RAAF Museum Strike/Recce Hangar at Point Cook, Victoria. The GAF (English Electric) Canberra Mk.20, McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II and General Dynamics F-111G Aardvark (a name that was never really used in the RAAF as they were affectionately known as “Pig“) make for an impressive display of former RAAF aircraft (photos taken during my February 2016 visit to the museum).
GAF (English Electric) Canberra
The RAAF ordered 48 English Electric Canberra bombers in 1950. These were built by the Government Aircraft Factory (GAF) with the first delivered in 1953 and went on to operate with No.2 Squadron (1953), No. 6 Squadron (1955) and No.1 Squadron (1958). 5 were converted to a Mk.21 trainer variant in 1958-1959.
The Canberra was used effectively in combat over Malaysia in 1958. No. 2 Squadron based at RAAF Butterworth in Malaysia since 1958, was deployed on April 16th, 1967 with their GAF Canberra Mk.20 bombers to Phan Rang, South Vietnam. From 1967-1971 No.2 Squadron flew almost 12,000 sorties for the loss of only 2 aircraft during the Vietnam War.
The Canberra squadron operated as part of USAF 35th Tactical Fighter Wing alongside USAF Martin B-57 Canberra bombers. Despite flying only 6% of the Tactical Fighter Wings sorties, No. 2 Squadron inflicted 16% of the collective damage and they were awarded a Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry and a United States Air Force Outstanding Unit Commendation for their gallant efforts.
The GAF Canberra was replaced in a RAAF combat role by the McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II with the last retired from No. 2 Squadron in 1982. In its final years of operation the Canberra bombers were conducting cartographic surveys of Australia and overseas, along with target towing duties.
McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II
24 McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II multi-role fighters were leased by the RAAF from 1971-1973 as a stop-gap replacement for the Canberra bomber before the more advanced F-111’s were delivered. Only 23 were returned to the USAF in 1973 as 1 had been lost in an accident. The F-4E on display was presented to the RAAF Museum by the USAF Museum on November 5th, 1989
The F-4E was a well-respected fighter which I am sure many pilots and ground crews were sad to see go (good flight characteristics and ease of maintenance were big factors). The Australian Government considered retaining them and cancelling the F-111 order but a number of Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker air to air refuelling aircraft would have needed to be purchased to extend the range of the F-4E and this was deemed too expensive.
General Dynamics F-111
With an impressive top speed of Mach 2.5, a long-range, heavy weapons payload and superb low-level performance supported by a terrain following radar, the General Dynamics F-111 swing-wing strike bomber was the jewel in the crown of the RAAF’s strike/reconnaissance capability. 24 F-111C (a model developed to meet Australian requirements) were ordered with the first finally delivered in 1973 (the first was technically delivered in 1968 but with lots of technical issues with the development of this aircraft the delivery to operational status was delayed). The F-111 was also operated by the USAF with Australia being the first and only export customer. 4 were later modified to RF-111C reconnaissance aircraft (only operated by the RAAF).
In 1992 to extend the service life of the F-111, the RAAF purchased 15 F-111G’s from USAF surplus stock. They entered service in 1994. The F-111 could carry a wide range of surface to air weaponry including unguided bombs, laser guided bombs and surface to air missiles (AGM-84 Harpoon anti shipping missile and AGM-142 Popeye/Have Nap long range stand off missile – the latter became operational with the RAAF in 2007).
F-111G A8-272 “Boneyard Wrangler“ on display at the RAAF Museum is the only preserved RAAF F-111G. It was uniquely the only RAAF F-111 rebuilt for operational service from components stored at the USAF Davis Monthan “Boneyard” in Arizona.
Initial RAAF F-111 aircraft retirements began in 2007 and the last F-111’s were sadly retired in December 2010. Airframe fatigue was the main reason given, rather than capability as all the RAAF F-111’s had received ongoing weapons system and avionics upgrades throughout their long service life. The majority of the fleet were destroyed (as part of an agreement with the US government) with some going to museums around Australia and one to Hawaii. They were replaced by the Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet multi-role fighter.