United States Navy Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force
US$38 million in 1998
The Grumman F-14 Tomcat is a supersonic twin-engine, two-seat, variable geometry wing aircraft. During its active service in the United States Navy (1972-2006) the F-14 Tomcat was the Navy's primary maritime air superiority fighter and tactical reconnaissance platform. It later performed precision strike missions once it was integrated with LANTIRN. It was developed after the collapse of the F-111B project, and was the first of the American teen-series fighters which were designed incorporating the experience of air combat in Vietnam against migs.
It entered service in 1972 with the Navy, replacing the F-4 Phantom II. It was later exported to the Imperial Iranian Air Force in 1976. It was retired from the U.S. Navy fleet on September 22, 2006, having been replaced by the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. As of 2006, only the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force still flies the aircraft.
Main article: History of the F-14 Tomcat
The F-14 Tomcat program was initiated when it became obvious that the issues with the F-111B, the Navy variant of the Tactical Fighter Experimental (TFX), primarily over weight and maneuverability would not be resolved to the Navy's satisfaction. The Navy requirement was for a fleet air defense fighter (FADF) with the primary role of intercepting Soviet bombers before they could launch missiles against the carrier group, but the navy also wanted the aircraft to possess inherent air superioriy characteristics. The Navy strenuously opposed the TFX, which incorporated the Air Force's requirements for a low-level attack aircraft, fearing the compromises would cripple the aircraft, but were forced to participate in the program at direction of then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara who wanted "joint" solutions to the service aircraft needs to reduce developmental costs. The prior example of the F-4 Phantom that was a Navy program that was then adopted by the USAF (under similar direction) was the order of the day. Vice Admiral Connolly, DCNO for Air Warfare took the developmental F-111A for a flight and discovered it was unable to go supersonic and had poor landing characteristics. He later testified to Congress about his concerns against the official Department of the Navy position and in May 1968, Congress killed funding for the F-111B allowing the Navy to pursue an answer tailored to their requirements. NAVAIR shortly issued an RFP for the Naval Fighter Experimental (VFX), a tandem two-seat fighter with maximum speed of Mach 2.2 and a secondary close air support role. Of the five companies that submitted bids (four of which incorporated variable-geometry wings as on the F-111), McDonnell Douglas and Grumman were selected as finalists in December 1968, and Grumman won the contract in January 1969. Grumman had been a partner on the F-111B, and had started work on an alternative when they saw the project heading south, and so had an edge on its competitors. Their early design mockups and cost projections were floated among Navy brass as an alternative to the F-111B.
The winning Grumman design reused the TF30 engines from the F-111B, though the Navy planned on replacing them with the F401 engines then under development for the USAF by Pratt and Whitney. Though lighter than the F-111B, it was still the largest and heaviest U.S. fighter to ever fly from an aircraft carrier, its size a consequence of the requirement to carry the large AWG-9 radar and AIM-54 Phoenix missiles, also from the F-111B and an internal fuel load of 16,000 lbs. To reduce costs, the F-14 would also share the landing gear, air ducts, and wing of the Grumman A-6 Intruder.
Upon being granted the contract for the F-14, Grumman greatly expanded its Calverton, Long Island, New York facility to test and evaluate the new swing-wing interceptor. Much of the testing was in the air of the Long Island Sound as well as the first few in-flight mishaps, including the first of many compressor stalls and ejections. In order to save time and forestall interference from Secretary McNamara, the Navy skipped the prototype phase and jumped directly to full-scale development; the Air Force took a similar approach with its F-15.
The F-14 first flew on December 21, 1970, just 22 months after Grumman was awarded the contract, and reached Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in 1973. While the Marine Corps was interested in the F-14 and went so far as to send pilots to VF-124 to train as instructors, they were never fully sold on the aircraft and pulled out when the stores management system for ground attack munitions was left undeveloped, leaving the aircraft incapable of dropping air-to-ground munitions (these were later developed in the 1990's).
See also: Combat history of the F-14
An F-14A of VF-84 Jolly Rogers, in the old color scheme from the beginning of its service.
The F-14 began replacing the F-4 Phantom II in USN service starting in September 1974 with squadrons VF-1 Wolfpack and VF-2 Bounty Hunters aboard USS Enterprise and participated in the American withdrawal of Saigon. The F-14 had its first kills on August 19, 1981 over the Gulf of Sidra in what is known as the Gulf of Sidra incident after two F-14s from VF-41 Black Aces were engaged by two Libyan Su-22 'Fitters'. The F-14s evaded the short range heat seeking AA-2 'Atoll' missile and returned fire, downing both Libyan aircraft. U.S. Navy F-14s once again were pitted against Libyan aircraft on January 4, 1989, when two F-14s from VF-32 shot down two Libyan MiG-23 'Floggers' over the Gulf of Sidra in a second Gulf of Sidra incident.
Despite the attention given to the Tomcat over aerial encounters in the Gulf of Sidra, its first sustained combat baptism of fire was as a Photo Reconnaissance platform. The Tomcat was selected to inherit the Reconnaissance mission upon departure of the dedicated RA-5C Vigilante and RF-8G Crusaders from the fleet. A large pod called the Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance Pod System or TARPS was developed to house three sensors: a two position 6” KS-87 frame camera in the forward bay capable of forward oblique or vertical shots selectable by the RIO, a 9” KA-99 panoramic camera capable of narrow or wide field of view in the center bay and an AAD-5 InfraRed line scanner in the aft bay. All camera settings were selected by the RIO although the pilot could initiate camera operation if set up to do so in proper position by the RIO. TARPS entered fleet service by 1979 with VF-84 and was intended to be an interim system until a dedicated F/A-18R variant was fully developed. One of each two Tomcat squadrons per airwing was designated as a TARPS unit and received 3 TARPS capable aircraft and training for 4 TARPS aircrews. The TARPS pod was carried on the starboard aft side of the belly stations with ballast (AIM-54 Phoenix pallets or inert Sparrow missiles) in the forward missile stations.
An F-14A Tomcat from VF-114 intercepting a Soviet Tu-95RT 'Bear-D' maritime patrol aircraft.
While the Tomcat was being used in combat in its intended air superiority mission over the skies of Iran in the early eighties, the US Navy found itself flying regular daily combat missions over Lebanon to photograph activity in the Bekaa Valley. At the time, the Tomcat had been thought too large and vulnerable to be used overland, but the need for imagery was so great that Tomcat aircrews developed high speed medium altitude tactics to deal with considerable AAA and SA-7 SAM threat in the Bekaa area. An urgent combat need was stated to address the Tomcat vulnerability in this type of mission. The first exposure to a Tomcat to a SA-2 was over Somalia in April 1983 when a local battery was unaware of 2 Tomcats scheduled for a TARPS missions in prelude to an upcoming international exercise in vicinity of Berbera. An SA-2 was fired at the second Tomcat while conducting 10 thousand foot mapping profile at max conserve setting. The Tomcat aircrews spotted the missile launch and dove for the deck thereby evading it without damage. The unexpected demand for combat TARPS laid the way for high altitude sensors such as the KA-93 36” Long Range Optics (LOROP) to be rapidly procured for the Tomcat as well as an Expanded Chaff Adapter (ECA) to be incorporated in a AIM-54 Phoenix Rail. Commercial “Fuzz buster” type radar detectors were also procured and mounted in pairs in the forward cockpit as a stop gap solution to detect SAM radars such as the SA-6. The ultimate solution was upgrade to the ALR-67 then being developed, but it would not be ready until the advent of the F-14A+ in the latter 80s. During the Gulf of Sidra operations in 1986, the Tomcats were used in over water missions only due to their vulnerability overland. It was not until Desert Shield that US Navy Tomcats were introduced to overland combat operations on a regular basis.
