Tuesday, January 10, 2012


F-111 Aardvark

General Dynamics

F-111 Aardvark

In 1960 the Air Force wanted a plane that could provide air superiority and be capable of both conventional and nuclear bombing missions.  This is at a time when missiles were believed to have made close air combat obsolete.  Thus we have the F-111 designation for this plane that never really performed the role of fighter.  As a cost saving move Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara decided the jet should replace the Navy's F-4 Phantom, despite Navy objections.  Eventually weight killed the idea of the F-111 being a carrier based plane and the Grumman F-14 Tomcat came into being.  


Crew:                    2 - Pilot, Weapons Officer

Power:                  2 - Pratt & Whitney 11,395 kg / 25,100 lb afterburning thrust
                                   TF30-P-100 turbofans

Max. Speed:        2655 kph / 1650 mph
Ceiling:                17,995 m / 59,000 ft
Range:                 4707 km / 2925 miles
Climb:                  6710 m / 22,000 ft per minute

Weight -
Empty:                21,417 kg / 47,175 lb
Max. Take Off:   45,400 kg / 100,000 lb

Size -
Wingspan:          19.2 m / 63 ft, spread
                             9.74 m / 32 ft, swept
Wing Area:         48.77 sq m / 525 sq ft
Length:                22.4 m / 73 ft 6 in
Height:                5.22 m / 17 ft 1 in

                            1 - 20 mm / 0.78 in cannon
                            1 - nuclear bomb or
                            2 - 340 kg / 750 lb bombs in internal bomb bay
                            4 - underwing pylons for rockets, missiles or fuel tanks


First Variable Geometry Wing

The F-111 might best be described as a tactical strike aircraft with long range capability.  It was respected by its pilots and its adversaries and it proved itself in an action against Libya in 1986 and five years later in operation Desert Storm.    Shortly after becoming operational six of these aircraft were rushed to southeast Asia in March, 1968.  They were withdrawn the following month after three had been lost.  Several years later they were reintroduced as part of the Linebacker II bombing campaign over North Vietnam.  Despite losses during the course of 3,000 missions their deployment was considered successful.

Terrain Following Capability

The F-111 was capable of flying at near 60,000 feet or close to the deck at supersonic speed with the use of its advanced terrain-following radar.  This also gave it true all-weather capability as well as being able to fly night sorties.  It was used extensively in night attacks during Desert Storm to strike numerous strategic Iraqi targets.

C-135 Stratotanker

The U.S. Air Force employed the F-111 in the Strategic Air Command as an interim bomber prior to the arrival of Rockwell's B-1.  It had neither the range or payload of a strategic bomber but its ability to fly at supersonic speed 100 feet above the deck gave it enormous ability to penetrate air defenses and reach its target.  During the Cold War F-111 wings were generally stationed in England within range of Warsaw Pact targets.

Side-by-Side Cockpit

The F-111 does not have ejection seats.  Instead, crew members sit inside a pressurized, air-conditioned module that can separate from the aircraft with the aid of rocket boosters.  Navy specifications required the watertight module to have flotation devices and the Air Force retained this ability.  

MK-82 500 lb bombs

During operation Desert Storm F-111s with laser-guided weapons were used to knock out hardened aircraft shelters and bunkers.  Having eliminated these Iraqi resources they moved to targeting Iraqi armor in night attacks.  Specialized 'Varks, the EF-111A Raven, provided the Wild Weasel role of blinding opposing forces' air defense radar during ground strikes.  

Inner pylons pivot with wing

The inner pylons pivot as the wing changes from 13 degrees to 72 degrees in order that the ordnance remains parallel with the fuselage.  The two optional outermost pylons do not have this capability but they can be ejected from the wing.  The F-111 was the first of the swept-wing combat aircraft, capable of adjusting wing angle to maximize performance.

Retired 1996

The F-111 became the unintended bridge between the expensive B-58's early demise and the delayed introduction of the B-1 bomber.  562 F-111s were ultimately built but it never served the original role of an air superiority fighter.  Exclusive reliance on air-to-air missiles was proven to be premature in the skies over North Vietnam and the design of the F-111 was not that of a dogfighter.  Instead, its 2.5 Mach speed and advanced terrain following avionics made it a formidable opponent in its role of striking high value ground targets.



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