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F-111 Page for School Students

Last Updated 14 November, 2002

The F-111 is a two seat fighter bomber that was built in the United States of America by General Dynamics in the 1960s and 1970s.  It is crewed by a Pilot who sits in the left seat, and a Navigator (sometimes known as a 'Weapon Systems Officer' WSO) who sits in the right seat.  Although nearly all
F-111s were flown by the United States Air Force (USAF), F-111s are now only flown by the
Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).

The F-111, nicknamed 'Aardvark or Switchblade' in America or 'The Pig' in Australia had a troubled introduction into military service due to a number of reasons.  The design began in 1958 to a USAF requirement, but soon became a compromise between the requirements for a long-range missile fighter for the United States Navy (USN); for a tactical fighter-bomber which could operate from short fields for the USAF Tactical Air Command (TAC), and for a medium range nuclear bomber for the USAF Strategic Air Command (SAC).  Additionally, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and the British Royal Air Force (RAF) had different requirements for their own versions of the F-111. 

21 December 1964
F-111A First Flight 21 December 1964 GD photo

The first F-111 flew on 21 December 1964. Although over 1000 were originally planned for the USAF, USN, RAF and RAAF, only 562 were eventually built.Full aft wingsweep (photo Dave Riddel)

Revolutionary Design   The development process was long and difficult, and was plagued by a number of component failures, including the tail pivot, wing pivot and ejection handles.  It was not totally unexpected that there would be teething problems because the prototype F-111s had quite a few revolutionary design features. 

Firstly the wings are designed to 'sweep' from a full forward position which enables the F-111 to land at relatively slow speeds, to a full aft position which reduces drag and enables the F-111 to fly to a maximum speed of 2.5 times the speed of sound (Mach 2.5) at high altitude.

F-111C
RAAF F-111C (ex-USAF F-111A) photo Dave Riddel
F-111G
RAAF F-111G (ex USAF FB-111A and F-111G)

Photo Dave Riddel

The crew ejection module (photo Mike Kaplan)are protected in the event of an ejection within the crew module.  This was unique at the time, and remains to be very rare for any aircraft. The module prevents injury from 'wind blast' at very high speed ejections, and can serve as a boat if landed in the water.  See more about the ejection system here.

The engines were also of new design.  Uninstalled TF-30 being tested in afterburner.TF-30 low bypass turbofans with the   afterburner section had not been installed in anything but test aircraft until the F-111. The afterburner almost doubles the thrust by having fuel sprayed from a number of rings inside the engine to be ignited by the exhaust.  This is different to the 'dump and burn' which is performed at airshows.  The term  'dump and burn' describes the process accurately.  Dump ad Burn (photo Dave Riddel)Excess fuel is dumped from a outlet under the tail between the two engines, and providing the engines are in afterburner, the dumped fuel is ignited by the hot exhaust and burnt.

But by far, the most significant feature of the F-111 was the fitment of the 'Terrain Following Radar' (TFR) system, which enables the aeroplane to fly without pilot input at settings between 200 feet to 1000 feet above the earth's surface day or night and in poor weather.  The advantage of this system is that the aeroplane can be flown automatically below the radar coverage of defending surface to air missile (SAM) systems for a longer period than other attack aircraft.

In the early 1980's the USAF modified the F-111F with the addition of the Pave Tack system.  The Pave Tack is a podded infra-red laser target identification, designation and tracking system which enables the guiding of modern laser guided weapons (LGBs) to a pinpoint target.  This system is called a 'force multiplier' as only a few Pave Tack equipped F-111 with precision guided munitions can do the job of many non-precision aircraft.   In the mid-1980's the RAAF modified it's F-111C to take the Pave Tack system.

Variants  There were a number of F-111 variants built over the last four decades.  The original F-111 was known as the TFX, standing for 'Tactical Fighter Experimental'.   After General Dynamics won the F-11B carrier launch (Grumman)contract to build the F-111, the first two versions were the pre-production F-111A pre-production F-111A GD photo(sometimes referred to as the YF-111A) and the F-111B which was jointly built with Grumman for the USN.   Within a few years, the version which Australia had ordered was renamed the F-111C as the requirements were diverging substantially from those of the USAF TAC F-111A.   Likewise, the ill fated RAF version was different to the RF-111C and F-111C RAAF PhotoTAC, SAC, USN and RAAF variants, and was called the F-111K, however the RAF order was cancelled before the first F-111K was completed. FB-111A photo by Mike Kaplan The RAAF was also very interested in strategic and tactical reconnaissance, and were very interested in obtaining suitably modified F-111 aircraft.  USAF TAC also had a reconnaissance requirement, but the planned RF-111A and later the RF-111D were cancelled.   The RAAF then went alone with GD to produce four RF-111C which still fly today. The USAF SAC version was designated the
FB-111A.