An F-14A Tomcat from VF-32 during Desert Storm.
The participation of the F-14 Tomcat in the 1991 Operation Desert Storm consisted of Combat Air Patrol (CAP) over the Red Sea and Persian Gulf and overland missions consisting of strike escort and reconnaissance. Until the waning days of Desert Storm, in country air superiority was tasked to USAF F-15 Eagles due to the way the Air Tasking Orders (ATO) delegated primary overland CAP stations to the F-15 Eagle. The governing Rules of Engagement (ROE) also dictated a strict Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) requirement when employing Beyond Visual Range weapons such as the AIM-7 Sparrow and particularly the AIM-54 Phoenix. This hampered the Tomcat from using its most powerful weapon. Furthermore, the powerful emissions from the AWG-9 are detectable at great range with a radar warning receiver. Iraqi fighters routinely displayed countertactics as soon as the Tomcats "lit up" them up with the AWG-9. The Iraqis would immediately abandon the attack while well out of range, perhaps indicating their familiarity with both the Tomcat and the AIM-54 from previous encounters with Iranian F-14s.The F-14 suffered its only loss from enemy action on January 21, 1991 when b/n 161430, an F-14A upgraded to an F-14A+, from VF-103 was shot down by an SA-2 surface-to-air missile while on an escort mission near Al Asad airbase in Iraq. Both crew survived ejection with the pilot being rescued by USAF Special Forces and the RIO being captured by and held by Iraqi troops as a POW until the end of the war. The F-14 also achieved its final and only kill of the war on February 7, 1991 when a F-14A from VF-1 downed an Iraqi Mi-8 'Hip' helicopter with an AIM-9 Sidewinder.
In 1995, F-14s from VF-14 and VF-41 participated in Operation Deliberate Force as well as Operation Allied Force in 1999, and in 1998, VF-32 and VF-213 participated in Operation Desert Fox. On February 15, 2001 the Joint Direct Attack Munition or JDAM was added to the Tomcat's arsenal. On October 7, 2001 F-14s would lead some of the first strikes into Afghanistan marking the start of Operation Enduring Freedom and the first F-14 drop of a JDAM occurred on March 11, 2002. F-14s from VF-2, VF-31, VF-32, VF-154, and VF-213 would also participate in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The F-14Ds of VF-2, VF-31, and VF-213 obtained JDAM capability in March of 2003. On December 10, 2005, the F-14Ds of VF-31 and VF-213 were upgraded with a ROVER III downlink, a system originally designed for use with unmanned aerial vehicles which allows a Forward Air Controller (FAC) on the ground to see real-time images acquired by the aircraft's sensors by transmitting these images to the FAC's laptop. The F-14s of VF-31 and VF-213 deployed on its last combat cruise on USS Theodore Roosevelt in 2005.
An F-14 and F/A-18 prepare to launch from USS Enterprise (CVN-65), 1985.
While the F-14 had been developed as a light weight alternative to the 80,000 lb F-111B, the F-14 was still the largest and most expensive fighter in its time. VFAX was revived in the 1970s as a lower cost solution to replacing the Navy's fleet of USMC Phantoms, and A-7. VFAX would be merged with the USAF Light Weight Fighter fighter competition, from which the F/A-18 Hornet emerged as roughly a midsize fighter.
Main article: Super Hornet Replacement Controversy
The Navy and Secretary of Defense would reject Grumman proposals to the Navy to upgrade the Tomcat beyond the D model (such as the Super Tomcat 21, the cheaper QuickStrike version, and the more advanced Attack Super Tomcat 21). Instead, the Navy elected to retire the F-14 and chose the F/A-18E/F to fill the roles of fleet defense and strike formerly filled by the F-14.
The F-14 has completed its retirement from US Naval service. At one point, it was slated to remain in service through at least 2008, but all F-14A and F-14B airframes have already been retired, and the last two squadrons, the VF-31 Tomcatters and the VF-213 Black Lions, both flying the "D" models, arrived for their last fly-in at Naval Air Station Oceana on March 10, 2006.
The last F-14 combat mission was completed on February 8, 2006, when a pair of Tomcats landed aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt after one dropped a bomb in Iraq. The plane was part of VF-31 and the last pilot credited with a bomb drop in combat was Lt. Bill Frank. An F-14D from VF-213 was the last F-14 to land on an aircraft carrier after a combat mission; it was piloted by Capt. William G. Sizemore. During their final deployment with the USS Theodore Roosevelt, VF-31 and VF-213 collectively completed 1,163 combat sorties totaling 6,876 flight hours, and dropped 9,500 pounds of ordnance during reconnaissance, surveillance, and close air support missions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. On March 10, 2006, the 22 planes from these squadrons flew in formation into Naval Air Station Oceana, home from the last combat deployment of the F-14. VF-213 pilots and radar intercept officers (RIO) who have made the transition to the Super Hornet continued F/A-18F (two seat) training as of April 2006. The squadron was operational, or "safe for flight," with the F/A-18F as of September 2006. VF-31 remained operational in the F-14 Tomcat under the Fleet Response Plan (FRP) through September and conducted the last carrier qualifications in late July maintaining their ability to deploy right up until the end. VF-31 pilots who were making the transition to the Super Hornet began F/A-18E (single seat) training in October 2006. VFA-31 will be safe for flight in April 2007, making it the last official Tomcat squadron in the Navy.
The last flight of the F-14 Tomcat in US service took place October 4, 2006, with the "official" final flight retirement ceremony on September 22, 2006. Two F-14s were readied for the ceremonial final flight; after the primary plane experiencing mechanical problems, a backup was flown instead. The failure was a reminder of one of the reasons for the retirement, high maintenance costs. The F-14 Tomcat was officially retired on September 22, 2006 at Naval Air Station Oceana. The F-14 fleet is mothballed at the Davis-Monthan "Boneyard."
A "Top Gun" F-14A, painted to resemble an Iranian fighter for adversary training.
The sole foreign customer for the Tomcat was the Imperial Iranian Air Force (since 1979 Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force) during the reign of the last Shah (King) of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
In the early 1970s, the Imperial Iranian Air Force (IIAF) was searching for an advanced fighter, specifically one capable of intercepting Soviet MiG-25 'Foxbat' reconnaissance flights. After a visit of US President Nixon to Iran in 1972, during which Iran was offered the latest in American military technology, the IIAF narrowed its choice to the F-14 Tomcat or McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle. Following preliminary negotiations with the Pentagon, and basing their decision on the performance of the AWG-9 radar and weapons system, including the AIM-54 Phoenix missiles, the Iranians selected the Tomcat. Having no knowledge of Iran's selection, almost a year later the Grumman Corporation issued a formal offer to the Shah of Iran, and eventually arranged a competitive demonstration of the Eagle against the Tomcat.
