the production line. After flight testing early in the F-111 programme, it was redesignated GF-111A, and used for ground training at Sheppard AFB. In 1995, the aircraft was transported by road to Norfolk VA, and loaded aboard HMAS Kanimbla for shipping to Australia. It was transferred to HMAS Tobruk in Sydney and shipped to Brisbane, where it travelled by road transport to RAAF Amberley. The aircraft hulk is used for ground training. As the aircraft is on 'long term loan' from the USAF, it was not assigned a RAAF serial number. In late March 1998, while stripping back the years of accumulated paint on the aircraft, RAAF Amberley Surface Finishers found the original 'City of Graham' nose painting. The GF-111A is now being repainted all over grey, but retaining the rediscovered nose art.

Other recent imports include the 1996 delivery of the module and forward equipment section of FB-111A 68-246 to 501WG, and the delivery of F-111A 67-106 to the Defence Science & Technology Organisation' Aeronautical & Maritime Research Laboratory. The airframe of 67-106 (minus wings & horizontal stabs) was shipped from LA on the 22nd October aboard the 'Kapitan Konev' and arrived in Melbourne on the 6 November 1999. The fuselage is being torndown and inspected to help identify fatigue & corrosion problems which may impact on the Australian fleet through to the planned withdrawal date of 2020. The teardown will mean dismemberment of the fuselage down to the individual component level with extensive Non Destructive Testing and fractography on all structurally significant parts. It is envisaged to take between 2 to 3 years to complete the project, all parts will then be stored until 2020.

On 2 December 1997, the Australian Minister for Defence announced as part of the new Australian Strategic Policy, the continuance of the F-111 platform until the year 2020 (57 years after Australia ordered them!!). As part of the ongoing upgrades, the F-111G aircraft will receive their own AUP, and an engine change to a locally derived (and whimsically named) TF-30 P-108. The RAAF has in recent years been working with Pratt and Whitney to streamline the engine maintenance at Amberley from the P-103 of the F/RF-111C and the P-107 of the F-111G. The F/RF-111C will be re-engined in the next 12 months to the more powerful P-109. As the P-109 will not physically fit in the F-111G (the P-107 is a 'straight through engine', while the P-103 and P-109 have a 3 degree up tilt), a union of the P-109 engine forward section with the P-107 aft section (hence P-108!) will be incorporated in the F-111G fleet in the next few years. It is expected that the P-108 will have the same power as the P-107.

Other upgrades include the acquisition of the AGM-142 Popeye (Have Nap) electro-optically guided stand-off missile, and slated acquisitions of an anti-radiation missile, a new 4th generation 'within-visual-range' air to air missile incorporating helmet mounted sights, and an updated Electronic Warfare suite.

In May 1998, with the final flight of the USAF EF-111A from Cannon AFB to 'The Boneyard' at AMARC, Davis-Monthan AFB Arizona, Amberley will become the last home base for F-111 operations in the world. Although sadly this closes the USAF history of the F-111, it does not indicate the 'winding down' of F-111 operations, but merely marked just over the 'half way point' of the Australian F-111 'PIG' experience of 1963 to 2020.

82WG-interfet On the 9 November 1999, it was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald that Australian F-111 aircraft were involved in continuing reconnaissance operations in the skies of East Timor as part of the Australian lead International Force East Timor (InterFET).

This marked the first time that Australian F-111s have been operationally used.

Today the 17 F-111C (including 4 ex F-111A), 4 RF-111C and 14 F-111G form the RAAF's Strike Reconnaissance Group consisting of No. 82 Wing, No 1 Squadron (F-111C Strike and RF-111C Reconnaissance) and No.6 Squadron ( F-111G Strike and F-111C Training). Depot level maintenance is performed by No. 501 Wing (ex 3 Aircraft Depot and 482 Squadron).  The F/RF-111C fleet has recently completed the AUP Block upgrade, and a potential Block upgrade for the F-111G fleet is in the wings.  

Thanks to Larry Konecnik for providing historical source material for this article.
Information and images sourced from Doc Servo and Jeff, Anthony Thornborough, Harold and Eric Wiseman, Karen Hagar at Lockheed Martin, the Australian Archives, Aircraft magazine, and The Australian and Courier Mail newspapers.

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