South Australian Aviation Museum – Open Cockpits and Family Fun Day 2017 – Part III

South Australian Aviation Museum
South Australian Aviation Museum, Port Adelaide

Continuing on from my visit to the South Australian Aviation Museum (SAAM) Open Cockpits and Family Fun Day on Sunday April 9th, 2017, lets take a look at the RAAF General Dynamics RF-111C (A8-134) strike/reconnaissance aircraft that dominates their main display hangar. I also took an informative cockpit tour of the RF-111C which was a real highlight of the day for me.

RF-111C

The RAAF operated the F-111 from 1973 to 2010 with No. 1 and 6 Squadrons at RAAF Amberley in Queensland. The RAAF Aircraft Research and Development Unit (ARDU) also operated an F-111 during flight trials. The F-111 was originally purchased to replace the GAF Canberra bomber (GAF built 48 for the RAAF with the first entering service in 1954 and the last retired in 1982. The type saw extensive service during the Vietnam War) but also ended up replacing 24 McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II multi-role fighters leased between 1970 and 1973 due to delays in delivery of the F-111C (1 F-4E was lost in an accident during this period).

The RAAF General Dynamics RF-111C reconnaissance/strike aircraft in the busy main hangar at the South Australian Aviation Museum Open Cockpits and Family Fun Day - April 2017
The RAAF General Dynamics RF-111C reconnaissance/strike aircraft in the busy main hangar at the South Australian Aviation Museum Open Cockpits and Family Fun Day – April 2017

The F-111 was quite a beast capable of flying at a maximum speed of Mach 1.2 at sea level and Mach 2.5 above 50,000 ft. It could carry 14,300kg (31,500 lb) of ordnance including free fall and laser guided bombs, air to surface missiles and air to air missiles – the RAAF variants could carry combinations of Mk 82 and Mk 84 bombs, Paveway II Laser-Guided Bombs, AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles,  GBU-15 electro-optical glide bombs and could even carry up to 4 AGM-84 Harpoon anti-shipping missiles. These capabilities along with a long ferry range of 5,560km, sophisticated avionics and weapons systems, and the ability to fly extremely low using terrain following radar made it one formidable aircraft!

The RAAF converted 4 F-111C strike aircraft to the RF-111C strike/reconnaissance aircraft in 1980. Only 2 were preserved for museum display upon retirement in 2010 - South Australian Aviation Museum - April 2017
The RAAF converted 4 F-111C strike aircraft to the RF-111C strike/reconnaissance aircraft in 1979/1980. Only 2 were preserved for museum display upon retirement in 2010 – South Australian Aviation Museum – April 2017
The RAAF General Dynamics RF-111C reconnaissance/strike aircraft in the busy main hangar at the South Australian Aviation Museum
The RAAF General Dynamics RF-111C reconnaissance/strike aircraft in the busy main hangar at the South Australian Aviation Museum – April 2017
The RF-111C alongside the aircraft the F-111 entered service to replace, the Canberra bomber - South Australian Aviation Museum - April 2017
The RF-111C alongside the aircraft the F-111 entered service to replace, the Canberra bomber – South Australian Aviation Museum – April 2017

The RAAF received 28 F-111C strike aircraft (including attrition replacements), 1 of the existing C models were converted to RF-111C strike/reconnaissance variants in 1979 in Fortworth, Texas) and 3 more in 1980 by No. 3 Aircraft Depot (3AD) at RAAF Amberley. An additional 15 former USAF F-111G strike variants were delivered in 1993/94 of which 5 were placed in long-term storage (all F-111G’s were retired by 2007). 7 F-111C’s and 1 F-111G were lost in accidents. Despite being one of the most advanced strike aircraft in the world and receiving numerous avionics and weapons systems upgrades throughout its life, the type was never used in combat by the RAAF.

