F-111 was a multipurpose tactical fighter bomber capable
of supersonic speeds. The aircraft was one of the more
controversial aircraft ever to fly, yet it achieved one of
the safest operational records of any aircraft in USAF
history and became a highly effective all-weather
interdiction aircraft. As a result of a poorly thought-out
development specification, both the Navy and Air Force had
become committed, much against their will, to a
civilian-inspired "Tactical Fighter Experimental" (TFX)
program. This called for developing a single aircraft-the
F-111-to fulfill a Navy fleet-defense interceptor
requirement and an Air Force supersonic strike aircraft
requirement. In retrospect, this was impossible to
achieve, especially since planners placed priority upon
the Air Force requirement, and then tried to tailor this
heavy landplane to the constraints of carrier-based naval
operations. The naval aircraft, the F-111B, was never
placed in production. The Air Force aircraft, which was
produced in a variety of models, including the F-111A,
F-111D, F-111E, and F-11F, as well as an FB-111A strategic
bomber version, had numerous problems, and only the F-111F
actually fulfilled the original TFX design specification.
This was less the fault of General Dynamics than of the
civilian planners in the Pentagon whose "cost effective"
inclinations ironically produced the major aeronautical
fiasco of the 1960s-and a costly one at that.
The early F-111As had extremely bad
engine problems, suffering from compressor surge and
stalls. NASA pilots and engineers wrung out the airplane
in an attempt to solve its problems, studying the engine
inlet dynamics of the plane to determine the nature of
inlet pressure fluctuations that led to compressor surge
and stall. Eventually, as a result of NASA, Air Force, and
General Dynamics studies, the engine problems were solved
by a major inlet redesign.
F-111 could operate from tree-top level to altitudes above
60,000 feet (18,200 meters). The F-111 had variable-sweep
wings that allow the pilot to fly from slow approach
speeds to supersonic velocity at sea level and more than
twice the speed of sound at higher altitudes. Wings angle
from 16 degrees (full forward) to 72.5 degrees (full aft).
Full-forward wings gave the most surface area and maximum
lift for short takeoff and landing. The F-111 needed no
drag chute or reserve thrust to slow down after landing.
The two crew members sat side-by-side in
an air-conditioned, pressurized cockpit module that served
as an emergency escape vehicle and as a survival shelter
on land or water. In emergencies, both crew members
remained in the cockpit and an explosive cutting cord
separated the cockpit module from the aircraft. The module
descended by parachute. The ejected module included a
small portion of the wing fairing to stabilize it during
aircraft separation. Airbags cushioned impact and help
keep the module afloat in water. The module could be
released at any speed or altitude, even under water. For
underwater escape, the airbags raised the module to the
surface after it has been severed from the plane.
aircraft's wings and much of the fuselage behind the crew
module contained fuel tanks. Using internal fuel only, the
plane had a range of more than 2,500 nautical miles (4,000
kilometers). External fuel tanks could be carried on the
pylons under the wings and jettisoned if necessary.
The F-111 could carry conventional as
well as nuclear weapons. It could carry up to two bombs or
additional fuel in the internal weapons bay. External
ordnance included combinations of bombs, missiles and fuel
tanks. The loads nearest the fuselage on each side pivoted
as the wings swept back, keeping ordnance parallel to the
fuselage. Outer pylons did not move but could be
jettisoned for high-speed flight.
The avionics systems included
communications, navigation, terrain following, target
acquisition and attack, and suppression of enemy air
defense systems. A radar bombing system was used for
precise delivery of weapons on targets during night or bad
The F-111's automatic terrain-following
radar system flew the craft at a constant altitude
following the Earth's contours. It allowed the aircraft to
fly in valleys and over mountains, day or night,
regardless of weather conditions. Should any of the
system's circuits fail, the aircraft automatically
initiated a climb.
F-111A first flew in December 1964. The first
operational aircraft was delivered in October 1967 to
Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. A models were used for
tactical bombing in Southeast Asia.
Developed for the U.S. Navy, the
F-111B was canceled before its production. F-111C's
are flown by the Royal Australian Air Force.
The F-111D has improved avionics
with better navigation, air-to-air weapon delivery
systems, and newer turbofan engines. The F-111D's were
flown by the 27th Fighter Wing, Cannon Air Force Base,
The F-111E model had modified air
intakes to improve the engine's performance at speeds
above Mach 2.2. Most F-111Es served with the 20th Fighter
Wing, Royal Air Force Station Upper Heyford, England, to
support NATO. F-111E's were deployed to Incirlik Air Base,
Turkey, and were used in Operation Desert Storm. In the
early morning of Jan. 17, 1991, the F-111 went into combat
again in the initial bombing raids of Operation Desert
Storm. More than 100 F-111 aircraft of different versions
joined the first strikes against Iraq both as bombers and
The F-111F had improved turbofan
engines give F-111F models 35 percent more thrust than
previous F-111A and E engines. The avionics systems of the
F model combine features of the F-111D and E. The last F
model was delivered to the Air Force in November 1976. The
F models were modified to carry the Pave Tack system in
their weapons bays. This system provides an improved
capability to acquire, track and designate ground targets
at night for delivery of laser, infrared and
electro-optically guided weapons. The F-111F was proven in
combat over Libya in 1986 and again over Iraq in 1991.
