F-111B – a victim of the air war over Vietnam

The retirement of Australia‘s F-111Cs last week endedthe long story of a successful, and iconic, long range bomber. Many forget,however, that US Navy’s version of the aircraft, the F-111B, was a failure.

The F-111B was big like the F-111C, though ithad a stubbier nose to make carrier landings easier. Conceived as pure fighter (thenaval version of the Tactical Fighter Experimental) in the early sixties, itwould not need a gun. The F-111B’s AWG-9 pulse doppler radar and Phoenix missiles (120lbwarhead, 100 mile + range) would ensure that nothing could get near it – ever.

The air war over Southeast Asia, however, ended all hope for the F-111B. In that war nimble (andcheap) Migs and their guns proved a serious problem for big American fightersand their advanced missiles – which, to be fair, often failed to work properlyin the humid and hot combat conditions. The best performing US fighter ofthe war was probably the old F-8 Crusader with super manoeuvrability, amplepower, and four 20mm cannons.  

Extensive trials showed the F-111B’s manoeuvrabilityto be inferior to that of the F-4 Phantom, the plane it was designed to replaceon carrier decks. It proved to be yet another peacetime weapons systemcondemned by the unforgiving realities of war.

The F-14 Tomcat was eventually adopted as thepremiere carrier fighter, reigning on carrier decks for three decades, beforefinally being retired in 2006.

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