F-111 RETIREMENT MEDIA DAY SPECIAL

Nov 23 2010SPECIAL PRESENTATION

RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force ) F-111 RETIREMENT MEDIA / DISPLAY DAY
A special tour of RAAF Amberley in South East Queensland, was undertaken by a select few local and overseas journalists and photographers to show off the RAAF soon to be retired F-111 fleet.

The focus was on 82 Wing, 6 Squadron F-111’s which will in just over a week’s time on December 3rd 2010 , shut down for the very last time and bringing to end 37years of service in the RAAF.
In retiring these strike bombers it will mean their unique TF-30 turbo jet engines, sleek shape and unmatched combat capabilities will be never seen again.

WHY RETIRE THE F-111?
To give a comparison to the length of F-111 career in the RAAF, it would mean having a B-24 Liberator bomber based at Amberley in active service from 1944 until 1981 as a frontline bomber.
The aging of such airframe as a B-24 would made it unviable to maintain after a few years – yet the F-111 fleet has somehow managed to survive for 37years.

The early technical and design problems along with the enduring media criticism in the 1960s, were overcome or proven wrong, thus putting the F-111 chequed start behind and allowing it to mature into one of the most advanced strike bomber of the 20th Century.

The F-111 has crossed vast technology gaps to remain a viable and unmatched strike platform for the RAAF. Various upgrades to the TF-30 engines, TFR systems, weapons systems and airframe structure has kept it in the air as a viable deterrence force.

The main reason the F-111 is being retired is not for the lack of combat ability but due to age of the airframes and spare parts becoming costly to acquire.
This shows the F-111 is still and indeed an extremely capable air force weapon system- even in retirement.

FIRST HAND EXPERIENCE OF F-111 OPERATIONS
My friend John Bushell who flew in the RAAF as a bombardier/navigator for over 20years flying on types such as Canberra, Phantom and F-111, experienced a big change in technology during those years.
John’s introduction to the F-111 started in 1973 as a bombardier-navigator in the right seat.
He found the transition from the Canberra/Phantom to the advanced features which the F-111 introduced, as an exciting time to be in the RAAF.

John is seen on the left in this 1975 photo.

John has mentioned that because the aircraft was so capable/advanced, it did bring some initial technical issues for the first few years but over time they were resolved.
John still has a fond spot for the F-111 after 35years. He recollects that the aircraft allowed him to do some very interesting bomb runs , which would of been totally unimaginable in the Canberras or Phantoms.

PHOTOSHOOT – was conducted over 6hrs at RAAF Amberley and allowed the media to see a variety of different aspect of the F-111 operations.
(Please click the photos for more detail)

MEDIA COVERAGE
I had spent 3 weeks organising the media access and flew up from Sydney especially for this event. I was chosen to be in attendance as i was covering the F-111 retirement media day for the Australia Pilot / AOPA magazine and the Australian Warbirds Association.

OPERATIONS BRIEFING
The day was started off with a briefing for the media by GP CAPT Steve Robertson OC (Officer Commanding) No. 82 Wing and WG CDR Michael “Micka” Gray, CO (Commanding Officer) 6 Sqn.

Wing Commander Gray acknowledged the Australian community’s affection for the F-111 and ensured the aircraft will be given a fitting farewell on December 3rd 2010, as it conducts the last flight around South East Queensland and Northern NSW – the main area where the F-111 spent the 37years conducting training flights.

Questions and answers were conducted giving a further insight to how the RAAF is ensuring the F-111 goes out on a high.

Next a F-111 crew gave a brief run down to a mission that was to be flown that morning.
Much work goes into a mission we found as we observed the crew discuss their flightplan.

DISPLAY AIRCRAFT
The tour then proceeded to inspect 4 static F-111C/RF-111C aircraft on the tarmac.

The airframes on static display were a mixture of F-111C and RF-111C – A8-109, A8-113, A8-125 and A8-134.

The crew module from a 1980s crash where the RAAF crew ejected from the F-111.

Media interviews were happening everywhere…

FLYING OPERATIONS
The 2 training mission aircraft and 1 display aircraft taxied out and took off.
The flying F-111s were A8-126, A8-138 and A8-148.

