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F-111 Aardvark

Variants

In all, some 563 F-111s in several variants were built, including 96 production F-111Ds, 94 production F-111Es, and 106 production F-111Fs. Seventy-six were built as FB-111s and saw service with the Strategic Air Command until 1990 when they were converted to F-111Gs and assigned to Tactical Air Command. The Royal Australian Air Force has 24 F-111C models in service. The naval aircraft, the F-111B, was never placed in production. The Air Force aircraft, which was produced in a variety of models, including the F-111A, F-111D, F-111E, and F-111F, as well as an FB-111A strategic bomber version, had numerous problems, and only the F-111F actually fulfilled the original TFX design specification. This was less the fault of General Dynamics than of the civilian planners in the Pentagon whose "cost effective" inclinations ironically produced the major aeronautical fiasco of the 1960s-and a costly one at that.

The F-111A first flew in December 1964. Production of the F-111 prototype began in the fall of 1963, and the first F-111 rolled out on 15 October 1964, 16 days ahead of schedule. The first operational aircraft was delivered in October 1967 to Nellis Air Force Base, NV. The F-111A's initial operational testing finally came during its much-publicized Combat Lancer deployment to Thailand in 1968, an episode which demonstrated, tragically, that the aircraft was far from combat ready. Indeed, it was still undergoing Category I tests in 1972 and Cat II tests in 1973. Category III testing was ultimately skipped, altogether. In short, a minimally satisfactory "product" was seven years late in getting to its customer. During a 1972 - 1973 tour of duty in Vietnam, F-111As flew more than 4,000 combat missions. The early F-111As had extremely bad engine problems, suffering from compressor surge and stalls. NASA pilots and engineers wrung out the airplane in an attempt to solve its problems, studying the engine inlet dynamics of the plane to determine the nature of inlet pressure fluctuations that led to compressor surge and stall. Eventually, as a result of NASA, Air Force, and General Dynamics studies, the engine problems were solved by a major inlet redesign.

The F-111B, developed for the U.S. Navy, was canceled before its production. The Navy F-111B was found to be too heavy for carrierborne operations. A larger wing was developed for the F-111B, with a span of 70 feet in the fully extended (16 sweep) setting -- 7 feet more than the F-111A. The Navy's Grumman F-14 Tomcat was designed in 1968 to take the place of the controversial F-111B, then under development for the Navy's carrier fighter inventory.

The F-111C's were flown by the Royal Australian Air Force. The F-111C aircraft are similar to the F-111A except that they have the longer wing of the B version, stronger landing gear and a higher gross weight. The righthand control stick is also removeable from the aircraft depending on crew duties. The F-111C probably went through the longest negotiations of any modern aircraft. Ordered by the Australian government in 1966, their two squadrons did not become operational until 1975. When the F-111A ran into its wing box problems, the 24 aircraft destined for Australia were dismantled and put into storage until the "fix" had been developed and prices and terms re-negotiated. The Royal Australian Air Force fleet of F-111C aircraft remained in Australian service until 2010 [the F-111G aircraft in Australian service were retired in 2007].

The F-111D , which proved to be troublesome to maintain, had improved avionics with better navigation, air-to-air weapon delivery systems, and newer turbofan engines. The F-111D featured an improved Mark II avionics package, more powerful TF30-P-9 engines, and an environmental control system. Theoretically, the Mark II would be able to separate a target from all ground clutter and maintain a fix on it, regardless of the plane's speed and altitude and even whether the pilot could see it. By late 1969, the Mark II's snowballing cost reduced the F-111D program from 315 to 96, and component costs swelled as mass production slumped. The Air Force accepted one F-111D in June 1970 but none followed for the next twelve months because of the Mark II's unavailability. By June 1972 only 24 F-111Ds were available-two years beyond the time when a 72-plane wing should have been operationally ready. Even then, F-111Ds were crippled by lack of spares; the Horizontal Situation Display had a field reliability life of only fifty hours. The F-111D's were flown by the 27th Fighter Wing, Cannon Air Force Base, NM. The United Kingdom briefly considered buying as many as 100 F-111D's, but the Harold Wilson's Labour Government decided against the purchase in 1965.

