Friends of the RAAF General Dynamics F-111C/G (RF-111C)

RAAF GENERAL DYNAMICS F-111C/G (RF-111C):

No aircraft's introduction into RAAF service has been as controversial as that of the F-111. Conceived in the early 1960s as the TFX (Tactical Fighter Experimental), the F-111 was to provide a strike capability to the US Air Force Tactical Air Command (TAC) with the F-111A and later models, and to the Strategic Air Command (SAC) with the FB-111 series. Additionally, an air superiority capability for the US Navy was to be provided by the F-111B variant that was later discontinued in favour of the F-14.

For the Canberra replacement in 1963, the Australian Government took the unusual step of ordering 24 TFX aircraft while they were still in the design phase. This led to much criticism over subsequent years as development problems and escalating costs plagued the F-111 production program. Perhaps this could have been expected of such a radical design utilising variable geometry (sweeping wings), and terrain-following radar, which allowed automatic blind low-level flight.

The 24 RAAF aircraft, designated as F-111Cs (serialled A8-125 to A8-148) were similar to the F-111A version, but with the longer wings and heavier undercarriage of the FB-111A.

The first F-111C was handed over to the RAAF on 4 September 1968, but problems with the wing carry-through box (the advanced wing sweep mechanism) delayed delivery to Australia. After further development and testing, and after much negotiation regarding aircraft fatigue life, the aircraft remained stored at General Dynamics until final acceptance in 1973. For part of this period, 24 F-4E Phantoms were leased to Australia to provide an interim attack capability.

The F-111 equips RAAF Nos 1 and 6 Squadrons of No 82 Wing in the Air Combat Group (ACG) for maritime and land strike. Four have been modified to become RF-111C reconnaissance aircraft. These are used by No 6 Squadron, which is also tasked with crew conversion to the F-111.

In October 1992 the Minister for Defence announced the proposed acquisition of up to 18 surplus US Air Force F-111s to extend the type's service life. Ultimately 15 F-111G models were selected as the most suitable for introduction to RAAF service.

F-111C aircraft were produced in 1968 and at the time of their retirement in 2010 remained unsurpassed in capability. The aircraft type was retired in late 2010 after giving 40 years of service. For an attack warplane, this is unprecedented and a truly remarkable feat.

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