Following a flying display of the two fighters before the Shah, in January 1974 Iran issued an order for 30 F-14s and 424 Phoenix missiles, initiating Project Persian King, worth US$300 million. Only a few months later, this was expanded by an order for 50 additional F-14As and 290 AIM-54s. The Iranian order for 80 Tomcats and 714 Phoenix missiles, spare parts, and replacement engines for ten years, complete armament package, and support infra-structure (including construction of the huge Khatami Air Base in the desert near Esfahan) finally totalled US$2 billion, and was considered at the time to be the highest value single foreign military sale in US history.
The first F-14 arrived in January 1976, modified only by the removal of classified avionics components, but fitted with the TF-30-414 engines. The following year 12 more were delivered. Meanwhile, training of the first groups of Iranian crews was underway in the USA, and one of these conducted a successful shoot-down of a drone flying at 50,000 feet with a Phoenix missile. Additional tests were undertaken in 1977, and in October 1978 two Iranian Tomcats intercepted a Soviet MiG-25 along the Iranian coast of the Caspian Sea, convincing Moscow to stop overflights of Iran.
Following the overthrow of the Shah, the regime of Ayatollah Khomeini canceled most Western arms orders. Large shipments of spares were held back, including the last Tomcat built for Iran. which was embargoed and eventually turned over to the United States Navy. According to Tom Cooper, and contrary to some reports, Iranian F-14s were not sabotaged following the Shah's overthrow. Deteriorating relations between the U.S. and Iran led to an arms embargo being imposed on Iran, which covered parts for its western fighters and missiles. Accounts differ on the ability of the IIAF to obtain parts and operate the F-14 or AIM-54. Some rumors suggest that a few of the missiles supplied to Iran before the revolution were sold to the Soviet Union, where they may have strongly influenced the development of the similar AA-9 'Amos' long-range missile. Most evidence, however, would not support this claim intelligence reports state that the Iranians not only used their Phoenix missiles effectively in combat but against agile enemy fighters as well. One such reported incident involves an Iranian Tomcat firing a single Phoenix missile at 4 Iraqi Mirage F-1s during their formation change, causing the hit and downing of all four. Iran apparently now also produces locally their own upgraded version of the AIM-54 through their previous R&D on the system. Iran has also modified their Tomcats to fire the Russian R-73 air-to-air missile.
Under Project Sky Hawk, the Iranians fitted MIM-23 Hawk surface-to-air missiles on their Tomcats as an ersatz AAM. Another similar project resulted in the IRIAF arming its F-14s with Mk.83-series bombs and deploying it as a fighter-bomber in combat. It is also rumored that at least one F-14 crew defected to Russia with their aircraft and that Russian scientists were allowed access to Iranian F-14s to aid in their maintenance and upgrade - including new Russian radars, engines, and avionics. Both the Iranians and Russians deny these claims.
The combat record of the F-14 in IRIAF service is much debated. In 1980, the downing of a Soviet-built Iraqi Tu-22 'Blinder' bomber was observed by AWACS crews, while other incidents remain unconfirmed. Western estimates place the figure at four or five kills; Iran claims 35-45 kills. Recent books by Tom Cooper and Farzad Bishop claim nearly 150 kills.
The F-14 features variable geometry wings that sweep automatically during flight. It is armed with an internal 20-mm Vulcan Gatling-type gun mounted on the left side, and can carry Phoenix, Sparrow, and Sidewinder ant-aircraft missiles.
Close-up view of the distinctive afterburner petals that distinguish the GE F110 engine.
The F-14 received its first of many major upgrades in March 1987 with the introduction of the F-14A+. Although various systems were upgraded, the biggest improvement of all was the replacement of the TF30 engines with the General Electric F110-400. Along with the long overdue engines, the F-14A+ also included the state of the art ALR-67 Radar Homing and Warning (RHAW) system bringing the Tomcat up to date with latest threats. All F-14A+ were redesignated F-14B on May 1, 1991. The Tomcat had suffered throughout its fleet service with the TF-30 that had been planned to be only an interim solution until the more powerful P&W F401 engines were available. The TF30 had been plagued from the start with susceptability to compressor stalls at high AoA and during rapid throttle transients during ACM or above 30,000 feet giving rise to comment that pilots had to "fly the engines" and not the aircraft. Even more importantly, the F110 engine provided a significant increase in thrust over the 20,900 lb. thrust TF-30 with 27,600 pounds of thrust in afterburner giving the Tomcat better than a 1:1 thrust-to-weight at low fuel quantities. The basic engine thrust without afterburner was powerful enough to no longer require afterburner for carrier launches further increasing the safety margin. The principal benefit was in tactical application where the Tomcat could now cruise comfortably above 30,000 feet increasing range and survivability. Tomcat aircrews also found the Tomcat to be much competitive in the Air Combat Maneuvering arena. The F-14A+ arrived in time to participate in Desert Storm with VF-74 and VF-103. The F-14 production line switched to producing the F-14B and 38 were delivered as new production models while a further 48 were created by conversion from F-14A models. Meanwhile, a more significant upgrade program was initiated to incorporate new digital avionics and weapon system improvements to strengthen its multi-mission competitive edge resulting in the definitive F-14D version. The F-14D variant was first delivered in 1991 and was a major upgrade with General Electric F110-400 engines like the F-14B, a new AN/APG-71 radar system, Airborne Self Protection Jammer (ASPJ), Joint Tactical Information Distribution System (JTIDS), SJU-17(V) Naval Aircrew Common Ejection Seats (NACES) and Infrared Search and Track (IRST). Although the F-14D was to be the definitive version of the Tomcat, the requirement to equip all fleet units with the D model was never realized after the new Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney, cancelled it after 55 aircraft were funded after a spate with Congress. Thirty seven of the D models were new production while a another 18 were conversions from F-14A models leaving the fleet equipped with a variety of F-14A, B and D model Tomcats. The F-14B model Tomcats were further modified with the an improved Programmable Tactical Information Display (PTID) and digital weapon system modifications under the F-14B Upgrade program. All Tomcats benefited from the Digital Flight Control System (DFCS) Foreign Cooperative Test (FCT) that demonstrated that an existing GEC Marconi DFCS could be incorporated into the Tomcat thereby improving handling qualities behind the aircraft carrier, at high angle of attack AoA and in ACM situations. The Tomcat had long suffered from out-of-control flight problems and DFCS provided a major improvement in flight handling characteristics.
An F-14D from VF-213 over Iraq on last Tomcat deployment with LANTIRN pod on starboard glovevane station and LGB underneath fuselage.