F-111D photo Mike Kaplan

Very soon a second USAF TAC version, the F-111D, with advanced digital computers was being considered, however there were delays in it's production which caused further F-111s of the earlier design to be ordered.  These additional F-111s had a slight modification to the engine inlets and were designated the F-111E.   The final production version was the F-111F which were built up until 1974.

Since then, some of the original EF-111A photo by Mike KaplanF-111A were modified to perform the electronic combat role (jamming) and were redesignated RAAF F-111G photo Jason O'Toolethe EF-111A.  A part of the Arms Reduction Treaties between the Soviet Union and USA, the SAC FB-111A were decommissioned, and some were de-modified and designated the F-111G to be used as F-111 conversion training aeroplanes by the USAF.  In the mid- 1990's the Australian Government was offered some of the F-111G. 15 F-111G were subsequently purchased for the RAAF, although they were not used as 'trainers'. 

Over the years, there were a number of proposed upgrades for the SAC FB-111A, including the FB-111B, FB-111C and FB-111H--but none of these were constructed.

Combat Operations  USAF F-111 aircraft saw combat in Vietnam in 1968 and against targets in Vietnam and Laos between 1972-74.  The next operation was the Libyan Raid against Kadafi in on the night of 15/16 April 1986. USAF F-111Es, F-111Fs and EF-111As then were used in the Gulf War of 1991--Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM.  Much of the black and white infra-red video shown on CNN was actually F-111F Pave Tack video, although it was credited to the short range F-117 Stealth Fighter at the time.  It was later revealed in Australian Parliament that the United States had requested RAAF F-111C to operate along-side USAF F-111 aircraft, but the Australian Government declined the request, and provided Navy warships instead.   Australian F-111s have never seen combat, although during the crisis in East Timor in 1999, RF-111C flew a number of reconnaissance missions in support of the Australian commanded INTERFET operation.

Losses Since F-111 operations commenced in 1964, there has been a total of 115 contractor, USAF and RAAF aircrew killed in accidents or combat.  Although the number seems high, the F-111 is generally regarded to be one of the safest combat aircraft built, especially with respect to the environment it was planned to fight in.  The RAAF has lost seven F-111 since 1977 in accidents, although three crews were able to eject safely from damaged aircraft.  A memorial listing the names of the 115 lost aircrew was built in the mid-1990s at Clovis, New Mexico in the United States.  See here.

Roles of the RAAF F-111  The F-111 has a significant range when compared to other fighter-bomber aircraft of the same era, such as the F-4 Phantom, and modern aircraft such as the F-18 Hornet, GR4 Tornado or Eurofighter.  F-111C mid 1990's showing some of the armament.  Photo Strike PublicationsThe F-111 is utilised by the RAAF to fill the 'Precision Strike' role, which is the attack of high value targets within an enemies homeland.  High value targets would include enemy command headquarters, communications facilities, radars and enemy combat aircraft whilst on the ground.   Other roles for the RAAF F-111 force include 'Maritime Strike', which is the attack of an enemies naval forces, and 'Battlefield Interdiction' which is the co-ordinated attack with the Army against an enemies army in the field. It should be noted that Australia currently has no enemy, and hopefully will not again.

The Future The last USAF F-111 flew to the 'Desert Boneyard' Aircraft Maintenance And Regeneration Center Awaiting their fate in the dry desert air. Photo Ronny Edmonson(sic), AMARC, Davis Monthan AFB in September 1996, followed by the last EF-111A in May 1998.  Since that time the RAAF became the only operator of the F-111. The F-111 remains the corner stone of the Australia's Defence Policy as outlined in the White Paper of 2001.  With continuing upgrades to Electronic Warfare and weapons systems, the
F-111 is expected to serve Australia until at least 2015 and possibly 2020, 52 years after the first F-111C flew in 1968.

 

Want to fly the F-111? If you are an aimated F-111Australian citizen, have good school results, are medically and mentally fit and enjoy hard work, you can apply to join the Royal Australian Air Force as either a Pilot or Navigator.  Go to the Australian Defence Force Recruiting page for more information.  www.defencejobs.gov.au

 

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