DEC 2010 – PIGS NO LONGER FLY – END OF ERA
After 37years of service and hard work in the RAAF, providing a strong deterrence force for Australia – and over 44years since they were built – the world last flying F-111 (locally known as “Pigs” …. and some people thought Pigs cant fly??) have now landed, thus bringing to an end a unique era of aviation in Australia.
TFX – LOW LEVEL BOMBER
The General Dynamics F-111 excelled at doing what other front line aircraft could do not do for a long time – low level, precision and fast attacks on high value targets. This was the reason the RAAF brought it back in 1963 as it had great capabilities to strike into Asia at that time.
Little did the RAAF know it wouldn’t get the aircraft soon…
Very few aircraft could do this low level role effectively and the F-111 was amongst a group that was able to do this. The other types which had similar abilities as the F-111 were the A-6 Intruder, F-105 Thunderchief and the Blackburn Buccaneer. The main role for all these aircraft was delivery of nuclear weapons in a war with Russia.
The F-111 was the last of this group to leave service. It is interesting to see that the A-6 was retired in 1996, the F-105 in 1984 and the Buccaneer in 1994. This shows how unique the F-111 was and somehow able to out live these other high performance aircraft.
The F-111 suffered more than the others due to manufacturing/testing issues and more so, a large negative media/press opinion in 1960s relating to issues causing many early F-111s to crash.
During testing in the USA in 1967-1968 aircraft were crashing. On one of these flight a RAAF crew member died. During 1968 over North Vietnam, many USAF F-111s on combat missions went missing. The main causes was traced back to wing problems/metal issues. It was a relief to know the navigation/attack system wasnt the main cause.
The USAF and RAAF had now big problems as they were expecting the F-111 to enter without such a serious set of issues.
RAAF F-111 DELAYS
The RAAF postphoned their aircraft until General Dynamics fixed the problems. The aircraft were placed in storage in Texas for the next five years.
The F-111 finally entered service with the RAAF in June 1973 after long flights across the Pacific ocean. The original order for 24 F-111Cs were joined by four ex-USAF F-111As in 1980.
A further unexpected buy of 15 F-111Gs (ex SAC FB-111As) in 1993 boosted the RAAF strike force. Overall 43 aircraft are known to have flown in RAAF service.
Further aircraft were acquired as spares and stored at Davis Monthan aka “Boneyard” in Arizona. These included 11 ex-USAF F-111A/Fs and G models airfames.
F-111 – STRIKE ROLE
The RAAF was able to use the F-111 capabilities over 37years to ensure it was at the tip of the spear in defence of Australia. Upgrades to self defence, weapons, airframes, engines and attack/navigation enabled it to strike harder and more accurate. From dumb bombs to smart bombs – all within a few years in the late 1970s/early 1980s changed the way the RAAF operated the F-111.
RHINO TO TAKE OVER
Sadly these upgrades couldn’t stop it from being retired one day.
Aging issues, cost of spares and maintaining the jets soon became clear it needed to be replaced.
In 2006 this decision was taken to confirm a replacement strike aircraft and 24 x F/A-18 Super Hornets were ordered as a stop gap for the F-35 Lightning.
(Many people will know the RAAF has already had experience in stop gap aircraft. The F-4E Phantoms of 1970-73 were a stop gap Canberra replacement while the RAAF was waiting for the delayed F-111s to arrive).
RAAF F-111 CRASHES OVER 37YEARS
It should be remembered that the F-111 was noted for flying low level operations and this meant the RAAF had to train for low level operations. Practicing for the low level warfare meant losses could be a possibility at any time. Over the years the RAAF sadly lost five crews in 8 crashes. These crashes occurred in seven F-111Cs and one F-111G at various locations in Australia and Asia. The crews were honored at Pig Tales with a solemn memorial service.
These people deserve the full respect of the public in Australia.
