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Pig’s return wrapped up successfully

F-111 A8-112, wrapped in plastic, is removed from the interior of an Antonov heavy airlift aircraft after being transported from Darwin to Amberley. 						         Photo by LAC Greg Pierce
F-111 A8-112, wrapped in plastic, is removed from the interior of an Antonov heavy airlift aircraft after being transported from Darwin to Amberley. Photo by LAC Greg Pierce
By SQNLDR David Fulcher

IT is probably the slowest and most unusual flight an F-111 has ever taken.
Swathed in plastic for protection, A8-112 was transported from RAAF Base Darwin to RAAF Base Amberley in the
back of an Antonov 124, flown by a Ukranian crew, in mid-April.

The F-111 had been suspended from flying after a small over-pressurisation occurred in the fuel tank while it was being flown by No 6 Squadron on exercise at Darwin in June 2002. The crew landed the aircraft without further incident.

An inspection revealed that the fuel-air mixture in the F2 fuel tank had ignited and caused moderate damage to the airframe.

A decision was made to transport the F-111 to Amberely for further assessment and repairs. It was determined that airfreight would minimise the risk of further damage to the airframe and return the aircraft in a controlled environment.

The wings were detached and the radome and many instruments were removed.
Personnel from No. 6 Squadron removed the tail fin, stabilisers and other components for carriage in a cargo aircraft. Boeing Australia personnel removed all explosive ordnance and associated non-explosive components from the crew module.

To ensure the safe removal of the explosives, a Special Technical Instruction, developed by the company Aerostructures, resulted in approval to jack up the aircraft using inflatable bags. Through a cooperative approach by the Air Force, Boeing Australia and Aerostructures, the airframe was prepared for uplift by the end of February.
A request was made for No. 1 Joint Movement Group to arrange for the airfreight of A8-112; however, conflict in the Middle East and the worldwide demand for heavy airlift restricted the availability of a suitable aircraft. It was not until April that an Antonov was available.

Flying Officer Richard Kloeden and some personnel from No. 1 Squadron who had been on exercise at RAAF Base
Tindal travelled to Darwin to finalise preparations and help load the F-111 aircraft.

The Antonov arrived in Darwin on April 15, and the loading process went quickly and smoothly. With safety measures in place, A8-112 was winched aboard, steered by a tow bar attached to the nose wheel. It was then secured by chains attached to the nose wheel and the main undercarriage, a procedure adapted from USAF instructions – gratefully received from Squadron Leader Marty Smith, based in the USA – for carrying an F-111 in a C5 aircraft.

The flight was an uneventful three hours and 45 minutes. The aircraft was unloaded at Amberley that evening without incident under lights. A8-112 was towed into the darkness to await its next phase – investigating the extent of the damage and its possible return to service.

The interest and willingness shown by those involved in the recovery of A8-112 was impressive.

As one involved in the operation, here is some advice for Air Force personnel who might get to travel in an Antonov: take something to read and someone to talk with, or learn Russian.