The General Dynamics (GD) F-111 is unarguably the most controversial fighter-attack aircraft ever developed. It suffered from a nearly impossible multi-role/multi-service requirement specification, and a protracted development cycle in which numerous serious technical problems had to be identified and corrected. Nicknamed 'Aardvark' because of its long, slightly upturned nose, the F-111 evolved in response to a joint services requirement in the 1960s for a long range interceptor (US Navy) and deep-strike interdictor (USAF). The F-111 was a multipurpose tactical fighter bomber capable of supersonic speeds. The aircraft was one of the more controversial aircraft ever to fly, yet it achieved one of the safest operational records of any aircraft in USAF history and became a highly effective all-weather interdiction aircraft.
Primarily a bomber, the F-111 featured a sweep wing varying between 16 degrees and 72.5 degrees, with side-by-side seating for a pilot and weapons systems officer. The F-111's wings are straight for take-offs, landings or slow speed flight; by sweeping its wings rearward, it could exceed twice the speed of sound (Mach 2).
The F-111 provided many firsts among weapons systems. It was the first production aircraft with variable swing wings that could be swept back or brought forward to increase efficiency. It also had the first terrain-following radar, allowing it to fly at night at high speeds and low altitudes, as well as the first crew escape module. The two-person cockpit was also an advanced design module that served as an emergency escape vehicle and as a survival shelter on land or water.
The Tactical Fighter Experimental (TFX) Program called for developing a single aircraft to fulfill a Navy fleet defense interceptor requirement and an Air Force supersonic strike aircraft requirement. The mission requirements were impossible to achieve, especially since planners placed priority upon the Air Force requirement, and then tried to tailor a heavy land-based aircraft to the demands of carrier-based naval aircraft.
This aircraft was one of the more controversial aircraft ever to fly, yet it achieved one of the safest operational records of any aircraft in USAF history and became a highly effective all-weather interdiction aircraft. The last four F-111Fs in the United States Air Force returned to their birth-place for the F-111's retirement and naming ceremony 27 July 1996 at Lockheed Martin Tactical Aircraft Systems in Ft Worth, Texas, where the first F-111 rolled out of the (then) General Dynamic's mile-long plant Long known unofficially as the "Aardvark," the name became official at the ceremony.
The F-111F was equipped with an all-weather AN/AVQ-26 Pave Tack infra-red targeting designator/reader carried in a pod-mounted turret under the fuselage. It could track and designate ground targets for targets for laser, infra-red and electro-optical bombs. The F-111F was one of the most effective Allied aircraft in Operation Desert Storm (1991), flying more than 2,400 sorties against Iraqi strategic sites, vehicle formations and hardened bunkers.
The first flight of the F-111A took place in December 1964, and the first production models were delivered to the Air Force in 1967. Of the 1,726 total aircraft buy that had originally been planned in 1962, only 562 production models of seven different variants were completed when production ended in 1976. The aircraft was produced in seven different variants until the last delivery in September 1976. The naval version, the F-111B, was never placed into production. The Air Force aircraft was produced in a variety of models, including the F-111A, F-111D, F-111E, and F-111F fighter-bombers; the FB-111A strategic bomber; the F-111C for the Australian Air Force; and an EF-111 electronic warfare version.
Australia, the only country besides the United States to operate the F-111, was not involved in the original requirement, as they were initially involved in the British TSR-2. With the cancellation of the TSR-2, Australia shifted to the F-111, as did the UK - only to cancel on this as well in favor of the F-4. The US Air Force versions were retired in 1996, but the Australians operated their fleet until the year 2010.
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