Country of origin
Dimensions and weight
Main rotor diameter
m spread, 9.74 m swept
Weight (maximum take off)
Engines and performance
2 x Pratt & Whitney TF30-P-100
Traction (dry / with afterburning)
2 x ? / 112 kN
2 655 km/h
5 190 km
2 140 km
1 x 20-mm rotary cannon
AGM-130 air-to-ground missile
up to 14.3 t of bombs, including conventional,
laser guided and nuclear
originated in studies for a replacement for Tactical Air Command's F-100 Super Sabres
and F-105 Thunderchiefs in the tactical strike role. Tactical Air
Command wanted an
aircraft which could operate from shorter runways. They also
required a longer ferry range as overseas deployments by F-100s were
often limited by refuelling problems. The aircraft would also be
optimized for very low-level penetration, including a final 370 km dash at Mach 1.2. It would be a multi-role aircraft, capable
of Mach 2.5 at high level in the interceptor role. This made it
inevitable that the successful design would have a variable
geometry, swing wing.
the fighter role and the demand for Mach 2.5 capability immediately
made the F-111 designers jobs more difficult. Their task, however,
would soon be immeasurably complicated by the incoming Secretary of
Defense, Robert McNamara. He directed that the USAF (whose primary
requirement was still for a low-level strike aircraft) and the US
Navy (who need a long-range carrierborne interceptor) should acquire
a common aircraft. This became known by the acronym TFX.
services initially welcomed the joint common fighter, until it
became clear that no single airframe could meet all the different
requirements. By then, however, the bit was between McNamara's
teeth, and he drove the program forward. Boeing and General Dynamics
competed for the lucrative TFX contract, which was awarded to the
latter company (the military favored the Boeing submission) in
November 1962. The General Dynamics design was more of a compromise,
and the US Navy and USAF versions were variants of a common
airframe. The Boeing aircraft, however, was tailored more closely to
the USAF requirement, while the Boeing Navy version had relatively
little commonality with the USAF variant. McNamara was later accused
of having bought the second best airplane at the higher price.
difficulties, barely controlled weight growth and massive cost
escalation characterized the remainder of the TFX's development.
During wind-tunnel testing severe drag problems were encountered.
Weight reduction programs on the naval version reduced commonality
to a mere 28 per cent or so, before the F-111B altogether, and
replaced by the
F-111A made its maiden flight on December 21, 1964, and soon ran
into further problems, not least of which was the TF30 engine. This
would later severely compromise the
F-14 programme as well!
aircraft entered service with the USAF's evaluation unit, the
General Dynamics F-111 began to win friends. The aircrews were blown
away by the aircraft's performance and its automatic terrain
following capability. Engineers were impressed by its reliability
CAT 1 testing was complete, in March 1968, six aircraft were
deployed to Vietnam for the Combat Lancer evaluation. These soon
demonstrated their combat effectiveness. But things soon went wrong
after three aircraft failed to return from routine missions. They
had all crashed due to structural fatigue failures. This eventually
led to a fleet-wide grounding and a cripplingly expensive series of
modifications and fixes.
intakes were redesigned, and avionics were improved, resulting in a
succession of sub-variants. The definitive F-111D finally entered
service in October 1971. The further improved F-111F (with more
powerful engines, improved avionics and Pave Tack pods for laser
designating) followed in early 1972. Strategic Air command even
acquired two Wings of FB-111s. These were dedicated strategic
nuclear strike aircraft, each carrying a pair of SRAMs. These
aircraft were eventually converted to F-111G standards and were
returned to the tactical role.
Australians must have rued their selection of the General Dynamics
F-111 over the British Aircraft Corportation TSR2 during the long years of delay and
disappointment. The 24 aircraft, which should have a cost A$112
million, were supposed to have been delivered from 1973, and cost
almost twice as much. The Royal Air Force did not have the opportunity to regret
its involvement in the F-111 program, since none were ever
delivered. Britain had cancelled its 50-aircraft order mainly
because the United States could not give a fixed price!
final years of its USAF career, the Aardvark finally lived down its
unfortunate early history. It was, however, never capable of the
kind of austere-strip Short Take-Off and Landing (STOL) operations once envisaged for it. The
F-111 was tied to long concrete runways as its predecessors had been.
Time and again, the F-111 proved invaluable in precision attacks
against vital targets. After attacking targets in Libya in 1986, the
F-111F played a vital role in the Gulf War. Some claimed that the
elderly Aardvark was actually the USAF's most effective and accurate
precision guided munitions and laser guided bombs delivery platform. Unfortunately, though, Operation
Desert Storm proved to be something of a final swansong for the
General Dynamics F-111.
EF-111 Raven was as an electronic warfare and defense
suppression aircraft. Its main mission was to jam enemy radar and
weapon systems. Grumman formed the EF-111 Raven by modifying
existing General Dynamics-built F-111A bombers (which cost $15
million to produce) at the cost of about $25 million US dollars.
Although expensive, the result was a reliable and effective aircraft
that fulfilled its intended role.
pressure for post-Cold War defense economies becoming increasingly
difficult to resist, the USAF finally withdrew its last F-111
bombers in July 1996. The EF-111 Raven electronic warfare
aircraft followed during 1998. This allowed the USAF to stop
supporting an entire aircraft type, with corresponding savings in logistics support
remains in service with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), who use the aircraft in the attack
and reconnaissance roles. The RAAF's aircraft have been
comprehensively upgraded and modernized with digital avionics, and
are able to use the latest precision-guided munitions. Australia's
original batch of 24 F-111Cs (four of them locally converted to
RF-111C standards). These aircraft were then augmented by four
F-111A attrition replacements delivered in 1982, and by 15 ex-USAF
F-111Gs delivered in 1993. These allos the Australian F-111
fleet to the maintained service life until 2020.
Video of the General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark tactical