Although F-111F's flew primarily at night during Operation
Desert Storm, aircrews flew a particularly notable daytime
mission using the Guided Bomb Unit (GBU-15) to seal the
oil pipeline manifold sabotaged by Iraq, allowing the oil
to flow into the Persian Gulf.
As a result of the Air Force decision to
retire the F-111 weapon system, the 27th Fighter Wing's 74
F-111E/F aircraft began retiring in late 1995 and were
replaced with 54 F-16C/D aircraft. All F-111s in the Air
Force inventory have been retired to the Aerospace
Maintenance and Regeneration Center at Davis-Monthan AFB,
Ariz. The center, popularly know as the boneyard, was home
to all the remaining F-111E and F models by October 1996.
Seventy-six were built as FB-111s and
saw service with the Strategic Air Command until 1990 when
they were converted to F-111Gs and assigned to Tactical
Air Command. The F-111G was assigned to the 27th
Fighter Wing at Cannon Air Force Base and was used in a
training role only. The conversion made minor avionics
updates and strengthened the aircraft to allow its use in
a more dynamic role as a fighter aircraft.
Development of the EF-111A Raven began
in January 1975 when the Air Force contracted with Grumman
Aerospace to modify two F-111As to serve as electronic
warfare platforms. The F-111"s high speed, long range,
substantial payload and reasonable cost made it the ideal
candidate to protect allied tactical forces against enemy
converting the aircraft to its new electronic warfare
role, the primary modification was the ALQ-99 jamming
system, N/ALQ-137 self-protection system, and an AN/ALR-62
terminal threat warning system. To accommodate the 6,000
pounds of new electronics, Grumman added a narrow, 16-foot
long canoe-shaped radome under the fuselage and a din-tip
pod mounted on top of the vertical stabilizer.
Grumman's EF-111A prototypes staged
their first flights in 1977. After two years of testing
the Air Force gave the contractor the go-ahead to convert
42 F-111As into the EF-111 configuration. The
modifications cost approximately $25 million per aircraft,
and the total cost of the program was $1.5 billion. The
first production EF-111 was delivered to the 388th
Tactical Electronic Squadron at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho,
in November 1981 and the aircraft became fully operational
The Avionics Modernization Program (AMP)
included the installation of 10 new subsystems including a
doppler radar and internal navigation system. The
modification, installed in all 42 EF-111s, was completed
in 1994. Prompted by a series of crashes attributable to
the failure of the F-111's original analog flight control
system, the installation of Digital Flight Control System
begann in 1990 and was completed in 1997.
The last squadron of EF-111s remaining
in service, at Cannon AFB, NM, peformed the Suppression of
Enemy Air Defense [SEAD] mission. DOD decided to retire
the EF-111A jammer and replace it with a new Air Force
system, the high speed anti-radiation missile (HARM)
targeting system on the F-16C, and the existing Navy
electronic warfare aircraft, the EA-6B. Recognizing that
too few EA-6B aircraft may be available to meet both Air
Force and Navy needs, DOD retained these 12 EF-111s in the
active inventory through 1998, when additional upgraded
EA-6Bs became available.
Multipurpose tactical fighter bomber.
General Dynamics Corporation.
F-111A/E, two Pratt & Whitney TF30-P103 turbofans.
F-111A/E, 18,500 pounds (8,325 kilograms) each with
F-111D, 19,600 pounds (8,820 kilograms) with
F-111F, 25,000 pounds (11,250 kilograms) with
feet, 6 inches (22.0 meters).
feet, 1 1/2 inches (5.13 meters).
feet (19 meters) full forward; 31 feet, 11 1/2 inches
(11.9 meters) full aft.
F-111F -- Mach 1.2 at sea level; Mach 2.5 at 60,000
60,000-plus feet (18,200 meters).
3,565 miles (3,100 nautical miles) with external fuel
F-111F, empty 47,481 pounds (21,367 kilograms).
Maximum Takeoff Weight
F-111F, 100,000 pounds (45,000 kilograms).
to four nuclear bombs on four pivoting wing pylons,
and two in internal weapons bay. Wing pylons carry
total external load of 25,000 pounds (11,250
kilograms) of bombs, rockets, missiles, or fuel tanks.
Unit cost $FY98
pilot and weapon systems officer.
None, retired in 1996
[formerly Active force, 225; ANG, 0; Reserve, 0]
In all 563 F-111s in several
variants were built.