"The Pig" Retires
By John Freedman
The historic event has happened – the final flight of Australia’s best defense asset, our big stick, the best deterrent we have or will ever have. It’s the best air interdiction aircraft ever built, the General Dynamics F-111, “The Pig.” Whether there will be a comparable replacement all in one aircraft, the airframe pioneered variable-sweep wings, afterburner turbofan engines, and terrain-following radar. The United States phased out the aircraft in 1998, replacing it with the F-15 and B-1B.
At 13:30 on December 3, 2010, the last F-111C A8-125 landed ending Australia’s 37-year-plus involvement with the plane. Witnessing the event were current crews, family, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) officers, many former RAAF crews, people who loved the aircraft (me included), and even quite a few ex-U.S. Air Force aircrew that came down to see for themselves the last flight of the type.
When it was purchased, the F-111s was controversial; they had come with some teething problems, but since their delivery in 1973, they had been the greatest asset in the region. Nothing could come close. It was fitting that the first aircraft that arrived at RAAF Amberley, the home of the F-111, A8-125 was also the last to land. Six aircraft were launched for the last hurrah, a flight over Brisbane, the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast – the region where the F-111s roamed.
The people of the region love “The Pig,” an affectionate nickname highlighting the type’s ability to fly low with its nose in the dirt. Of course the last flight wouldn’t be complete without the trademark “dump and burn.” No other aircraft has such a unique party trick; raw fuel is dumped using the emergency fuel release, then the afterburner is lit, and you get a 100- to 300-foot flame that comes out of the rear of the aircraft. A Hornet driver could beat himself silly pulling g’s all over the sky, and The Pig would come and do the dump and burn. To all air show crowds, that was the highlight of the whole day. Locals have enjoyed this spectacle at the annual Riverfire fireworks show where the finale of the display was a dump, lighting up the whole city as it flew over.
After a vigorous aerial display, five other F-111s did an airfield attack, and then they formed for a final six-ship flypast. Next they landed. One by one they taxied to the hard stand and were directed to stop. And at 13:35 the air around Amberley became quiet, never again to have the high-pitched whine of the F-111.
Two aircraft are to be kept in flyable storage should there be a momentous wartime need for them. Right now four are to be kept in museums, but the fate of the rest is uncertain. Many will meet their demise, the victims of a political decision to save money over capability, the same death that befell the U.S. versions. Sadly this is the way of many a great warrior. Many of the best types have fallen to the stroke of the pen.
I hope that you enjoy the photos of the F-111 finale, as you too can see the end of an era, the last tier-one aircraft that Australia has ever owned.