In addition to a modern design, the F-111 was also equipped with the most modern technology of its time, including afterburning turbofan engines, and automated terrain-following radar for low-altitude, high-speed flight.
Perhaps after decades of design and construction of aircraft, people will think that all aircraft born with the same purpose will have the same shape. All fighters will be the same, all commercial jets will be the same… but this did not happen.
Since the dawn of the jet age, aircraft have been designed in completely different shapes. In the 1960s and 1980s, variable-sweep wings emerged as a kind of modern design. Of these, F-111 was considered a pioneer.
In addition to a modern design, the F-111 was also equipped with the most modern technology of its time, including afterburning turbofan engines, and automated terrain-following radar for low-altitude, high-speed flight. Its design influenced later variable-sweep wing aircraft, and some of its advanced features have since become commonplace.
During the Vietnam War, the United States used the Air Force to be described as “unimaginable power”. But only from 1965 to 1967, the Pentagon suffered from surprise to surprise. Thousands of jets were shot down with all the latest types, along with thousands of elite pilots.
The damage was so unbearable that the Americans demanded an aircraft be superior to the other available to dominate the North Vietnamese air defense system, which was increasingly effective, while raising the morale of their pilots. F-111 was selected by McNamara in the Tactical Fighter Experimental competition.
F-111 is also known as Aardvark. The aircraft served as a supersonic, medium-range interdictor and tactical attack aircraft. It also played the role of strategic nuclear bombers, aerial reconnaissance, and electronic-warfare aircraft in its various versions. F-111 had been researched and manufactured by General Dynamics according to these criteria. It was envisioned as a champion in the sky.
The first flight was made in 1964, and in 1967 F-111 began to be put into mass production. The price of an F-111 at that time was $15 million. Can you imagine it? It is more expensive than a B-52. Compared with other types of aircraft that the US Air Force had used in Vietnam before such as A-4, A-6, F-4 or F-105, the F-111 was superior.
F-111 is characterized by a long pointed nose, behind is a cockpit for the crew of 2, sitting side by side. F-111 has a length of 22.4m (73 ft 6 in), wingspan of 19m (63 ft), height of 5.22m (17 ft 1.5 in).
As for the variable geometry wing design, the F-111 was a pioneer, leading the way for successors such as the F-14, Panavia Tornado, and Soviet aircrafts. The wing sweep varied between 16 degrees and 72.5 degrees. The wing included leading edge slats and double slotted flaps over its full length. The wing area when swept and spread are 48.7 (525 sq ft) and 61.07 (657.4 sq ft) square meters, respectively.
The airframe was made up mostly of aluminium alloys with steel, titanium and other materials used in places. The fuselage was made of a semi-monocoque structure with stiffened panels and honeycomb structure panels for skin. The empennage consists of a single vertical tail fin, with two horizontal planes placed on either side of the engine exhaust.
The F-111 used a three-point landing gear arrangement, with a two-wheel nose gear and two single-wheel main landing gear units. The landing gear door for the main gear, which was positioned in the center of the fuselage, also served as a speed brake in flight.
F-111 is equipped with 2 Pratt & Whitney TF30-P-100 afterburning turbofan engines, producing 80 kN (17,900 lbf) dry thrust each, and up to 112 kN (25,100 lbf) with afterburner. F-111 has an empty weight of 21.4 tons (47,200 lb), while the maximum takeoff weight of up to 45.3 tons (100,000 lb).
Aardvark can reach a maximum speed of Mach 2.5, significantly faster than North Vietnam’s Mig-21. In addition, F-111 also has a range of up to 5,940 km (3,210 nmi), a rate of climb of 131.5 m/s. It has a terrifying service ceiling of up to 20km. The American pilots believed they would not be shot down while sitting on this aircraft.
In terms of weapon system, the F-111 is equipped with a 20 mm M61A1 Vulcan 6-barreled Gatling cannon in weapons bay. Along with that are 9 hardpoints, including 8 under-wings and 1 under-fuselage between engines, plus 2 attach points in weapons bay with a capacity of 14.3 tons (31,500 lb).
F-111 can carry AGM-69 SRAM air-to-surface missile, AGM-130 stand-off bombs. As a fighter-bomber, it can carry conventional bombs such as Mk 82, Mk 83, Mk 84 and Mk 117. There are also cluster bombs, BLU-109 hardened penetration bomb, Paveway laser-guided bombs, BLU-107 bomb, GBU-15 electro-optical bomb, and B61 or B43 nuclear bombs.
Most F-111 variants included a terrain-following radar system connected to the autopilot.
Like every modern American weapon manufactured in the 1960s, the F-111 was also brought to Vietnam to test fire. This is also the variable-sweep wings aircraft with the most combat experience.
F-111 has an automatic control system to fly over the terrain in all weather, both day and night without the guidance of the LORAN navigation system like many other aircraft. Therefore, it can fly fast, at low altitude and maneuverable in complex mountainous areas, it is difficult for the enemy to detect and shoot down.
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