Non Sequitur – the mighty F-111 “Aardvark” September 5, 2013Posted by tantamergo in Admin, awesomeness, Basics, fun, non squitur, silliness, Society.
When we were in Colorado, we met some folks we only knew through the lovely daughter of the family, PG, whom I have mentioned several times on this blog with relation to her pursuit of a religious vocation. But we had never met the rest of the family. What a pleasant surprise when we did! What a great family……..we had a really good time, and the two sets of kids took to each other like they’d been best buds for years.
But the father of the G family and I found we shared an interest in military aviation. In fact, he was a technician on the F-111 back when they were deployed in England in the 1980s. The General Dynamics F-111 was an aircraft that incorporated a huge number of very advanced features that really pushed the state of the art for the 1960s. Begun as a long range strike and interdiction aircraft for the USAF, the worst SECDEF in US history, Robert Strange McNamara, demanded that the aircraft be used by the Navy as an fleet air defense interceptor, as well. Now, turning a very long range, low-level, supersonic strike aircraft into a maneuverable, fleet air defense interceptor was well beyond the state of the art in the 1960s. That project – the F-111B – failed, and miserably. And even the USAF had huge problems getting the F-111 into service. The F-111 was the first production aircraft to incorporate:
- variable geometry, or “swing” wings
- a true terrain-following/terrain avoidance radar system
- true night and all weather navigation and attack capabilities (OK, the A-6, I know……shut up)
- low bypass ratio turbofan engines
- a virtually unparalled range-payload characteristics
- supersonic or very high transonic penetration speeds at low altitude
- digital bombing/navigation systems
- numerous other advanced avionics
Because of all the largely computer controlled avionics, and due to some rather embarrassing goofs GD made with regard to the structure and aerodynamic design, the F-111 was delayed entering service from 1966 to 1972. The Air Force rushed some early production model F-111s to Thailand in the Combat Lancer program in 1968, but the effort was a disaster. 3 of the 6 F-111s were lost due to avionics problems or structural failures.
The F-111 was produced in several models. The base F-111A was the first model to enter production. It had somewhat clumsy analog/digital computers and wasn’t terribly reliable. The B model was cancelled, as I said above. The ‘C’ model was produced for the F-111′s only foreign customer, the Royal Australian Air Force, which only retired them last year. The D model incorporated vastly improved “Mark II” avionics which were all digital, but also radically advanced and very, very expensive. The E model featured more simplified (and less expensive) avionics from the D model. The definitive F model included much more powerful engines and the final avionics set up, which combined many of the best features of previous models. The F-111F was also equipped with the very useful Pave Tack FLIR and laser designation system, one of the first aircraft so equipped. This system proved its worth in the raids over Libya in 1986, and then again in the Gulf War. Strategic Air Command also received a variant of the F-111 that didn’t really meet their needs. This was the FB-111A.
There was also another version, the EF-111A Raven electronic warfare aicraft. Many F-111As were converted to the EF-111A standard in the late 70s and early 80s. Sadly, USAF has never replaced the EF-111A after they were retired in the mid-90s. The EF-111A was an extremely capable EW aircraft (see photo left).
Although it had a troubled development, the F-111 went on to become the premier long range strike and deep interdiction aircraft for the Air Force. For well over 2 decades, the F-111 was really the only USAF strike aircraft to possess true night attack, all weather capability, and it could haul a large payload a long, long way. The F-111 was eventually replaced by the F-15E Strike Eagle, aka the Mudhen, but even the F-15E cannot match the 111′s range and payload characteristics.
I found some good videos on the F-111 below. One is incredible, a mid-60s video on the F-111A’s TFR system:
This video seems to focus on action at RAF Lakenheath and Upper Heyford in the 80s (I think that was F-111Fs at Lakenheath and D/Es at Upper Heyford?). Sorry for the horrid 80s soundtrack!
The avionics vid. Too bad the colors are so badly faded:
Oh, oh, one more goofy vid from what I guess would be the early 70s. The soundtrack…….oh the soundtrack, gotta love the 1970s era schmaltz! And the hair……only in the 70s did hair like that pass muster!
There…….almost two hours of glorious F-111 footage. Don’t tell me I don’t bring the gold.
Oh, one final note. The F-111 was a very rare aircraft in that throughout its service history, it never had an official nickname, you know, like the F-15 “Eagle,” F-100 “Super Sabre,” etc. It was only on the day of its retirement from USAF in 1996 that the Air Force finally officially “blessed” the name everyone in the service had called it for years……the Aardvark. Because of it’s long, drooping snout.