In late 1994, an initiative was begun that transformed the Tomcat and ushered in its last and most significant operational contribution. In the wake of cancellation of the $1.6B Block 1 Strike upgrade program, an industry team proposed an unorthodox, but potentially viable and, more importantly, rapid integration of the USAF LANTIRN targeting pod onto the Tomcat. Martin Marietta approached the Navy and offered to fund a feasibility demo on a fleet F-14B Tomcat. Permission was received in October 1994 and by March of 1995, a fleet VF-103 F-14B (nicknamed "FLIRCAT") convincingly demonstrated that the Tomcat could indeed drop Laser Guided Bombs (LGB) guided by the LANTRIN pod. The Navy quickly adopted the LANTIRN initiative and began to equip all F-14 variants with precision strike capability using the LANTIRN targeting system beginning with VF-103's deployment in June 1996. The Tomcat was also upgraded with night vision device (NVD) compatibility, and improved defensive countermeasures through the LAU-138 BOL Chaff dispensing launch rail that replaced the LAU-7 Sidewinder launch rail retaining ability to launch the AIM-9 and adding significant increase in Chaff expendable stores. Even at the end of its life, the F-14 Tomcat continued to be upgraded. However, the transformation of the community into a viable strike entity was not only based on hardware upgrades, it also was transformed by the adoption of the Forward Air Controller Airborne (FAC (A)) mission thanks to enterprising and forward-thinking junior officers who devoted themselves to establishing a curriculum within the Tomcat community.
An F-14D from VF-31, makes a near-supersonic low-level fly-by with LANTIRN pod on starboard glovevane station.
The community also benefited from the retirement of the A-6 Intruder community, which brought the best of those aircrews into the Tomcat Ready Rooms providing an invaluable corporate memory of precision strike knowledge. At stake was whether the two seat cockpit was still needed with advent of better onboard computers to assist single seat pilots. After LANTRIN equipped Tomcats demonstrated time after time that hard targets were best served by two seat aircrews and that FAC (A) was a necessity over the skies of Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, the decision was made to field a two seat F/A-18F Super Hornet squadron per airwing, mute testimony to prowess of the Tomcat in the precision strike role. The Tomcat further took the LANTIRN Targeting System (LTS) to new capability by adding capability to transmit and receive digital imagery (Fast Tactical Imagery or FTI) and also added precision strike coordinate generation through software upgrades to the LANTRIN pod (Tomcat Tactical Targeting) allowing GPS target quality target coordination. The LANTIRN pod was also upgraded with socalled 40K lasers allowing operation above restriction of the original 25K laser that inhibited operations over Kosovo and Afghanistan as well as restricting launch of weapons such as the GBU-24 at the maximum extent of its envelope. Tomcats also added ability to carry the GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) giving it the option of a variety of LGB and GPS guided weapons.
A total of 712 F-14's were built between 1969 and 1991 at Grumman's factory in Calverton on Long Island. While the F-14 is listed as being produced in Bethpage, NY all construction and test flights were perfomed out of Grumman's Calverton facility. The Bethpage facility was home to the engineers who designed the F-14 and while at one time produced WW2 aircraft no longer had the facilities or airport required to produce such a large airplane.
YF-14A : Prototypes and pre-production aircraft. 12 built.
F-14A : The original production two-seat all-weather interceptor fighter version for the US Navy. Modifications late in its service life added precision strike munitions to its armament. 545 F-14A aircraft were delivered to the US Navy and 79 delivered Iran. The final 102 F-14A's were delivered with improved TF30-P-414A engines. Additionally, an 80th F-14A was manufactured for Iran, but was delivered to the US Navy.
F-14A + Plus or F-14B : Upgraded version of the F-14A with GE F110-400 engines. Much of the avionics as well as the AWG-9 radar were retained. Later re-designated F-14B. 38 new aircraft were manufactured and 48 F-14A were upgraded to B variants. In the late 1990s, 67 F-14B were upgraded to extend airframe life and improve offensive and defensive avionics systems. The modified aircraft became known as F-14B Upgrade aircraft.
F-14D Super Tomcat : The final incarnation of the F-14. The original TF-30 engines were replaced with GE F110-400 engines, similar to the F-14B. The F-14D also included newer digital avionics systems including a Glass cockpit and replaced the AWG-9 with the newer APG-71 radar. 37 new aircraft were constructed and 18 F-14A were upgraded to D variants.
F-14, front view.
- (R) Signifies an F-14B or D manufactured from an F-14A
Wingspan: 64 ft unswept, 38 ft swept (19 m / 11.4 m)
Height: 16 ft (4.8 m)
Wing area: 565 ft² (54.5 m²)
Airfoil: NACA 64A209.65 mod root, 64A208.91 mod tip
Empty weight: 42,000 lb (19,000 kg)
Loaded weight: 61,000 lb (28,000 kg)
Max takeoff weight: 72,900 lb (32,805 kg)
Powerplant: 2× General Electric F110-GE-400 afterburning turbofans, 13,810 lbf dry, 27,800 lbf with afterburner (72 kN / 126 kN) each
Maximum speed: Mach 2.34, 1,544 mph at high altitude (2,485 km/h)
Range: 576 mi combat (927 km)
Service ceiling: 50,000+ ft (16,000+ m)
Rate of climb: 45,000+ ft/min (230+ m/s)
Wing loading: 113.4 lb/ft² (553.9 kg/m²)
13,000 lb (5,900 kg) of ordnance including:
Guns: 1× M61 Vulcan 20 mm Gatling Gun
Missiles: AIM-54 Phoenix, AIM-7 Sparrow and AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air
2× AIM-9 + 6× AIM-54
2× AIM-9 + 2× AIM-54 + 3× AIM-7
2× AIM-9 + 4× AIM-54 + 2× AIM-7
2× AIM-9 + 6× AIM-7
4× AIM-9 + 4× AIM-54
4× AIM-9 + 4× AIM-7
Bombs: GBU-10, GBU-12, GBU-16, GBU-24, GBU-24E Paveway I/II/III LGB, GBU-31, GBU-38 JDAM, Mk-20 Rockeye II, Mk-82, Mk-83 and Mk-84 series iron bombs
Hughes AN/APG-71 radar
AN/ASN-130 INS, IRST, TCS
Unit Cost: US$38 million
General Dynamics F-111
Active with Royal Australian Air Force until 2010
United States Air Force Royal Australian Air Force
US$9.8 million (FB-111A)
The General Dynamics F-111 is a medium-range strategic bomber, reconnaissance, and tactical strike aircraft designed in the 1960s. The United States Air Force (USAF) variants were officially named Aardvark, their longtime nickname, at their ceremony of retirement from service in 1996. The only remaining operator of the F-111 is the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), and in Australian service the F-111 is known as the Pig.
The F-111 pioneered several technologies for military aircraft, including variable-geometry wings, afterburning turbofan engines, and terrain following radar for low-level, high-speed flight. Its design was highly influential, particularly for Soviet engineers, and some of its advanced features have since become commonplace. In its inception, however, the F-111 suffered a variety of development problems, and several of its intended roles, such as naval interception, failed to materialize.
In USAF service the F-111 has been effectively replaced by the F-15E Strike Eagle for medium-range precision strike missions, while the supersonic bomber role has been assumed by the B-1 Lancer. The Royal Australian Air Force is currently intending to replace its F-111 aircraft with the F-35 Lightning II.