MEDIA ACCESS TO PIG TALES
I was given the rare privilege to attend the F-111 retirement event as a photo journalist to record for the Australian Pilot magazine this major event in Australian aviation history. My webpage is also another outlet to record the passing of a unique event.
(*For all images on the page please click them to view more detail)
RETIREMENT DAY – CEREMONY – PIG TALES
On December 2 and 3 2010 the RAAF held a 2 day event to mark the end of an era in a big way to ensure the aircraft fleet was given its due credit. Behind the aircraft image – are all the personnel who have worked on the project/F-111 fleet since early 1960s. This was hundreds of of aircrews and thousands of ground personnel over 37years.
On December 2, a RAAF base ceremony was held at RAAF Amberley in which Chief of Air Force Air Marshall Mark Binskin, Air Commander Australia AVM Mark Skidmore, Deputy Chief of Air Force AVM Geoffrey Brown, OC 82 WG GPCAPT Steve Roberton, CO 6 Sqn WGCDR Michael Gray CO 1 Sqn and WGCDR Glen Braz were present.
December 3rd 2010 was a busy and active day at RAAF Amberley. It was humid, overcast and occasional shower near and over the airbase. Kind of fitting in a way for the Pig to be fare-welled in such a way, as it flew in all kind of weather. Over 2000 people attended.
6 SQN / 82 WING – THE LAST F-111 OPERATORS IN THE WORLD
6 Sqn CO Michael Gray said during the Pig Tales event that the F-111 was “easy to fly but difficult to operate”. His comment regarding “difficult” related to the maintenance issues which made the aircraft a high cost aircraft to repair/keep active.
It should be noted similar thoughts have been echoed by USAF personnel who were entrusted to ensuring the USAF F-111 fleet were repaired/maintained.
The event was held with 3 aircraft set up on static display undercover of the big “shade cloth” on the base. (Thats the best way to describe it in an aussie term 🙂 … )
The RAAF Pig Tales event overall had a big theme – remembering the F-111.
A memorial service was held which was moving and attended by many RAAF personnel.
Other events at Pig Tales included a few parades, barbecues, gathering of many people involved in the F-111, a book launch and a few speeches over the 2 day event.
The book launch for From Controversy to Cutting Edge: A History of the F-111 in Australian Service was done and many copies obtained.
A final barbecue in late afternoon capped off the retirement day.
The Pig Tales farewell event enabled 6 final F-111s to be maintained for flying status. These were joined by 3 others on static display in the big shade cloth.
THE FINAL HOURS – FLYING PIGS BECOME A ENDANGERED SPECIES
The last few hours of the RAAF F-111 fleet was spent preparing the 5 aircraft for flight across Brisbane and QLD and northern NSW in company with 2 F/A-18 Super Hornets.
An additional F-111 was provided as a final display aircraft for the gathering at Amberley.
The crews for the final F-111 launch were :
F-111 PILOT ACO/NAV
THE LAST LAUNCH
The F-111s and F/A-18Fs appeared from the sheds and then trundled down the taxiway to the end of runway. They then formed up in 2 ships for take off.
One by one the F-111s roared down the runway and into the air, heat wave and noise reverberating around the base for one last time.
THE LAST EVER TAKE OFF OF A RAAF F-111
Once all aircraft were airborne, they joined up over the base for a large formation flyby before their final flight over Australia.
The formation flew away for the final flight over Australia.
They split into two groups – with two F-111s flying over Sandgate, Redcliffe, Bribie Island, Caloundra, Maroochydore and Noosa. The second group of five made its way over the city and headed off for the Gold Coast, Coolangatta, Byron Bay and Evans Head.
Fellow flight gear collector and RAAF F-111 enthusiast Chris Jamesson from QLD has shared his photos of the flight over Brisbane with us. Chris and me go a long way back with various interests in aviation. Chris had hoped to be at RAAF Amberley but has to settle for Mt Cootha in Brisbane instead to watch the F-111s…
F-111 HANDLING DISPLAY
Meanwhile a display of the F-111 handling skills was put on for the guests and base personnel.