Low level strike – an F-111’s forte.

(The remaining F-111Cs are in hangers between missions or are already retired / in storage.)

After a 20mins session over the media and doing several touch and goes, the display F-111 finally landed and taxied back to its 1 Sqn hangar / shed.

Last landing for the day and turning for finals over its “home” aka sheds

LIFE SUPPORT SHOP – 1 SQN
After a short lunch, i was taken over to the 1 Sqn Life Support shop for a brief tour and to show the ALSE technicians my rare 1970s RAAF flight helmet.
This flight helmet – a HGU-2A/P and black P oxygen mask – was worn in the early days of the F-111 operations from 1973 until early 1980s. I posed this next to the current generation HGU-55/P and green P oxygen mask that 1 Sqn still use as part of the F-111 life support equipment. I was very appreciative of this tour and would like to thank the Life Support Shop members for their time.

My helmet was also displayed with the static F-111’s..

After this tour of ALSE gear, another quick photo shoot of the F-111’s was done and some F/A-18F Super Hornets were observed taking offs and landing.

A final tour to the maintenance hangar for me had to declined, as i had to leave early to fly back to Sydney.

THE NEW AIRCRAFT ON THE BLOCK – F/A-18F SUPER HORNET
The aircraft that is taking over from the F-111C in operation at 1 and 6 Sqn, is the Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet. The 24 Super Hornets were ordered in 2006 by the Howard Government as an urgent “stop gap replacement” weapon system, as there would of been a serious problem for the defence of Australia meanwhile with no replacement between the retired F-111 and the introduction of the F-35 Lightning fighter/bomber.
The F-35 is expected to enter RAAF service around 2017-2020.

The Super Hornet is an advanced version of the main RAAF fighter bomber, the F/A-18A/B. These legacy/original versions of the Hornet are in active use by 3, 75 and 77 Sqn.
The newer Super Hornet was designed for multirole capabilities such as air to air and air to ground requirements and entered service in 1999 with the US Navy. It has served in many war operations since then, showing it is a capable and effective strike platform.

FUTURE OPERATIONS
The future for 82 Wing – 1 and 6 Sqn with the nearly completed introduction of the F/A-18 F Super Hornet looks bright, with easier maintenance, new aircraft capabilities and expanded weapon systems to use, which allows the RAAF to continue to provide an effective front line strike and deterrence force across the South East Asian region.

If any Australian young adults are interested in a career after reading this article and are wanting to become a future potential RAAF member they should view the ADF Careers webpage for further information. Beside flying roles there are many other jobs in the RAAF as i saw on this media tour – ground support/maintenance, life support fitter, public affairs, logistics and more…. many different roles and people make the RAAF work.

THE FORCE – THE PEOPLE

Here is a display showing some of the faces of people behind the F-111 force – adding a “human touch” to the metal bomber’s daily operations.

The general public should remeber all these Australian Defence Force members are volunteers who serve to defend Australia.
They are essentially on call 24hr/7 days a week if needs be to do this duty.
Many people forget this aspect of the military lifestyle and overlook the dedication and risks involved that these people handle each day in ensuring Australia remains defended.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
The author Phil Buckley, wishes to acknowledge the assistance given by –

  • RAAF PAO Flight Lt Skye Smith, PAO Paul Lineham,
  • GP CAPT Steve Robertson OC (Officer Commanding) No 82 Wing and WG CDR Michael “Mika” Gray Co ( Commanding Officer No 6 Sqn
  • 1 Sqn Life Support shop and,
  • Everyone else who gave their time on the media retirement day to show an insight into the last flying “Pigs” – thank you.

I also wish to extend a sincere thank you to Brian, Jeff and Garry for their kind assistance in enabling such a photoshoot to be done at such short notice. To all the people i met on the day and networked thank you for your company and insights.

Thanks to Brad from Lockon Photos for capturing some photos of me at work –


FLYING PIGS – ONE LAST VIEW
We leave you with a view (soon never to be seen in Australia ever again) of an F-111 doing what it does best and has done since 1964 – low level attack profile using TFR.

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