The beginnings of the F-111 were in the TFX program, an ambitious early 1960s project to combine the U.S. Air Force requirement for a fighter-bomber with the U.S. Navy's need for a long-range carrier defense fighter to replace the F-4 Phantom II and the F-8 Crusader. The fighter design philosophy of the day concentrated on very high speed, raw power, and air-to-air missiles.
The USAF's Tactical Air Command (TAC) was largely concerned with the fighter-bomber and deep strike/interdiction roles, which in the early 1960s still focused on the use of nuclear weapons. The aircraft would be a follow-on to the F-105 Thunderchief, which was designed to deliver nuclear weapons low, fast and far. Air combat would be an afterthought until encountering MiGs over Vietnam in the mid 1960s. In June 1960 the USAF issued a specification for a long-range interdiction/strike aircraft able to penetrate Soviet air defenses at very low altitudes and very high speeds to deliver tactical nuclear weapons against crucial Soviet targets like airfields and supply depots. Included in the specification were a low-level speed of Mach 1.2, a high-altitude speed of Mach 2.5, a combat radius of 890 mi (1,430 km), good short-field performance, and a ferry range long enough to reach Europe without refuelling.
Meanwhile the U.S. Navy had, since 1957, been searching for a long-range, high-endurance interceptor to defend its carrier groups against the new generation of Soviet jet bombers, which by then were being armed with huge anti-ship missiles with nuclear warheads. The Navy needed a Fleet Air Defense (FAD) aircraft with better loitering performance and load-carrying ability than the F-4 Phantom II, and one equipped with a powerful radar and a battery of long-range missiles to intercept both bombers and their missiles.
The Navy had studied, but rejected, a slow straight-winged missile carrier, the F6D Missileer. In December 1960 the Navy had been reconsidering variable geometry for the FAD requirement. The trend toward ever bigger, more powerful fighters posed a problem for the Navy: the current generation of naval fighters were already barely capable of landing on an aircraft carrier deck, and a still larger and faster fighter would pose even greater problems. An airframe optimized for high-speed — most obviously with a high-angle swept wing — is inefficient at cruising speeds, which reduces range, payload, and endurance, and leads to very high landing speeds. On the other hand, an airframe with a straight or modestly swept wing, while easier to handle and able to carry heavy loads over longer distances on a minimum of fuel, has lower ultimate performance. Variable geometry, which the Navy had tried and abandoned for the XF10F Jaguar in 1953, offered the possibility of combining both in a single airframe.
The F-111 was the first production variable-geometry aircraft. The earlier subsonic Navy XF10F Jaguar had been cancelled in 1953. It inspired a number of aircraft throughout the 1980s, and even fictional aircraft on the Thunderbirds, but swing wings are extinct in newer designs due to higher cost, and the extra weight imposed by the swing wing mechanism. Nevertheless, several other types have followed, including the Soviet Sukhoi Su-17 (1966), Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23 (1967), Tupolev Tu-22M (1969) and Tupolev Tu-160 (1981), the U.S. F-14 Tomcat naval fighter (1970) and B-1B Lancer bomber (1974), and the European Panavia Tornado (1974). The Sukhoi Su-24 (1970), which resembles the F-111, also has side-by-side seating.
F-111 cockpit prior to a night flight.
Although conceived as a multi-role fighter, the F-111 became a long-range attack aircraft primarily armed with air-to-surface ordnance.
The F-111 has a small internal weapons bay under the fuselage for various weapons.
Cannon: All tactical combat versions (that is, not the EF-111A or FB-111A/F-111G) could carry a single M61 Vulcan 20 mm cannon with a very large (2,084 round) ammunition tank, covered by an eyelid shutter when not in use. Although carried by some USAF aircraft, the cannon was never actually used in combat, and was removed by the early 1980s; provision for the cannon has also been deleted from Australian F-111Cs.
Bombs: The bay can alternately hold two conventional bombs, usually the Mk 117 type of nominal 750 lb/340 kg weight, although weapons up to the Mk 118 (3,000 lb/1,400 kg) were cleared.
Nuclear weapons: All F-111 models except the EF-111A and the Australian F-111C were equipped to carry various free-fall nuclear weapons: tactical models generally carried the B43, B57, or B61, the FB-111A those weapons or the B83. The FB-111A could also carry one or two AGM-69 SRAM nuclear missiles in its weapons bay.
Sensor pod: The F-111C and F-111F were equipped to carry the AN/AVQ-26 Pave Tack targeting system on a rotating carriage that kept the pod protected within the weapons bay when not in use. Pave Tack is a FLIR and laser rangefinder/designator that allows the F-111 to designate and drop laser-guided bombs.
Reconnaissance pallet: Australian RF-111Cs carry a package of reconnaissance sensors and cameras for tactical recce missions. It contains two video cameras, a Honeywell AN/AAD-5 infrared linescan (recorded on video or film), a Fairchild KA-56E low-altitude and KA-93A4 high-altitude panoramic cameras, and a pair of CAI KS-87C split vertical cameras. It can also record photographs of the attack radar's display.
Missiles: The F-111B was intended to be capable of carrying two AIM-54 Phoenix air-to-air missiles in the bay. General Dynamics proposed an arrangement that would allow two AIM-9 Sidewinders to be carried on a trapeze mounting in the bay (at the expense of the M61 cannon), along with a single (usually nuclear) bomb. This was not adopted, with the USAF and RAAF opting for the cannon instead. The AIM-7 Sparrow or AIM-4 Falcon, standard on the F-4, was never fitted, though later F-111 models had radars equipped to guide the Sparrow.
Other equipment: Auxiliary fuel tanks and baggage pods were sometimes carried.
F-111F aircraft releasing its load of Mark 82 high-drag bombs over the Bardenas Reales range.
The design of the F-111's fuselage prevents the carriage of external weapons under the fuselage (although there are two small stations, one on the weapon bay, the other on the rear fuselage between the engines, for ECM pods and/or datalink pods for guided weapons). All aircraft have provision for eight underwing pylons, four under each wing, with a capacity of 6,000 lb (2,700 kg) each. The inner pylons (3, 4, 5, and 6) pivot with the wing, but only one on each side can be loaded at maximum sweep. The outer pylons (1, 2, 7, and 8) are fixed, and can be loaded only if the wings are spread at less than 26°, causing drag at takeoff angle. The outermost pylons (1 and 8) have never been used operationally, and the second pair of fixed pylons (2 and 7) are fitted only rarely, for the carriage of fuel tanks. FB-111/F-111G models have provision to jettison their empty pylons in flight, reducing drag.
The limited number of fully swiveling pylons restricts the F-111's maximum practical weapons load, since the aircraft cannot use all pylons with the wings fully swept. By contrast, aircraft such as the F-14 and Tornado can carry their maximum bomb loads with fully swept wings.