The F-111C was in RAAF service from 1973 to 2010. The converted RF-111C's from 1980 to 2010 - South Australian Aviation Museum
The F-111C was in RAAF service from 1973 to 2010. The converted RF-111C’s from 1980 to 2010 – South Australian Aviation Museum – April 2017

Getting to sit in the cockpit of the General Dynamics RF-111C (A8-134) and receive a detailed overview of the cockpit controls was well worth the wait in the queue and the small additional fee of just $5 (I had long wanted to get a good look inside one as they were always a well guarded secret at airshows whilst operational but to sit in one too was a real highlight!). Seeing the combination of late 1960’s analog technology and the digital upgrades that occurred within the cockpit control panel through the long 37 year RAAF career of the F-111 was quite fascinating. Although it may look spacious it was quite cumbersome getting into the pilots side of the cockpit!

Waiting to do the popular RF-111C cockpit tour - South Australian Aviation Museum
Waiting to do the popular RF-111C cockpit tour – South Australian Aviation Museum – April 2017
General Dynamics RF-111C (A8-134) cockpit - A mix of 1960's analog and modern digital controls - South Australian Aviation Museum - April 2017
General Dynamics RF-111C (A8-134) cockpit – A mix of 1960’s analog and modern digital controls – South Australian Aviation Museum – April 2017
RF-111C cockpit tour South Australian Aviation Museum
To keep things flowing the RF-111C cockpit tours had two people going in at once – I got to go into the pilots side, this lucky unknown kid is in the navigator side. Note the all important coffee thermos for long flights (on the right of the photo)! South Australian Aviation Museum – April 2017

I also like that the RF-111C is displayed with the special camera unit alongside it that was installed in the weapons bay. It contains four cameras and an infrared linescanner unit. The RAAF have done a great job in ensuring museums had access to a high quality display aircraft.

The camera unit of the RF-111C was fitted in the weapons bay. It contains four cameras and an infrared linescanner unit - South Australian Aviation Museum
The camera unit of the RF-111C was fitted in the weapons bay. It contains four cameras and an infrared linescanner unit – South Australian Aviation Museum – April 2017
RAAF F-111G (A8_277) and RF-111C (A8_134) - you can clearly see where the camera unit has been placed in the weapons bay of the RF-111C (Photo Source: RAAF via ADF-Serials.com.au)
RAAF F-111G (A8-277) and RF-111C (A8-134) in gunship grey over Mount Mitchell, Queensland – you can clearly see where the camera unit has been placed in the weapons bay of the RF-111C (Photo Source: RAAF via ADF-Serials.com.au AFIR: 000185492)

This aircraft was delivered to the RAAF in 1973 and converted from an F-111C strike aircraft to an RF-111C model in 1980 by 3AD (although the weapons bay was used to hold the camera unit, underwing weapons pylons were retained). It served with both RAAF No. 1 and 6 Squadrons and was in operation until December 2010 (it wears both No. 1 and No. 6 Squadron markings and emblems on each side of the aircraft fuselage and tail). It is on long-term loan from the RAAF and arrived at SAAM on March 17th, 2013.

On the port side the RF-111C wears RAAF No.1 Squadron markings and on the starboard side, No.6 Squadron markings - South Australian Aviaiton Museum
On the port side the RF-111C wears RAAF No.1 Squadron markings and on the starboard side, No.6 Squadron markings – South Australian Aviation Museum – April 2017
RAAF RF-111C (A8-134) landing on May 7th, 2010
RAAF No. 6 Squadron RF-111C (A8-134) in gunship grey livery, landing on May 7th, 2010 (Photo Source: RAAF via ADF-Serials.com.au)

RAAF F-111 Disposal

Although continuously upgraded with the latest technology, the last of the ageing RAAF F-111 fleet was officially retired in 2010 primarily due to the high maintenance cost per flight hour. The last flight of an RAAF F-111 was on December 3rd, 2010 when F-111C A8-109 landed and shut down its engines at RAAF Amberley in Queensland.

Following this flight the process to close RAAF F-111 operations began (they were replaced by 24 Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet multi-role fighters). While many of the surviving aircraft were to be scrapped due to a security arrangement with the United States government (F-111G’s were considered nuclear weapon capable), 13 were earmarked for preservation at RAAF bases and public museums.