The F-111E model had modified air intakes to improve the engine's performance at speeds above Mach 2.2. Most F-111Es served with the 20th Fighter Wing, Royal Air Force Station Upper Heyford, England, to support NATO. F-111E's were deployed to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, and were used in Operation Desert Storm. In the early morning of Jan. 17, 1991, the F-111 went into combat again in the initial bombing raids of Operation Desert Storm. More than 100 F-111 aircraft of different versions joined the first strikes against Iraq both as bombers and radar jammers.

The F-111F had improved turbofan engines give F-111F models 35 percent more thrust than previous F-111A and E engines. The avionics systems of the F model combine features of the F-111D and E. The last F model was delivered to the Air Force in November 1976. The F models were modified to carry the all-weather AN/AVQ-26 Pave Tack system in their weapons bays. This system provides an improved capability to acquire, track and designate ground targets at night for delivery of laser, infrared and electro-optically guided weapons. In 1986, the F-111F was used during El Dorado Canyon, the raid on Libya, and bombed five targets in retaliation for terrorist attacks. It also played a major role in the Persian Gulf War, flying more than 2,500 missions. Pre-air campaign mission plans for the F-111F focused on low-altitude air interdiction against strategic targets, such as airfields, radar sites, and chemical weapons bunkers. However, like all other aircraft, almost all Desert Storm missions were conducted at medium-to-high altitude. Another deviation from pre-Desert Storm mission planning for the F-111F were LGB strikes against tanks commonly referred to after the war as "tank plinking." The F-111F night "tank plinking" strikes using 500 lb. GBU-12 laser-guided bombs were particularly deadly. On February 9, for example, in one night of concentrated air attacks, forty F-111F's destroyed over 100 armored vehicles. Overall, the small 66-plane F-111F force was credited with 1,500 kills of Iraqi tanks and other mechanized vehicles. The F-111F was the only Desert Storm aircraft to deliver the GBU-15 and the 5,000-pound laser-guided, penetrating GBU-28. 2 GBU-28s were dropped by 2 F-111F Aardvarks on a command and control bunker in Baghdad only days before the ceasefire. One missed its mark (because of faulty laser spotting), the other penetrated, destroying the bunker. Although F-111F's flew primarily at night during Operation Desert Storm, aircrews flew a particularly notable daytime mission using the Guided Bomb Unit (GBU-15) to seal the oil pipeline manifold sabotaged by Iraq, allowing the oil to flow into the Persian Gulf. In 1994 the 524th Fighter Squadron became the only F-111F unit to convert to Pacer Strike modified F-111F aircraft, which incorporates a global positioning satellite system and ring laser gyro into its avionics suite.

As a result of the Air Force decision to retire the F-111 weapon system, the 27th Fighter Wing's 74 F-111E/F aircraft began retiring in late 1995 and were replaced with 54 F-16C/D aircraft. All F-111s in the Air Force inventory have been retired to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz. The center, popularly know as the boneyard, was home to all the remaining F-111E and F models by October 1996.

The F-111K was similar to the F-111C and F-111D. The Royal Air Force ordered 50 F-111K models, but this order was cancelled. When Britain needed a new tactical bomber, her decision to purchase the American F-111K was looked upon as "un-European" by France, since the French Mirage IVA (at least according to the French) could have been used by the British even though it was not suited for the British perception of her new aircraft's mission.

FB-111

The F-111G was assigned to the 27th Fighter Wing at Cannon Air Force Base and was used in a training role only. Seventy-six were built as FB-111s and saw service with the Strategic Air Command until 1990 when they were converted to F-111Gs and assigned to Tactical Air Command. The conversion made minor avionics updates and strengthened the aircraft to allow its use in a more dynamic role as a fighter aircraft.



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