The primary external armament of USAF tactical F-111s included:
Free-fall GP bombs:
Mk 82 (500 lb/227 kg)
Mk 83 (1,000 lb/454 kg)
Mk 84 (2,000 lb/907 kg)
Mk 117 (750 lb/340 kg)
BLU-109 (2,000 lb/907 kg) hardened penetration bomb
Paveway laser-guided bombs, including:
GBU-10 (2,000 lb/907 kg)
GBU-12 (500 lb/227 kg)
GBU-28, a very specialized 4,800 lb (2,200 kg) penetration bomb using spare naval gun barrels as casings, hastily developed for the Gulf War
BLU-107 Durandal runway-cratering bomb
GBU-15 electro-optical bomb (using a Mk 84 or BLU-109 penetration weapon with a TV or infrared TV seeker from an AGM-65 Maverick, with guidance via an AXQ14 or ZWS-1 datalink pod
AGM-130 stand-off bomb (essentially a Mk 84 or BLU-109 with GBU-15 guidance and a rocket booster, making it a powered missile with a range of 40 miles (64 km)).
Although all F-111s can carry laser-guided munitions, only those with Pave Tack (i.e., F-111F and Australian F-111C) are capable of self-designation. Others can drop laser-guided weapons only with the aid of another ground or air designator.
From the early 1980s onward, tactical F-111s were fitted with shoulder rails on the sides of the outboard swiveling pylon (designated stations 3A and 6A) for two AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles for self-defense. The standard Sidewinder fit was the AIM-9P, rather than the more modern AIM-9L or AIM-9M, whose larger fins were not compatible with the shoulder rail. The RAAF has considered replacing the Sidewinder with ASRAAM.
FB-111As could carry the same conventional ordnance as their tactical brothers, but their wing pylons were more commonly used for either fuel tanks or strategic nuclear gravity bombs. Until the weapon was withdrawn in 1990, they could carry up to four AGM-69 SRAM nuclear missiles on the wing pylons, although two was the more normal fit.
Australian F-111Cs have been equipped to launch the AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile, AGM-88 HARM anti-radiation missile, and the AGM-142 Popeye stand-off missile.
The Strategic Air Command had F-111 Aardvarks in service from 1969 through 1990.
The F-111 was in service with the USAF from 1967 through 1998. It entered active service with the Royal Australian Air Force in 1973 and is currently scheduled to remain with the RAAF until 2010. There are concerns by some that this will leave a capability gap in the event of a delay in F-35 Lightning II deliveries.
The F-111A was the initial production version of the F-111. It had TF30-P-3 engines with 12,000 lbf (53 kN) dry and 18,500 lbf (82 kN) afterburning thrust and "Triple Plow I" variable intakes, providing a maximum speed of Mach 2.2 (1,450 mph / 2,300 km/h) at altitude.
The -A's Mark I avionics suite included the General Electric AN/APQ-113 attack radar mated to a separate Texas Instruments AN/APQ-110 terrain-following radar under the nose and a Litton AJQ-20 inertial navigation and nav/attack system.
Total production of the F-111A was 158, including 17 preproduction aircraft that were later brought up to production standards.
The first production F-111s were delivered on 18 July, 1967 to the 428th, 429th and 430th Tactical Fighter Squadrons of the 474th Tactical Fighter Wing based at first out of Cannon AFB, New Mexico, which relocated in 1968 to Nellis AFB.
After early testing a detachment of six aircraft were sent in March 1968 to Southeast Asia for Combat Lancer testing in real combat conditions in Vietnam. In little over a month, three aircraft were lost and the combat tests were halted. It turned out that all three had been lost through malfunction (primarily with the terrain-following radar), not by enemy action. This caused a storm of political recrimination, with U.S. Senators denouncing Secretary of Defense McNamara's judgment in procuring the aircraft.
Behind the scenes, lessons were being learned and fixes being applied, but it was not until July of 1971 that the 474 TFW was fully operational. Testing in 1969 had revealed that a contractor had been paying off inspectors to approve sub-standard work on structural wing components, and all aircraft had to have the component replaced at significant cost (since most F-111As had been already completed). More failures were found and corrected in the wing pivot forgings.
1972 saw the F-111 back in Vietnam, participating in the Operation Linebacker II aerial offensive against the North. F-111 missions did not require tankers or ECM support, and they could operate in weather that grounded most other aircraft. One F-111 could carry the bomb load of four F-4 Phantom IIs. The worth of the new planes was beginning to show, and over 4,000 combat F-111A missions were flown over Vietnam with only six combat losses.
In 1977 the remaining F-111As were transferred to the 366 TFW based at Mountain Home AFB, equipping the 389th and 391st TFS.
In 1982 four surviving F-111As were converted to F-111C standard and provided to Australia as attrition replacements. They were fitted with the longer-span wings and reinforced landing gear of the -C, and subsequently were almost indistinguishable from new-build F-111Cs. Some of the -As delivered to the RAAF were Vietnam veterans, purportedly still bearing the scars of anti-aircraft fire.
42 F-111As were converted as the EF-111A Raven for an electronic warfare tactical electronic jamming role. They can be distinguished from other -As by the equipment bulge atop their tails, a featuring leading to the nickname "Fat Tail."
Three pre-production aircraft were provided to NASA for various testing duties. One was fitted with a variable-camber wing as part of the Advanced Fighter Technology Integration program in the 1980s; it was retired to the United States Air Force Museum at Wright Patterson AFB in 1989.
Most of the unconverted surviving F-111As were retired in 1992 and mothballed at AMARC, Davis Monthan AFB.
The F-111B was to be a fleet-defense fighter for the U.S. Navy, fulfilling a long-standing naval requirement for a fighter capable of carrying heavy, long-range missiles to defend carriers from Soviet anti-ship missiles. The F-111B was equipped with the Hughes AN/AWG-9 pulse-Doppler radar and up to six of the new AIM-54 Phoenix long-range air-to-air missiles. General Dynamics, having no experience with carrier-based aviation, partnered with Grumman for this version.
The F-111B was a compromise that attempted to reconcile the Navy's very different needs with an aircraft whose basic configuration was largely set by the USAF need for a supersonic strike aircraft, and those compromises were to prove its undoing. The B was shorter than the F-111A, to enable it to fit on carrier lifts, but had a longer wingspan (70 ft/21.3 m compared to 63 ft/19.2 m) for increased range and cruising endurance. Although the Navy had wanted a 48-inch (122 cm) radar dish for long range, they were forced to accept a 36-inch (91.4 cm) dish for compatibility. The Navy had requested a maximum take-off weight of 50,000 lb (22,686 kg), but Secretary of Defense McNamara forced them to compromise at 55,000 lb (24,955 kg). This weight goal proved to be overly optimistic.
Excessive weight plagued the B throughout its development. Not only were prototypes far over the 55,000 lb (24,955 kg) limit, efforts to redesign the airframe only made matters worse. The excessive weight made the aircraft seriously underpowered. In fact, it was said that in landing configuration at carrier weights the F-111B could not maintain level flight on one engine, which would be a major problem once committed to the approach. Worse, its visibility for carrier approach and landing were abysmal, and its maneuverability, especially in the crucial medium-altitude regimen, was decidedly inferior to the F-4 Phantom II. During the congressional hearings for the aircraft, Vice Admiral Thomas "Tom Cat" Connolly, then CNO (Air), famously responded to a Senator's question as to whether a more powerful engine would cure the aircraft's woes, "Senator, all the thrust in Christendom will not make a [carrier] fighter out of this aircraft."
