General Dynamics F-111C

Last revised May 8, 2000




On October 24, 1963, the government of Australia agreed to purchase 24 F-111As as a replacement for the English Electric Canberra.

Initially, the Australian F-111 was to be virtually identical to the USAF F-111A, but by April of 1966 the configuration had changed to that of a hybrid between the F-111A and the FB-111A, to be designated F-111C. The F-111C was equipped with eight underwing pylons mounted on an F-111B-type larger span wing (span of 70 feet when fully extended). It was equipped with with an FB-111 type of reinforced undercarriage. The twenty-four F-111Cs were given the USAF serial numbers 67-125/148. Their RAAF serials were A8-125/148.

The first F-111C was officially handed over on September 6, 1968. However, the problems with the F-111A's wing carry-through box slipped delivery of the remaining 23 F-111Cs to late 1969. To make matters worse, the whole F-111 fleet had to be grounded pending verification of their overall structural integrity. The remaining F-111Cs awaiting delivery to Australia were stored at Fort Worth until the structural integrity of the F-111 could be confirmed.

In April of 1970, a joint agreement between General Dynamics and Australia deferred the RAAF's acceptance of the F-111C pending the verification of their structural integrity. The RAAF was to lease F-4E Phantoms as an interim aircraft while new wing carry-through boxes were installed on all F-111Cs before being delivered to the RAAF. This refurbishment program began on April 1, 1972.

In 1973 the F-111C was finally ready for delivery to the RAAF. The first F-111C was formally accepted on March 15, 1973. Australian crews came to the USA, and, one-by-one, these crews flew their new mounts from Fort Worth to McClellan AFB. Once at McClellan, the Australian crews flew several training missions before leaving for Australia. The first F-111C reached Australia on June 1, 1973, followed shortly thereafter by the rest of the fleet. The last F-111C was delivered to Australia on December 4, 1973.

The F-111Cs were operated by Nos. 1 and 6 Squadrons based at Amberley, Queensland. The F-111Cs replaced the RAAF's fleet of English Electric Canberra bombers that has been in use since the 1950s.

The F-111C carries the APQ-113 forward-looking attack radar, which is used for navigation, for air-to-ground ranging and for weapons delivery. In theory, this radar can also be used in the air-to-air mode in conjunction with the internal 20-mm cannon or Sidewinder missiles carried underwing, although this is not the primary mission of the F-111C.

A8-133 was lost in 1977 when it struck three pelicans. This demonstrated the vulnerability of the aircraft to birdstrikes during low-altitude high-speed operations, and laminated ADBRIT windshields were fitted to the entire fleet.

The RAAF had originally also ordered six reconnaissance versions known as the RF-111C. However, the USAF cancelled the entire RF-111A/RF-111D program in 1968, leaving the RAAF without the reconnaissance version it had ordered. In order to meet this need, a contract was signed with General Dynamics on December 31, 1974 for four of the original F-111Cs to be converted to the RF-111C reconnaissance role and delivered to Australia. The first of these (A8-126) was flown on April 17, 1979 and was redelivered in August of 1979. The remaining three aircraft were converted at Amberley using General Dynamics-supplied kits during 1980. The reconnaissance suite is mounted on a pack that fits inside the weapons bay. The reconnaissance "kit" comprises two CAI KS-87C split vertical framing cameras, a Fairchild KA-56E low-altitude and KA-93A4 high altitude panoramic camera, and a Honeywell AN/AAD-5 Infrared Linescanner. There is a TV viewfinder which assists with line up for the photo run. The aircraft is also equipped to allow photography of the AN/APQ-113 attack radar display. The RF-111C retains full conventional attack capability. The four RF-111Cs bear the serials A8-126, -134, -143, and -146, and they serve with No. 6 Squadron.

The F-111C can also carry the AN/AVQ-16 Pave Tack laser designation pod, fitted inside the weapons bay. A rotating cradle allows the pod to be carried entirely internally, rotating down only when actually in use. The first Pave Tack-capable F-111C (A8-138) was modified at Fort Worth in December 1983, ith the rest of the surviving fleet being modified at Amberley beginning in 1985.

The F-111C can carry the AGM-084A Harpoon anti-ship missile. The AGM-88 HARM anti-radiation missile was also tested on the F-111C, but has not been procured.

In 1982, four F-111As surplus to USAF requirements were transferred to the RAAF as attrition replacements. Before being delivered, they were modified to F-111C standards with longer span wings and strengthened undercarriages. Their RAAF serial numbers were A8-109, -112, -113, and -114.

Under Project AIR 5225, the RAAF planned to carry out an Avionics Upgrade Program (AUP) of the F-111C's largely analog avionics suite to fully digital standards. In August of 1990, Rockwell was given a contract to update 18 F-111Cs and four RF-111Cs at its Palmdale plant. Fully 90 percent of the electronics in the F-111C were replaced by more capable units. The upgraded aircraft has an improved digital Stores Management System which provides compatibility with a wider ranging group of weapons. The avionics is based on the MIL_STD-1553B digital databus. There is a new digital computer complex with two IBM AP-102 mission computers. The computer has a pre-programmable data cartridge which allows a fully-planned mission to be loaded into the aircraft before flight. There is a new navigation system built up around the Honeywell 423 (AN/ASN-41) ring laser gyro, augmented by a Rockwell-Collins GPS. The analog flight control system is replaced by a digital fly-by-wire system. The terrain-following radar is replaced by a Texas Instruments AN/APQ-171 system, and the beam mapping attack radar is upgraded to AN/APQ-169 standards. The first upgraded F-111C was A8-132. The last AUP-modified F-111C was returned to the RAAF at Amberley in November 1999. This upgrade should keep the RAAF F-111Cs flying until the year 2020.

