General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark

The General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark was a supersonic, medium-range interdictor and tactical Attack aircraft that also filled the roles of strategic bomber, aerial reconnaissance, and electronic-warfare aircraft in its various versions. Developed in the 1960s by General Dynamics, it first entered service in 1967 with the United States Air Force. The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) also ordered the type and began operating F-111Cs in 1973.

The F-111 pioneered several technologies for production aircraft, including variable-sweep wings, afterburning turbofan engines, and automated terrain-following radar for low-level, high-speed flight. Its design influenced later variable-sweep wing aircraft, and some of its advanced features have since become commonplace. The F-111 suffered a variety of problems during initial development. Several of its intended roles, such as an aircraft carrier-based naval interceptor with the F-111B, failed to materialize.

USAF F-111 variants were retired in the 1990s, with the F-111Fs in 1996 and EF-111s in 1998. The F-111 has been replaced in USAF service by the F-15E Strike Eagle for medium-range precision strike missions, while the supersonic bomber role has been assumed by the B-1B Lancer. The RAAF was the last operator of the F-111, with its aircraft serving until December 2010.


General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark
Class Aircraft
Type Bomber
Manufacturer General Dynamics
Origin United States of America
Country Name Origin Year
United States of America 1964
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Australia 1967 2010 View
United States of America 1967 1998 View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
General Dynamics 563 View

The F-111 was an all-weather attack aircraft, capable of low-level penetration of enemy defenses to deliver ordnance on the target. The F-111 featured variable-geometry wings, an internal weapons bay and a cockpit with side-by-side seating. The cockpit was part of an escape crew capsule. The wing sweep varied between 16 degrees and 72.5 degrees (full forward to full sweep). The wing included leading edge slats and double slotted flaps over its full length. The airframe was made up mostly of aluminium alloys with steel, titanium and other materials used in places. The fuselage was made of a semi-monocoque structure with stiffened panels and honeycomb structure panels for skin.

The F-111 used a three-point landing gear arrangement, with a two-wheel nose gear and two single-wheel main landing gear units. The landing gear door for the main gear, which was positioned in the center of the fuselage, also served as a speed brake in flight. Most F-111 variants included a terrain-following radar system connected to the autopilot. The aircraft was powered by two Pratt & Whitney TF30 afterburning turbofan engines. The F-111's variable-geometry wings, escape capsule, terrain following radar, and afterburning turbofans were new technologies for production aircraft.

U.S. Air Force

The first of six initial production F-111s was delivered on 17 July 1967 to fighter squadrons at Nellis Air Force Base. These aircraft were used for crew training. 428th Tactical Fighter Squadron achieved initial operational capability on 28 April 1968.

After early testing, a detachment of six aircraft were sent in March 1968 to Southeast Asia for Combat Lancer testing in real combat conditions in Vietnam. In little over a month, three aircraft were lost and the combat tests were halted. It turned out that all three had been lost through a malfunction in the horizontal stabilizer, not by enemy action. This caused a storm of criticism in the U.S. It was not until 1971 that 474 TFW was fully operational.

September 1972 saw the F-111 back in Southeast Asia, stationed at Takhli Air Base, Thailand. F-111As from Nellis AFB participated in the final month of Operation Linebacker and later the Operation Linebacker II aerial offensive against the North Vietnamese. F-111 missions did not require tankers or ECM support, and they could operate in weather that grounded most other aircraft. One F-111 could carry the bomb load of four McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom IIs. The worth of the new aircraft was beginning to show; F-111s flew more than 4,000 combat missions in Vietnam with only six combat losses.

From 30 July 1973 F-111As of the 347th Tactical Fighter Wing (347th TFW) were stationed at Takhli Air Base. The 347th TFW conducted bombing missions in Cambodia in support of Khmer Republic forces until 15 August 1973 when US combat support ceased in accordance with the Case–Church Amendment. The 347th TFW was stationed at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base from 12 July 1974 until 30 June 1975. In May 1975 347th TFW F-111s provided air support during the Mayaguez incident.

On 14 April 1986, 18 F-111s and approximately 25 Navy aircraft conducted air strikes against Libya under Operation El Dorado Canyon. The 18 F-111s of the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing and the 20th Tactical Fighter Wing flew what turned out to be the longest fighter combat mission in history. The round-trip flight between RAF Lakenheath/RAF Upper Heyford, United Kingdom and Libya of 6,400 miles (10,300 km) spanned 13 hours. One F-111 was lost over Libya, probably shot down.

F-111s participated in the Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm) in 1991. During Desert Storm, F-111Fs completed 3.2 successful strike missions for every unsuccessful one, better than any other U.S. strike aircraft used in the operation. The group of 66 F-111Fs dropped almost 80% of the war's laser-guided bombs, including the GBU-15 and the penetrating, bunker-buster GBU-28. Eighteen F-111Es were also deployed during the operation. The F-111s were credited with destroying more than 1,500 Iraqi tanks and armored vehicles. Their use in the anti-armor role was dubbed "tank plinking".