By October 1967, the Navy was finally convinced that the F-111B program was a lost cause and recommended its cancellation, which occurred in 1968 after seven had been delivered, two of which had crashed. The Phoenix missiles and radar developed for this plane (and the earlier, cancelled F6D Missileer) were eventually used on its replacement, the F-14 Tomcat.
The F-111C was an export version for Australia, combining F-111A/E avionics with the long-span wings and heavier landing gear originally designed for the F-111B. Twenty-four were originally ordered in 1963, although development delays and structural problems kept them from entering service until 1973.
Four aircraft were modified to RF-111C reconnaissance configuration, retaining their strike capability. The RF-111C carries a reconnaissance pack with four cameras and an infrared linescan unit.
F-111C aircraft have been equipped to carry Pave Tack FLIR/laser pods, and later underwent an extensive Avionics Upgrade Program, with AN/APQ-169 attack radar replacing the elderly AN/APQ-113, Texas Instruments AN/APQ-171 terrain-following radar, twin Honeywell H423 ring-laser gyro INS, GPS receiver, modern digital databus, mission computer, and stores-management system, and cockpit multi-function displays (MFDs). Their engines were updated to TF30-P-108/109RA standard, with 21,000 lbf (93 kN) thrust. Four ex-USAF F-111As were refitted to F-111C standard and delivered to Australia as attrition replacements.
In late 2001 wing fatigue problems were discovered with one of the F-111C fleet. As a result a decision was made in May 2002 to replace the wings with spares taken from ex-USAF F-111Fs stored at AMARC. The short span wings underwent a refurbishment in Australia which included extending the span in effect making the wings the same as the F-111C and F-111G models.
The F-111 was expected to remain in RAAF service until 2010, but due to delays and risks with F-35 program this has been extended to at least 2012 with consideration being actively considered for further avionic updates to take the aircraft out to 2015-2020. As the airframes age steadily increases Australia is increasingly developing indigenous solutions to reverse engineer some components and close monitoring of all airframe components for fatigue issues is a necessary precaution ony any ageing aircraft to ensure safety. (See: Australian Parliament, Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence And Trade, 2006, "Australian Defence Force regional air superiority" for a complete overview of RAAF F-111 operational support issues to 2012 and beyond.
The F-111D was an upgraded F-111A equipped with newer Mark II avionics, more powerful engines, improved intake geometry, and an early "glass cockpit." First ordered in 1967, extensive development problems delayed service entry until 1974, and only 96 were built.
The F-111D used the new Triple Plow 2 intakes, which were located four inches (100 mm) further away from the airframe to prevent engine ingestion of the sluggish boundary layer air that was known to cause stalls in the TF30 turbofans. It had more powerful TF30-P-3 engines with 12,000 lbf (53 kN) dry and 18,500 lbf (82 kN) afterburning thrust.
More significant--and problematic--were the Mark II avionics. These were digitally integrated microprocessor systems, some of the first used by the USAF, offering tremendous capability, but substantial problems during introduction. The main radar was the General Electric AN/APQ-114, with Doppler beam-sharpening, moving target indicator (MTI), and continuous wave mode for guiding semi-active radar homing missiles (which the standard AN/APQ-113 set lacked). This was matched with an Autonetics inertial navigation/attack radar system, Marconi Doppler radar for navigation, a horizontal situation display, an IBM processor, and a Norden integrated systems display, with modern multi-function displays (MFDs). These last proved to be a major source of trouble, serving to multiply the development problems experienced with the individual systems. Considerable acrimony between the contractors resulted, and it took years before the problems were solved. F-111 crews considered the -D the most capable (and user-friendly) version of the aircraft when everything functioned, but that was rare before the 1980s.
Incidentally, the F-111D was never equipped to carry what proved to be the 'Aardvark's' most useful sensor system, the AN/AVQ-26 Pave Tack pod.
The F-111D was withdrawn from service in 1992 for mothballing at AMARC.
The F-111E was a simplified, interim model ordered after the prolonged teething troubles of the F-111D. It used the -D's Triple Plow 2 intakes and more powerful TF30-P-3 engines, but retained the -A's Mark I avionics.
Although conceived after the -D, the F-111E was actually delivered before it. The first flight of an -E was 20 August 1969. A total of 94 were built.
Some F-111Es were based at RAF Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire (United Kingdom) until 1993, and the type saw service in Operation Desert Storm. All F-111Es were withdrawn to storage in 1993 and 1994.
Ground crew prepares a 48th Tactical Fighter Wing F-111F aircraft for a retaliatory air strike on Libya.
The F-111F was the final F-111 variant produced for Tactical Air Command, with more modern and advanced Mark IIB avionics that were more capable than the F-111E and much more reliable than the F-111D. A total of 106 were produced between 1971 and 1976. The aircraft were mostly assigned to the 48 TFW based at RAF Lakenheath in the United Kingdom, with some assigned to the 57th Fighter Weapons Wing at Nellis AFB, and the 366 TFW at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho.
The F-111F's Mark IIB avionics suite used a simplified version of the FB-111A's radar, the AN/APQ-144, lacking some of the strategic bomber's operating modes but adding a new 2.5 mi (4.0 km) display ring. Although it was tested with digital moving-target indicator (MTI) capacity, it was not used in production sets. It used Texas Instruments AN/APQ-146 terrain-following radar, Litton inertial navigation, and the F-111E's Weapon Control Panel. The internal weapons bay was normally occupied by a AVQ-26 Pave Tack FLIR and laser designator system for the delivery of precision laser-guided munitions. The radar was subsequently upgraded to AN/APQ-161, with the AN/APQ-171 terrain-following set. The later Pacer Strike avionics update program added new digital electronics and databus.
The -F also used the Triple Plow 2 intakes, along with the substantially more powerful TF30-100 turbofan with 25,100 lbf (112 kN) afterburning thrust. This substantially improves the -F's performance, allowing a top speed of Mach 2.5 at altitude and enabling an unloaded F-111F to supercruise (fly at supersonic speeds without afterburner). In 1985-86, engines were upgraded to the TF30-P-111 turbofan.
The F-111F made its combat debut in Operation El Dorado Canyon against Libya in 1986, and performed superbly in Operation Desert Storm against Iraq, where it unexpectedly added the anti-armor ("tank-plinking") role to its resume.
Various plans to upgrade the F-111F, including the adoption of the General Electric F110 engine (used in the F-14D Tomcat), were proposed, but not implemented because they might have interfered with the USAF's political efforts to build the F-22 Raptor. As a result, the last USAF F-111s were withdrawn from service on 27 July 1996, replaced by the F-15E Strike Eagle.
An air-to-air front overhead view of two FB-111 aircraft in formation.