The single display aircraft – A8-126 performed a variety of fast low level, tight turns, inverted passes and its main display routine – the dump and burn – which was done 2 times in the last display act.
First high speed pass
First dump and burn..
A salute to changing of the guard – from Pig to Rhino
Which lead into the last ever dump and burn by a F-111 (no other aircraft in world has routinely done this or has the ability to). The aircraft performed the last dump and burn in F-111 history over the crowd as it spiraled upwards and then just as qucikly as it started the fire vanished…
This fuel dump cut off – forever ending the special F-111 tradition of using the fuel dump and engine exhaust to make a fire trail. At times the trailing fire was seen to be over 30m long.. even longer than the F-111….
And then the dump and burn was gone………
Meanwhile some F/A-18 Super Hornets taxied down to near the crowd line.
Next an airfield attack display was done at high speed and low level with multiple F-111s involved.
One last final flyover by all 6 F-111s was conducted and brought to and end the flying career of the F-111 in Australian skies.
The last flyby looped around and then came back for one final fast flyby over Amberley.
This concluded the display and the F-111 use in the RAAF as a strike bomber.
37years of long hard service was nearly finished.
The aircrafts then broke away and prepared for their last ever landing.
THE FINAL F-111s LAND
The F-111s drifted downwind and turned for final line up on Amberley runway for one last time.
THE FINAL FLYING PIG –
As the final F-111 now flying in the air, everyone’s attention turned to A8-125.
F-111C A8-125 was the first F-111 to land in Australia back in 1973, so it was chosen as the closing aircraft.
As its engine smoke trail filled the sky and its large landing gear hung under the fuselage for one last time catching the rush of air, some people expected a one final missed approach and a last flying show off but it didnt happen. A8-125 continued its approach and landed, bringing an end to the last flying F-111 in the world.
THE FINAL SHUT DOWN
After the landing, the 6 F-111s taxied down onto the taxiway area near the Pig Tales event.
A8-125 was the first to taxi up and shut down. Over next few minutes the remaining 5 other F-111s taxied in and shut down.
THE END OF A ERA
At 142pm on Dec 3rd 2010, the very noise of TF-30 turbofan jet engines on the F-111s, wound down on the taxiway at RAAF Amberley for the very last time. A8-109 was the last active and operational running F-111c in the world.
With this howling loud jet engine, descending into a whine and then silence…. it ended a remarkable career of 37years of intense flying operations.
STOP sign means STOP.. and sadly the F-111 have to pay attention..
The change was very noticeable by all present…… some may of shed a tear.
As the sound of jet noise faded away for the very last time on the overcast afternoon, a loud applause from the gathering of former aircrew and maintenance personnel, families and base staff could be heard as a sign of appreciation to the current personnel and more so, as a tribute and one final bit of recognition to the F-111 “Pig”.
After the shutdown each crew looked around their one jets for last time before climbing down. Some reflected on what they had just been part of. Some were surrounded by family and fellow RAAF mates. All the crews entered the final F-111 comments into their aircraft’s maintenance records.
FLIGHT GEAR WORN IN F-111s LAST FLIGHT
The last flight gear ever used in the F-111 operations was the HGU-55/P flight helmet / P type Oxygen mask with a CSU-13/P G-suit. Support crews picked up the aircrew gear and took it back to the Life Support rooms.
ONE FINAL CLOSE UP INSPECTION
The crowd was then allowed to move down and inspect the F-111s lined up on the taxiway.
The line up provided a one final close farewell for all and allowed many swapping of stories and notes.
People surged forward to take photos,remembering the old days and to pat one last time …a Pig.
By 3pm the taxiway was being cleared of the F-111s and the final speeches for the afternoon were given. Soon all the Pigs will be gone…
Back in the main display area were hundreds of people have a good time sharing stories and memories of F-111 operations. More speeches and displays were presented.
