At Amberley, Queensland, Australia work continues on the disposal and distribution of recently retired General Dynamics F111 fighter aircraft.
The F111 commenced service in Australia in 1973 after a protracted 10 year purchase with 24 F111 C aircraft (4 later converted to RF111 C). Later four ex-United States Air Force (USAF) F-111As were purchased and converted to F-111C standard in 1982 to replace F-111Cs destroyed during accidents. Australia also operated 15 former USAF F-111Gs between 1993 and 2007, mainly for conversion training although not all of these actually flew in Australia some being consumed for spares. A further 10 airframes were held in storage in the US for spares purposes to support Australian operations.
The last F111 flight took place on 3 December 2010 and soon after the process of deciding the fate of the aircraft commenced. Originally it appeared that only a few of the aircraft would be preserved and even those only in RAAF/ Government controlled museums.
However a large groundswell of support and lobbying by Museums and enthusiasts brought about a rethink on the matter and subsequently it has been decided that a total of 13 complete aircraft, one forward fuselage and at least 8 (probably more) Crew Escape Modules will be preserved.
Six F111’s and several Crew Escape Modules have been earmarked for distribution to Defense establishments, being A8-125, A8-126, A8-132, A8-138, A8-142 (All F111Cs) & A8-272(G Model). Two aircraft will be displayed at RAAF at Amberley (both C models A8-126 in the Heritage Centre and A8-128 on the Gate) , two at the RAAF Museum at Point Cook (one C model, A8-125 and one G model, A8-272 both already delivered) and one each at RAAF Base Edinburgh (A8-132 already delivered) and RAAF Base Wagga,( A8-142 already delivered) (both C Models) An F111A nose section is also on display at Amberley Ex USAF FB-111 A 68-0246. mounted on trailer as recruitment aid.
In addition, 7 aircraft and 4 Crew Escape Modules have been made available on loan to Australian Historical Organizations (AHO) as part of a Request for Offer (RFO) process which closed in May 2012 and is currently under consideration. Should tenderers be successful they will be notified in due course and receive their aircraft for display by December 2013. Whilst the aircraft are available for distribution to Non-Government Museums it is not a forgone conclusion that all 7 will be distributed, as the tender is very specific and rigorous in its requirements as to how and where the aircraft are to be displayed.
The F111 is a very large aircraft to house in a museum and even cleaning it regularly is going to be a time consuming matter. There is some sensitivity at Governmental and ADF level that loaned aircraft be displayed professionally – there having been some dissatisfaction that previously distributed aircraft such as the Canberra were not always displayed and cared for optimally (a global concern as for example with the fate of some Vulcans in the UK) The tender process conditions are exhaustive to ensure that the organizations receiving the loan aircraft are capable of caring for them and that they are secure. The loan aircraft cockpits are sealed and the aircraft undergo a comprehensive demilitarization process which involves the following:
Removal of all classified equipment
Removal of all explosive ordinance
Removal of all fluids and gases
Removal of most hazardous substances, noting that complete removal of all hazards including asbestos is not possible; hence the aircraft are loaned and not sold or gifted.
The aircraft are then serviced and repainted which completes preservation requirements. Access to some aircraft areas by the public is also prohibited due to OH&S concerns such as the undercarriage.
The aircraft to be preserved are stored at Amberley RAAF base in the open and are then cycled through the above conservation process in several hangers adjacent to the Amberley Heritage Centre but not part of it. A special team of ADF Staff go through each aircraft and carry out the demilitarization and preservation – the standard of finish is excellent and upon completion the aircraft would be a centerpiece in any collection anywhere in the world – they look immaculate. This process is a real departure for the disposal of operational aircraft in Australia as generally in the past they were disposed of “as is” in the cosmetic condition they ceased service complete with bird droppings!
Aircraft targeted for loan to AHOs are A8-109, A8-113, A8-129, A8-130, A8-134, A8-147 & A8-148 (all F111C)
Although the 13 aircraft preserved represent a large proportion of the remaining total of F111s, 22 others were disposed of by burial of the aircraft fuselages near Amberley and scrapping of the wings and other components. Whilst preservationists are split over this outcome it must be said it is a positive outcome and does see a very good spread of aircraft in museums across the country.
Australian Defense Forces PR noted “The following aircraft were buried due to their condition and were unsuitable for preservation”A8-112,A8-114, A8-131 A8-135 A8-140 A8-143 A8-144 A8-145 A8-146 (F111C Models) A8-259 A8-264 A8-265 A8-270 A8-271 A8-274 A8-277 A8-278 A8-281 A8-282 A8-506 A8-512 (G Models) and lastly the controversial scrapping of F111A A8-514 & “City of Graham”, a very historic early aircraft which featured ejection seats instead of the later versions Crew Escape Modules. It should also be noted that only one G model has survived at The RAAFM. The ADF states that the rest of the G models were not suitable for preservation. It is not clear however, if the G models were also subject to tighter controls concerning their disposal as a result of their being purchased from the US Military surplus as opposed to the C models being purchased direct from the manufacturer.
So in summary, 13 F111 aircraft will now be preserved in Australia as well as one forward fuselage and a number of Crew Escape modules (8 at least). A fantastic result from the previously foreshadowed 2 or 3 aircraft. Without the intervention of Museums and enthusiasts this turnaround would not have happened. The Australian Defence Force and particularly the RAAF should also be recognized for the effort they are making to ensure the highest standards are being observed in the selection and preparation of the surviving aircraft for display. Flypast magazine acknowledges the assistance of the ADF in the preparation of this article and we will report on the final destination of the 7 Tendered aircraft and the modules when the results of the tender are published.
© John Parker 2013