Friday, December 6, 2013

The Friday Flyby - 06 December

A long, long time ago, back when dinosaurs ruled the Earth...

Okay, so it wasn't that long ago. But it was in the last quarter of the last century, '75 to be precise, Yours Truly was preparing to join the mightiest aerial force to ever bomb an enemy back into the Stone Age. Yup, the United States Air Force.

The Air Force that killed MiGs and still had a Strategic Air Command.

Yeah, those guys.

I was asked what I wanted to do in the Air Force. As I had not the eyesight to actually fly the great beasts of the air, I was resolved to work on them. I wished to become an aircraft maintainer. (Have I mentioned from time to time that I'm not always the "sharpest knife in the drawer"?)

At the time there were two maintenance jobs that my recruiter figured I'd be good at, both involved weapons control systems. One job was to maintain the F-4 Phantom II (the one I eventually picked), the other was on the F-111 "Aardvark" (not it's official name, for it never had one).

I chose the F-4 due to there being more duty stations available. At the time, the F-111 lived in only two places, Plattsburgh AFB, New York and RAF Lakenheath in the United Kingdom. Oh, I was sorely tempted at the mention of the UK. Then my recruiter mentioned that they deployed a lot. After he explained "deploy" to me (for I was young and green in the ways of the military in those days) I decided to go Phantoms. What would be the point of being stationed in England if one was never actually, you know, in England.

But since that day I have had a soft spot for the Aardvark. So here she is.

F-111 of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF)

From Wikipedia -
The General Dynamics F-111 "Aardvark" was a medium-range interdictor and tactical strike aircraft that also filled the roles of strategic bomber, reconnaissance, and electronic warfare 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 and several of its intended roles, such as naval interception, 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.
The U-2 incident of May 1960, in which an American CIA U-2 spy plane was shot down over the USSR, stunned the United States government. Besides greatly damaging Soviet relations, the incident showed that Russia had developed a surface-to-air missile that could reach aircraft above 60,000 feet. The United States Air Force Strategic Air Command (SAC) and the RAF Bomber Command's plans to send subsonic, high-altitude B-47 and V bomber formations into the USSR were now much less viable. By 1960, SAC had begun moving to low-level penetration. This greatly reduces radar detection distances; and, at that time, SAMs were ineffective against low-flying aircraft, and interceptor aircraft did not have as large a speed advantage at low-level. The Air Force's Tactical Air Command (TAC) was largely concerned with the fighter-bomber and deep strike/interdiction roles. TAC was in the process of receiving its latest design, the Republic F-105 Thunderchief, which was designed to deliver nuclear weapons fast and far, but required long runways. A simpler variable geometry wing configuration with the pivot points further out from the aircraft's centerline was reported by NASA in 1958, which made swing wings viable. This led Air Force leaders to encourage its use. In June 1960, the USAF issued specification SOR 183 for a long-range interdiction/strike aircraft able to penetrate Soviet air defenses at very low altitudes and high speeds. The specification also called for the aircraft to operate from short, unprepared airstrips.

In the 1950s the United States Navy sought a long-range, high-endurance interceptor aircraft to protect its carrier battle groups against long-range anti-ship missiles launched from Soviet jet bombers and submarines. The Navy needed a fleet air defense (FAD) fighter with a more powerful radar, and longer range missiles than the F-4 Phantom II to intercept both enemy bombers and missiles. Seeking a FAD fighter, the Navy started with the subsonic, straight-winged aircraft, the Douglas F6D Missileer in 1957. The Missileer was designed to carry six long-range missiles and loiter for five hours, but would be defenseless after firing its missiles. The program was canceled in December 1960. The Navy had tried variable geometry wings with the XF10F Jaguar, but abandoned it in the early 1950s. It was NASA's simplification which made the variable geometry wings practical. By 1960, increases in aircraft weights required improved high-lift devices, such as variable geometry wings. Variable geometry offered high speeds, and maneuverability with heavier payloads, long range, and the ability to takeoff and land in shorter distances.
11-Ship Formation of Aardvarks

F-111 Trap

F-111 On Deck

RAAF 6 Squadron F-111 Fuel Dump
(Often mistaken for afterburner, see next photo)

RAF Lakenheath Bird, Actually in 'Burner
(i.e. not dumping fuel)

EF-111A "Raven" Flying in Operation Deny Flight

Great Shot of an Aussie 'Vark

F-111F and EF-111A in Formation

Above the Clouds

So yeah, this could have been me!