In October 1992 it was announced that Australia planned to buy 18 surplus F-111Gs from the USAF to augment the 22 surviving F-111Cs in the RAAF fleet. The price was described as "bargain basement", about $AUD60-80M; plus $AUD10-15M per plane for upgrades. ($AUD 1 =~ $USD 0.72). Delivery began in 1994. One aircraft (68-272) was taken from AMARC storage, but the remainder were taken directly from Cannon AFB when the 27th Fighter Wing exchanged them for F-111Es.

There were some differences between the F-111Gs and the existing F-111Cs. The F-111G had a longer range and better ECM capabilities than the original F-111C. The F-111Gs had the more powerful TF30-P-107 turbofan rather than the P-103 of the F-111C and had different (Triple Plow II) intakes. The F-111G was not compatible with the Pave Tack laser designation pod and had an AYK-18 mission computer. Before their retirement, the F-111Gs were fitted with the ASN-41 ring laser gyro inertial navigation system and were fitted with an APN-218 Doppler. After delivery to Australia, these planes were fitted with the same digital flight control system as was fitted to the F-111Cs under AUP. There was some thought given to having the F-111Gs also go through the AUP upgrade

Initially, it was planned to use the F-111Gs primarily as spares, but also perhaps as a possible attrition reserve. However, by the time that the first two F-111Gs had arrived at Amberley on September 28, 1992, it had been decided that some of them would be used as an "in-use" reserve, and No 6 Squadron was given a flight of 6 F-111Gs.

Since 1994, the F-111Cs and RF-111Cs have been re-engined with TF30-P-109RA 20,840 lb.s.t. turbofans taken from retired F-111Ds and EF-111As.

There are plans to fit the F-111Cs with indigenous ALR-2002 radar warning receivers replacing the existing ALR-62. There are also plans to fit a radar jammer to replace the Sanders ALQ-91 and ALQ-137 defensive electronic countermeasures package. The ALR-2002 began flight trials during late 1999. AN/ALE-40 chaff/flare dispensers are replacing the AN/ALE-20. A request has been issued for a podded electronic countermeasures jammer, the AN/ALQ-131 and AN/ALQ-184 being possible contenders.

In 1998, the RAAF announced that it planned to keep its F-111 fleet flying until at least 2020. In order to support this plan, it was decided that the remaining F-111Gs would be reactivated and that ten redundant ex-USAF airframes would be acquired for cannibalization to form an attrition reserve. The RAAF will have the option to purchace the attrition reserve airframes directly at a later time should the need arise.

Serials of Australian F-111Cs

A8-125/A8-148		USAAF serials 67-125/148

A8-106	ex USAF F-111A 67-106 held in reserve in USA for RAAF spares
A8-109	Ex USAF F-111A 67-109 purchased by RAAF in 1982 and upgraded to F-111C
A8-112	Ex USAF F-111A 67-112 purchased by RAAF in 1982 and upgraded to F-111C
A8-113 	Ex USAF F-111A 67-113 purchased by RAAF in 1982 and upgraded to F-111C
A8-114	Ex USAF F-111A 67-114 purchased by RAAF in 1982 and upgraded to F-111C

A8-259	Ex USAF F-111G 68-259 
A8-264 	Ex USAF F-111G 68-264 
A8-265	Ex USAF F-111G 68-265
A8-270	EX USAF F-111G 68-270
A8-271	ex USAF F-111G 68-271
A8-272	ex USAF F-111G 68-272
A8-274	ex USAF F-111G 68-274
A8-277	ex USAF F-111G 68-277
A8-278	ex USAF F-111G 68-278
A8-281	ex USAF F-111G 68-281
A8-282	ex USAF F-111G 68-282
A8-291	ex USAF F-111G 68-291

Sources:


  1. United States Military Aircraft Since 1909, Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers, Smithsonian, 1989.

  2. General Dynamics Aircraft and their Predecessors, John Wegg, Naval Institute Press, 1990.

  3. Post-World War II Fighters: 1945-1973, Marcelle Size Knaac, Office of Air Force History, 1986.

  4. The American Fighter, Enzo Angelucci and Peter Bowers, Orion, 1987.

  5. The World Guide to Combat Planes, William Green, Macdonald, 1966.

  6. Modern Air Combat, Bill Gunston and Mike Spick, Crescent Books, 1983.

  7. Flying the Frontiers--NACA and NASA Experimental Aircraft, Arthur Pearcy, Naval Institute Press, 1993.

  8. F-111 Aardvark--USAF's Ultimate Strike Aircraft, Tony Thornborough, Osprey Aerospace, 1993.

  9. F-111 Aardvark, Hans Halberstadt, Specialty Press, 1992.

  10. Aussie Aardvark: The General Dynamics F-111, Jon Lake, Air International, Vol. 56, No. 4, April 2000.