RAAF F-111
A sleek F-111 in gunship grey (Photo Source: RAAF)

6 F-111’s went to RAAF bases: Amberley RF-111C A8-126 in the Aviation Heritage Centre and F-111C A8-138 as a gate guardian, ARDU Edinburgh F-111C A8-132 (this one is painted with white undersides as it was during flight trials with ARDU), Wagga Wagga Aviation Heritage Centre F-111C A8-142, RAAF Point Cook Museum – the only surviving F-111G A8-272 The Boneyard Wrangler which is on display and F-111C A8-125 which is currently in storage. The Amberley Aviation Heritage Centre also received 3 F-111C crew modules (the crew would eject in the enclosed module rather than have individual ejection seats) – A8-136, A8-137 and A8-147.

F-111G weapons options RAAF Museum Point Cook
RAAF F-111G weapons options – “The Bone Wrangler” at RAAF Point Cook Museum in 2016

7 F-111C aircraft were allocated to public museums – Queensland Air Museum, Caloundra A8-129, SAAM RF-111C A8-134, Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome A8-147, HARS A8-109, Aviation Historical Society of the NT, Darwin A8-113, Fighter World, Williamtown A8-148 and the Pacific Aviation Museum, Hawaii A8-130). F-111C crew modules were also allocated for preservation at museums – RAAF Association, Bull Creek (A8-140), Caboolture Warbird Museum (A8-135) and Moorabbin Air Museum (A8-131). In an agreement with the US government all the surviving F-111’s remain the property of the RAAF and are on long-term loan to the museums under strict procedures in regards to management and protection of the aircraft (controlled by the Air Force Heritage Department in Canberra).

RAAF F-111C A8-130 called the Aardvark in USAF service but known as the "Pig" in the RAAF at the Pacific Aviation Museum at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii in 2013
RAAF F-111C A8-130 called the Aardvark in USAF service but known as the “Pig” in the RAAF at the Pacific Aviation Museum at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii in 2013
Moorabbin Air Museum RAAF F-111C (A8-131) crew module - 2016
Moorabbin Air Museum RAAF F-111C (A8-131) crew module – 2016

The F-111’s were all restored for museum presentation at RAAF Amberley with most painted in the original camouflage scheme like the SAAM RF-111C rather than the gunship grey applied in later operational years. Apart from removal of any sensitive equipment, the powerful Pratt and Whitney TF30 afterburning turbofan engines were demilitarised so they can no longer be operated.

The powerful Pratt and Whitney TF30 afterburning turbofan engines of the RF-111C at the South Australian Aviation Museum were demilitarised by the RAAF so they can no longer be operated
The powerful Pratt and Whitney TF30 afterburning turbofan engines of the RF-111C at the South Australian Aviation Museum (and other museums) were demilitarised by the RAAF so they can no longer be operated – April 2017

The remaining F-111 aircraft that were disposed of in 2010 were actually buried at Swanbank, Queensland due to the large amount of asbestos in the airframe bonded panels. Those disposed included 1 F-111A (only ever used by the RAAF for ground training), 7 F-111C, 2 RF-111C and 13 F-111G airframes. The F-111G models had been retired in 2007 and were not deemed suitable for preservation due to airframe deterioration whilst in outdoor storage (other than the one previously mentioned at RAAF Point Cook).

RAAF F-111''s dumped ipswich QLD
The sad fate of many of the RAAF F-111’s (photo source: Channel 7 Australia)

References:

ADF-Serials – F-111

Queensland Air Museum – F-111 Disposals

South Australian Aviation Museum – F-111

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3 thoughts on “South Australian Aviation Museum – Open Cockpits and Family Fun Day 2017 – Part III

  1. Love to visit air museums.

    On Sun, Apr 23, 2017 at 1:03 AM, Aces Flying High wrote:

    > Deano posted: ” Continuing on from my visit to the South Australian > Aviation Museum (SAAM) Open Cockpits and Family Fun Day on Sunday April > 9th, 2017, lets take a look at the RAAF General Dynamics RF-111C (A8-134) > strike/reconnaissance aircraft that dominates their m” >

    Liked by 1 person

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