The FB-111A was a strategic bomber version of the F-111 developed as an interim aircraft for the Strategic Air Command to replace the elegant but troublesome supersonic B-58 Hustler and early models of the B-52 Stratofortress. The planned replacement program, the Advanced Manned Strategic Aircraft, was proceeding slowly, and the Air Force was concerned that fatigue failures in the B-52 fleet would leave the strategic bomber fleet dangerously under strength. Although 263 planes were planned originally, the total was finally cut to just 76. The first production aircraft was delivered in 1968. The FB-111A never had an official popular name, but it was commonly called the "Switchblade."
The FB-111A was 2 ft 1.5 in (650 mm) longer than the F-111A, allowing carriage of about 585 gallons (2,214 L) extra fuel, and was fitted with the longer wings of the abortive F-111B and F-111K for greater range and load-carrying ability. A stronger undercarriage and landing gear compensated for the higher take-off weights (gross weight rose to 119,250 lb/54,105 kg). All but the first aircraft had the Triple Plow 2 intakes and the TF30-P-7 with 12,500 lbf (56 kN) dry and 20,350 lbf (90 kN) afterburning thrust.
The FB-111A had new electronics, known as the SAC Mk IIB suite. The Mk IIB retained the F-111A's Texas Instruments AN/ANPQ-134 terrain-following radar and Honeywell AN/APN-167 radar altimeter. Radar was the General Electric AN/APQ-114, with a new north-oriented display, a beacon tracking mode, and a photo recording mode. To those components, the FB-111A added a Rockwell AN/AJN-16 inertial navigation system, Singer-Kearfott AN/APN-185 Doppler radar, and the Litton AN/ASQ-119 Astrotracker astrocompass, which allowed navigation by stellar positioning (a similar system had been used on the SR-71 Blackbird). A Horizontal Situation Display was added along with the AN/AYK-6 cockpit display. A unique feature of the FB-111A was that the TFR was integrated into the automatic flight control system, allowing "hands-off" flight at high speeds and low levels (down to 200 feet), even in adverse weather.
Armament for the strategic bombing role was the Boeing AGM-69 SRAM (short-range attack missile) with had Mach 3 speed and 110 mile range. Two could be carried in the internal weapons bay and four more on the inner underwing pylons. Nuclear gravity bombs were also typical FB armament. Fuel tanks were often carried on the 3rd non-swivelling pylon of each wing. Promotional photos showed a conventional bombload to a theoretical total of fifty 750 lb (340 kg) M117 weapons on 8 pylons and bomb bay, but it was never used in a conventional role. In 1990, the SRAM was withdrawn from service amid concerns about the integrity of its nuclear warhead in the case of fire, and subsequently only unpowered bombs were available.
The FB-111 became surplus to SAC's needs after the introduction of the Rockwell B-1B Lancer, and the remaining FB-111s were converted to a tactical configuration and renamed the F-111G. They were used primarily for training.
The F-111G did undergo an avionics upgrade program that added a digital computer, dual AN/ASN-41 ring-laser gyro INS, AN/APN-218 Doppler navigation, and an updated terrain-following radar. The astrocompass system was deleted.
The G model did not remain in USAF service for long, being mothballed in 1993, but 15 were bought by Australia to supplement its F-111Cs.
Several "stretched" FB-111 variants (the FB-111B, with F101 engines and a longer fuselage, and the greatly enlarged FB-111H, intended as a possible replacement for the B-1A after that project's cancellation) were proposed in the late 1970s, but none were ever built
Main article: EF-111A Raven
To replace the elderly and obsolescent Douglas EB-66, in 1972 the USAF contracted Grumman to convert some existing F-111As into electronic warfare/ECM aircraft. In May 1998, the USAF withdrew the final EF-111As from service, placing them in storage at AMARC. In the short term, EA-6B Prowlers are fulfilling this function for both the Navy and Air Force. This caused concern within the Air Force fighter pilot community because of the EA-6Bs inability to keep up with fighters in supersonic flight. The Prowler is seen as an inferior replacement.
An Australian F-111 in 2006.
The Australian government ordered 24 F-111 aircraft in 1963 to replace the RAAF's English Electric Canberra in the bombing and tactical strike role. While the first aircraft was officially handed over in 1968, structural integrity problems found in the USAF fleet delayed the service entry of the F-111C until 1973, USAF F-4 Phantom IIs being leased as an interim measure. Four aircraft were modified to RF-111C reconnaissance configuration, retaining their strike capability.
A number of ex-USAF aircraft have been delivered to Australia, as attrition replacements and to enlarge the fleet. Four aircraft modified to F-111C status were delivered in 1982, while eighteen F-111G aircraft were purchased in 1992 and delivered in 1994. Additional stored USAF airframes are reserved as a spares source.
Since their introduction Australia's F-111s have been operated by No. 1 Squadron RAAF in the strike role with No. 6 Squadron RAAF operating the aircraft as an operational conversion unit. A temporary flight designated the Washington Flying Unit ferried Australia's first 12 aircraft from the United States in 1973 and F-111s have been loaned to the RAAF's Aircraft Research and Development Unit. The aircraft are likely to remain in service through 2010 when they will be retired. No. 1 and No. 6 Squadrons will probably be re-equipped with F-35 Lightning II aircraft (the Australian Government is, however, yet to formally commit to purchasing F-35 aircraft).
While the F-111 has not seen combat in Australian service, it is known that F-111 aircraft were placed on high alert during the initial phase of the Australian-lead intervention (INTERFET) into East Timor in 1999. During the first Gulf War in 1991 the United States Government asked Australia to deploy RF-111 aircraft to the Persian Gulf. This request was denied as the Australian government judged that these aircraft were too important to Australia's security to risk in a distant war.
The Royal Australian Air Force's F-111 fleet has at times been controversial. Controversies surrounding the F-111 include:
the long delay to the delivery of the aircraft was a significant political issue in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
their use by the Hawke federal government to take surveillance photos of the Franklin Dam project in Tasmania.
poor work conditions for F-111 ground crew involved in sealing/de-sealing F-111 fuel tanks resulted in permanent brain damage to a number of ground crew before conditions were improved.
In Australian military and aviation circles the F-111 Aardvark is affectionately known as the 'Pig,' because of its ability to hunt amongst the weeds like its namesake, referring to the F-111's unique Terrain Following ability. Another, less generous explanation of the source of the nickname refers to the colloquialism "Pigs Might Fly". A third origin can be posited from the word Aardvark, which translates into English as "Earth Pig"
An RAAF F-111C with wings swept fully back doing a "torching" (dump and burn) routine.
In September 2006, the Australian Department of Defence announced that engine work for the TF30 would be outsourced. A contract signing event to mark the commercialisation of the F-111 Engines Business Unit (EBU) was hosted by Tasman Aviation Enterprises (TAE) and Strike Reconnaissance Systems Program Office (SRSPO), at RAAF Base Amberley. TAE is the holder of the F-111 Workshops Business Unit Contract responsible for machining, electroplating and general engineering in support of the F-111. The EBU is one of four independent Business Units that support the RAAF F-111 weapon system. The EBU was established in 2001 as an “In-House Option” after winning a market testing activity for support of the TF30 jet engine as an outcome of the 1997 Defence Reform Program.