The F-111 was in service with the USAF from 1967 through 1998. The Strategic Air Command had FB-111s in service from 1969 through 1992. At a ceremony marking the F-111's USAF retirement, on 27 July 1996, it was officially named Aardvark, its long-standing unofficial name. The USAF retired the EF-111 electronic warfare variant in 1998.

Royal Australian Air Force

The Australian government ordered 24 F-111C aircraft to replace the RAAF's English Electric Canberras in the bombing and tactical strike role.[69] While the first aircraft was officially handed over in September 1968, structural issues delayed the entry into service. The first F-111C was accepted at Nellis Air Force Base on 15 March 1973. The RAAF's first six F-111Cs arrived at Amberley on 1 July 1973, and three subsequent flights of six F-111s arrived on 27 July, 28 September and 4 December. F-111Cs were allocated to No. 1 Squadron and No. 6 Squadron, under the control of No. 82 Wing.

The purchase proved to be highly successful for the RAAF. Although it never saw combat, the F-111C was the fastest, longest range combat aircraft in Southeast Asia. Aviation historian Alan Stephens has written that they were "the preeminent weapons system in the Asia-Pacific region" throughout their service and provided Australia with "a genuine, independent strike capability". Former Indonesian defense minister Benny Murdani told his Australian counterpart Kim Beazley that when others became upset with Australia during Indonesian cabinet meetings, Murdani told them "Do you realise the Australians have a bomber that can put a bomb through that window on to the table here in front of us?"

The drawdown of the RAAF's F-111 fleet began with the retirement of the F-111G models operated by No. 6 Squadron in late 2007. One of the reasons given for the F-111s' retirement was the high maintenance time required for every flight hour. The last F-111s were retired on 3 December 2010.

Role Interdictor, fighter-bomber, andstrategic bomber
National origin United States
Manufacturer General Dynamics
First flight 21 December 1964
Introduction 18 July 1967
Retired USAF: F-111F, 1996; EF-111A, 1998
RAAF: F-111C, 2010
Status Phased out of service
Primary users United States Air Force (USAF)
Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF)
Number built 563[1]
Unit cost F-111F: US$10.3 million (flyaway cost in 1973)[2]
Variants General Dynamics/Grumman F-111B
General Dynamics F-111C
General Dynamics/Grumman EF-111A Raven
General Dynamics F-111K


General characteristics

  • Crew: two (pilot and weapons system operator)
  • Length: 73 ft 6 in (22.4 m)
  • Wingspan:
  • Spread: 63 ft (19.2 m)
  • Swept: 32 ft (9.75 m)
  • Height: 17.13 ft (5.22 m)
  • Wing area:
    Spread: 657.4 ft² (61.07 m²)
    Swept: 525 ft² (48.77 m²)
  • Airfoil: NACA 64-210.68 root, NACA 64-209.80 tip
  • Empty weight: 47,200 lb (21,400 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 82,800 lb (37,600 kg)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 100,000 lb (45,300 kg)
  • Powerplant: 2 × Pratt & Whitney TF30-P-100 turbofans
  • Dry thrust: 17,900 lbf (79.6 kN) each
  • Thrust with afterburner: 25,100 lbf (112 kN) each
  • Zero-lift drag coefficient: 0.0186
  • Drag area: 9.36 ft² (0.87 m²)
  • Aspect ratio: spread: 7.56, swept: 1.95

Performance

  • Maximum speed: Mach 2.5 (1,650 mph, 2,655 km/h) at altitude; Mach 1.2 (915 mph, 1,473 km/h) at sea level
  • Ferry range: 3,700 mi (3,210 nmi, 5,950 km) ; with external drop tanks
  • Service ceiling: 66,000 ft (20,100 m)
  • Rate of climb: 25,890 ft/min (131.5 m/s)
  • Wing loading:
  • Spread: 126.0 lb/ft² (615.2 kg/m²)
  • Swept: 158 lb/ft² (771 kg/m²)
  • Thrust/weight: 0.61
  • Lift-to-drag ratio: 15.8

Armament

  • Guns: 1× 20 mm (0.787 in) M61A1 Vulcan 6-barreled Gatling cannon in weapons bay (seldom fitted)
  • Hardpoints: 9 in total (8× under-wing, 1× under-fuselage between engines) plus 2 attach points in weapons bay with a capacity of 31,500 lb (14,300 kg)
    Free-fall general-purpose bombs including Mk 82 (500 lb/227 kg), Mk 83 (1,000 lb/454 kg), Mk 84 (2,000 lb/907 kg), and Mk 117 (750 lb/340 kg)
  • Cluster bombs
    BLU-109 (2,000 lb/907 kg) hardened penetration bomb
    Paveway laser-guided bombs, including 2,000 lb (907 kg) GBU-10, 500 lb (227 kg) GBU-12 and GBU-28, specialized 4,800 lb (2,200 kg) penetration bomb
    BLU-107 Durandal runway-cratering bomb
    GBU-15 electro-optical bomb
    AGM-130 stand-off bomb

End notes