  1. The F-111 was also a test aircraft for the first FADEC (Full Authority Digital Engine Controls) systems. NASA and the USAF collaborated on the IPCS (Integrated Propulsion Control System), which was the forerunner to FADEC.

    1. Cool link. You have far too much time on your hands Spill.


  2. Never agreed with the F part of the designation. In my mind, A or B would have been better suited.

    1. I with you there Juvat. Later on they started calling her the FB-111. Closer to the mark, but I'd go with A-111. Way more accurate.

  3. The EF-111A was known colloquially as the "Spark 'vark."

    And the Aardvark *did* become the official nickname. On the very day the last of the fleet was retired.

    1. Spark 'vark, I like it.

      As to the day Aardvark did become the "official" nickname? Classic Air Force. (He said with a great deal of chagrin...)

  4. I spent 15 months at Plattsburgh with the mighty FB-111. If I'm not mistaken, the picture captioned, "This could have been me" was taken at P-Burgh. Loudest freakin' airplane in the inventory.

    1. I've only heard them a few times. But I couldn't tell how loud they were with all the Phantoms and Dash-60s in my vicinity when I did see them.

      A fellow airman? Nice to hear from you.

    2. Sarge, Max was/is a plank owner of the Mothership commentariat --a NAVY and/or contractor EE type, iirc..

    3. Thanks for the info Virgil. I thought the handle looked familiar.

  5. So yeah, this could have been me!

    That WAS SN1... his first USAF job was working on the laser designator system on-board the F-111s at Lakenheath... so any of those "LN" birds pictured might have felt his tender ministrations.

    The "CC" birds hit kinda close to home, too. We have one of those SparkVarks sitting in the grass near the Class Six store at Cannon Airplane Patch. But that was before my time... when I arrived in the area Lawn Darts were the airframe o' choice. Now it's all about AC/EC-130s, drones, and some "non-standard" stuff.

    1. No kidding? Wow.

      I still get kick out of that "Lawn Darts" nickname.

    2. Speakin' o' Lawn Darts... here's SNs One and Three with one of 'em. Life was pretty good when SN1 was at Cannon... I got to go to a lot o' neat places and stuff.

    3. Sweet!

      Fine looking boys. You should be very proud of your sons.

  6. Navy was 'forced' to take a squadron of them, they were immediately flown to the boneyard, where they sit to this day... Too heavy, couldn't carry enough gas if loaded out with armament...

    1. Yup, just what you want for a carrier bird.

      (Government stupidity has been around for a long time, hasn't it?)

  7. That F-111 trapping blew my mind- I had no idea the Navy ever had them, even for just a short time due to their weight.They couldn't put it on FEP? (Fitness Enhancement Program). Heck, if we can land a C-130 onboard, we can land an Aardvark

    1. I remember watching that Herky trap a few months ago.

      Now that blew my mind.

  8. The F-111: The greatest long-range, all wx, low-level strike fighter ever accidentally invented..

    If you want a good read on the history and politics of the F-111 procurement process and selection of design criteria read "The TFX Decision" by the political scientist Robert J. Art. A seminal work.

    Y'all DO realize, don't you, that there are STILL some VITAL msn profiles that we now cannot fly because we retired the F-11 just to save its high maint costs to free up money for the F-35? NOT TO MENTION the loss of the best ECM bird we had when the EA-111 went away

    1. Like I mentioned above, government stupidity is not a new phenomenon.


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