3 cakes – 2 of them as grey F-111s were cut and slices handed out.
CURRENT AND PAST F-111 RAAF MEMBERS – PIG TALES – THEIR DAY
The day really belonged to the current serving RAAF members and its past ex members/veterans. Hundreds of RAAF aircrew and thousands of ground based personnel were in attendance.
My friend John Bushell a F-111 bombardier / navigator from 1973 to 1976 was on base somewhere but alas i couldn’t find him. I did spot some men and i asked them if they knew of John – they sure did they were his ex crew mates!
F-111 aircrew from 1970s standing next to a old friend..
For around 30mins i was in company with men who had flown Canberra bombers in the Vietnam War with 2 Sqn and F-4E Phantoms / F-111 in 1 and 6 Sqn – all in RAAF colours.
I felt these men were a unique lot of people and that they had experienced a most amazing time in late 1960s-early 1970s while in the RAAF.
Dramatic change in tactics, technology and weapons systems happened all within 5years and these men experienced it all.
HIGHEST TIME F-111 AIRCREW MEMBER IN THE RAAF
While listening to the aircrew swap stories, i came across F-111 pilot Steve Clarke and noticed he had a rather unusual patch on his flight suit. I queried him and found out he is a rare bloke in Australia.
He is the only person to ever get 3000+hrs on the F-111 in RAAF service. He had around 3,400hrs in total i recall. He had been flying the F-111 for a long time and his final flight on Friday was as a reservist pilot.
THE TRANSITION FROM PIG TO RHINO IS COMPLETE
A brace of 2 F/A-18F Super Hornets closed off the afternoon as a sign of a new era now beginning at Amberley for 6 Squadron.
THE END OF THE PIGS
Now that the F-111 era has ended, people will look back at the deterrence status that the F-111 brought to Australia’s defence capabilities over 37years.
It was one of the “cornerstones” of the ADF main defence systems for the last 37 years- working beside the Oberon class submarine and the SAS – Special Air Service army unit.
Like the F-111, the Oberon class submarine was replaced by the Collins class in the last 10years. The SAS still continues on with new members joining every few years.
In replacing the F-111, the torch has now been passed to a new generation aircraft – the Super Hornet – which will be flown just as they did with the F-111 – precision attack with vigor by their new crews.
FINAL F-111 THOUGHTS
Final F-111 thoughts – no one thought in 1963 that the F-111 fleet would last so long.
No one designing the bomber ever expected it to become such a unique and capable aircraft and put fear into the enemy in various countries around the world.
The F-111 bombed Vietnam, Libya and Iraq while in USAF service.
It was used as a key deterrence in Europe during the Cold war from the 1960s to 1990s.
Russia used the SALT II treaty regarding reducing nuclear weapons” to even highlight the “threat” they saw in the USAF F-111 fleet which was based in the UK.
This comment shows that the F-111 was indeed respected by many countries – not only the US and Australia. General Dynamics problem plagued TFX eventually matured over 40years, into a highly capable strike aircraft that never had a match in the South East Asian region.
4 airframes will be saved for display and survive at RAAF Point Cook Museum – 1 , RAAF Edinburgh -1 and RAAF Amberley – 2. The other 17 will be scrapped sadly.
Many people in Australia want this scrapping decision reversed and more museums given a F-111 for display.
MEDIA COVERAGE OF PIG TALES
Here is a link to an ABC news story done on the day – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=waMrzC1Rul8&feature=player_embedded
The retirement day media coverage was organised by the RAAF PAO who are part of the ACG.
Thanks to all the personel of 82 Wing /1 and 6 Sqn, RAAF PAO Officers Skye, Catherine and others who help organise our media access for the day.
Skye and Catherine – 2 very helpful PAOs from the RAAF’s ACG.