Doug Gordon details the F-111F’s time with 48th Tactical Fighter Wing.
The General Dynamics F-111 ‘Aardvark’ had the hardest and probably the most acrimonious gestation of any modern jet fighter to enter service with the USAF. Its development was plagued by negative media attention and wallet-watching politicians. But, despite this, the F-111 emerged as one of the most successful fighter-bombers the USAF has ever flown; fighting in Southeast Asia and later displaying its prowess over Libya on Operation El Dorado Canyon and in the first Gulf War. Almost everything about the aircraft was innovative from its variable sweep wings to its Mach 1+ ultra-low altitude terrain-following capability.
Two F-111 tactical fighter wings (TFW) were assigned to USAFE during the Cold War and both were based in the UK: the 20th at Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire and the 48th based at Lakenheath in Suffolk. The former received the F-111E and the latter the ’F model.
The F-111F was the final version of the Aardvark produced. Upgrades of the previous models included enhanced navigation and digital computer systems, AN/APQ-144 attack radar, improved undercarriage and Pratt & Whitney TF-30-P-100 engines with more thrust. The 48th received its first two F-111Fs on March 1, 1977, replacing its McDonnell Douglas F-4D Phantom IIs.
The 48th TFW had four tactical fighter squadrons (TFS) assigned: the 492nd, 493rd, 494th and 495th. Capt Jim Jimenez flew with the 48th from August 1984 to December 1986. “I well remember my first impression of the F-111. The cockpit was very ‘switch intensive’, which combined with the heavy hatch and limited visibility reminded me of the first space capsules. Plus, the two crewmen sat side-side.
“The F-111 was very good at flying fast, low, and delivering ordnance at night or in adverse weather. But, it was big, with high wing loading and poor visibility – it was impossible to see past about 5 o’clock to the rear. Also, the airplane had this huge canopy rail down the centre of the cockpit – when flying I was constantly shifting in the seat to see around the rail. Although it was extremely fast and stable at low-level, it bled-off airspeed at an extraordinary rate when turning.”
A pair of Lakenheath F-111Fs in formation over the English countryside during the Cold War. Jim Rotramel
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