Friday pictures: RAAF F-111 Aardvark

In keeping with some recent installments that focus on the pure form of a plane, today’s update captures a very clean Royal Australian Air Force/General Dynamics F-111C Aardvark. The Aardvark dates to the TFX competition of 1961. Kennedy’s Defense Secretary Robert McNamara sought to replace a variety of Air Force and Navy jets with one versatile design. This is the same illusion America and her allies appear to be chasing today with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, although the TFX sought to encompass an even broader set of roles than the F-35 aims for today. The resulting Air Force variants entered service in 1968 as a part of a deployment called Combat Lancer. After severe teething problems with many systems, chief among them the Pratt & Whitney TF30 engine, the F-111 ultimately emerged as a very capable bomber, serving in the role of deep-penetration interdiction. Its substantial payload combined with very high speed to make it a formidable weapon, and it next saw action against Libya in 1986 (as part of El Dorado Canyon) and Iraq (in Desert Storm). The USAF retired the type in 1998. As a naval fighter, the F-111B was a disappointment, although portions of the F-111B program were repackaged as part of the far more successful Grumman F-14 Tomcat.

Australia ordered two-dozen F-111C bombers in 1963, took delivery in 1968, and had to wait until 1973 to see them in service due to unanticipated structural issues. Since 1973, the Australian F-111 force has seen an additional four airframes delivered in 1982, while 18 further F-111G aircraft were delivered in 1994. In that time, the F-111 has never seen combat in Australian service. Wing cracks in the fleet have triggered its planned retirement in 2010, although there is a great deal of politics surrounding this decision (including the RAAF decision to purchase the F-18 as a stopgap until the F-35 is ready).

Operational histories aside, the swing-wing F-111 has always looked like a fast jet – with the lines I associate with a middle schooler’s study hall doodles. In this picture by flickr user obLiterated, to whom I extend my thanks for this handsome shot, we see an Aardvark banking hard during a tight left turn, afterburners engaged. Note the long-span wings. Just about perfection.

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If you like this, I encourage you to check out this summary of all of the aviation photography I have featured here.

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