Open thread – Remember the Pig!

It’s almost time to say farewell to the General Dynamics F-111, which is affectionately nicknamed the Pig in Australia and the Aardvark in America.


F111 dumb and burn avalon 2005 credit RAAF blog 560.jpgPhoto: RAAF

The Royal Australian Air Force formally retires the F-111C fleet next Thursday. With the US Air Force F-111Fs and EF-111G Ravens retired since 1997, the story of this long-range strike fighter will be complete.

The F-111 emerged after perhaps the most controversial weapons contract award in history. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara overruled the recommendation of his military evaluators, which overwhelmingly favored Boeing’s riskier approach, and gave the contract to General Dynamics. McNamara’s private decision triggered several years of congressional investigations. Meanwhile, his decision to force the US Air Force and US Navy to buy a common airframe proved at least as controversial, with the Navy finally allowed to drop out of the program in 1968 and paving the way for the F-14. The F-111′s reputation remained stained by its acquisition legacy until it proved its worth in Operation El Dorado Canyon on April 14, 1986, when the US Air Force bombed five Libyan bases.

I was lucky enough to witness the RAAF’s F-111Cs perform the famous dump-and-burn trick at the Singapore air show in February. I also saw a couple of F-111Cs flying over RAAF Amberley in May. Yesterday, the RAAF posted a video tribute to the Pig on its YouTube channel, which I’ve embedded below (note strange audio editing error at 1:19 mark).

Meantime, feel free to post your thoughts, memories and comments about the F-111 here today.


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9 Responses to Open thread – Remember the Pig!

  1. John S. 24 November, 2010 at 2:40 pm #

    I worked on the avionics for the F-111A during my four year enlisted stint in the USAF from 1977-81.

    The “highlight” of my career was when we mustered every flyable aircraft to deploy to Turkey just prior to what turned out to be the failed Hostage Rescue Attempt and the tradegy at Desert One. Out of a base of just over 100 aircraft, during those lean Carter years we were able to launch just about 1/3 of them, with 24 making it to Turkey. The rest were grounded due to a lack of spares or other deferred heavy maintenance.

    Conversion of the F-111A fleet to the EF-111A started soon afterwards.

    The saddest day of my life was when the USAF short-sightedly retired the EF-111A in order to fund the acquitision of the F-22. Even though the F-111Fs with their Pave Tack targeting pods shone during Operation El Dorado Canyon and during Desert Storm, these days a Sniper pod on any F-15 or F-16 can do the same job much cheaper.

    But the escort jammer role was made for the EF-111A, and it is to this day a sorely missed capability.

  2. jetcal1 24 November, 2010 at 5:30 pm #

    We pulled on of these into our hangar at NAS Miramar in the mid ’80′s.

    It was longer than the hangar was wide. No closing the doors with that bird spotted there.

    My one outstanding memory is how massive the main gear was.
    I know it was supposed to be carrier capable as the B model, but it looked like some crazy Russian with some sort of fetish for operating out of short, unimproved fields designed that gear!

  3. William C. 25 November, 2010 at 5:18 am #

    Jetcal1 I believe the landing gear was designed for operating out of rough unprepared runways.

  4. FighterFan 25 November, 2010 at 10:01 am #

    Stephen – actually, I think the Vark redeemed itself long before El Dorado Canyon: in the second deployment to Vietnam in 1972 during Linebacker, the Vark had showed its effectiveness and had the lowest loss rate of any US combat a/c. The jet earned the “Whispering Death” moniker because of the way it could sneak up on its targets.

    John S – I thought it was the decision to fund joint USAF/Navy Prowler squadrons, because of the perceived greater effectiveness of the Prowler, and not the F-22 that led to the Spark Vark’s demise.

  5. K 26 November, 2010 at 8:36 pm #

    McNamara’s folly. A useful asset at a far too expensive price. If you want to hear a Brit aerospace geek go off, mention TSR-2 and F111.

  6. FighterFan 29 November, 2010 at 7:38 am #

    Stephen – actually, I think the Vark proved its worth long before El Dorado Canyon: in 1972, during the second deployment to Vietnam during Linebacker, Varks flew unescorted into Route Pack 6′s defenses, but yet had the lowest loss rate of any USAF combat aircraft.

    John S. – IIRC, it was the decision to fund joint USAF/Navy Prowler squadrons (because of the perceived greater effectiveness of the Prowler) and not the F-22, that led to the demise of the Spark Vark.

  7. Jim Atkins 30 November, 2010 at 1:28 am #

    Got to see the dump-and-burn at an Edwards airshow in the early 80′s- there were about 100,000 in the crowd and all of them went “WHOA!” at the same time. Unforgettable sight!

  8. jetcal1 30 November, 2010 at 2:35 pm #

    I knew about the rough field, but seeing the gear up close was something else. Being a naval aircraft mechanic made me aware of the need for stout mounts, but this something entirely different. I stand by my designer with a fetish comment.

    The Brits have good reason to go off on the F-111. Not only did kill the TSR, but I would add that it was one of the nails in the British aerospace industry.

  9. georgeb 19 December, 2010 at 3:20 am #

    As a boy playing in my backyard I remember the first time I saw a small group of F-111s flying in to land at Sydney Airport many years ago. Over the years they have become part of Australian history despite never having gone into action. It’s very sad to see them go. Many a mediocre Australian air show has been rescued by the powerful display and dump and burns performed by the F-111.
    The F-111Cs themselves were assessed as being safe to operate until at least 2020 by the scientists at DSTO. Witness how the B-52 and B-1B will be flying until 2030-2040. The decision to retire the F-111 prematurely was purely to save money. The DOD bureaucrats have been after the F-111 for many years due to its high running costs ( capability costs doesn’t it? ). These aircraft were often starved of funds for required upgrades such as new ECM, new targeting pods, JDAM capability or 21st century communications. The RAAF hierarchy went through phases of pro and anti-F-111 bias over the years. Currently it seems the “fighter mafia” are in control and they need their next shiny new toy. The JSF.
    The reason given for the retirement (?execution} of the F-111 was that there might be an unforeseen structural problem emerging in future that could threaten the crew’s lives. Note how a proven structural problem in some of our F-18s did not force a retirement, they were merely disassembled, flown to Canada and their centre barrels replaced at significant cost!
    The retirement of the F-111 was barely mentioned in the press. The Australian public should be outraged at the waste of an important and expensive asset, despite its age.
    I’m sure that the RAAF will probably melt them down as scrap rather than donating them to museums around Australia. Certainly the next Avalon Air Show in March 2011 will be missing some firepower. Some magic will be gone forever Just like an English air show without a hovering Harrier GR or SHAR hi=overing in front of the crowd and bowing, Very sad.
    I will always remember them as one of my favorite aircraft.

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