Retirement of the Pigs

Today (23/11) I was privileged to attend 6 SQN at the RAAF Base Amberley to photograph the F-111 for the final time prior to their retirement on the 3rd December. After 37 years serving the Air Force, the F-111’s are now sadly destined for the scrap heap.

Whilst the Federal Government is currently seeking buyers to turn 21 aircraft into scrap metal, four of the F-111s will become permanent displays at locations around the country.

Wing Commander Michael ‘Micka’ Gray commented that “One will go down to the Air Force museum at Point Cook, the home of the Air Force and one to Adelaide to RAAF Base Edinburgh, which is our research and development unit where they do all the testing of new aircraft.”

The two remaining aircraft will be on display at RAAF Base Amberley outside of Brisbane.

These unmistakable aircraft are affectionately known as ‘Pigs’ for their ability to hunt at night with their nose in the weeds thanks to the terrain-following radar. With numerous airframe, engine, weapons and avionics upgrades, the F-111 remains the fastest and longest ranging combat aircraft in the Asia-Pacific.

Wing Commander Micka Gray said “It’s an incredibly significant aircraft. I’ve flown it for 22 years but there’s people that’ve flown it for 15, 20 years before me. So you know four decades of service for Australia has been a great buy”. “The aircraft was ahead of its time in the ’60s. It was an ambitious buy back then but one that’s been proven right” he said.

Wing Commander Alan Curr was among the first pilots to fly the aircraft in the 70s. On 24th August 1979 “I ejected out of one in New Zealand in 1979 which was quite remarkable in that we ejected off the runway. We had double engine failure on take-off due to water ingestion. We couldn’t stop because the runway was so flooded and the airplane was just hydroplaning down the runway so there was no option but to pull the handle.”

Wing Commander Alan Curr: “Because I had such a long association it is very nostalgic for me and pretty sad actually because the airplane is a remarkable beast. As everybody knows it looks gorgeous in the air. It had huge capabilities and it’s only going out of service because it was just getting too hard to maintain. It’s an old airframe. So its day is here.”

“I could watch it all day. It’s just amazing, especially when you line up on the end of the runway with another aircraft alongside you and watch the power of those engines as it takes off. It’s just great.” – Wing Commander Micka Gray

The 3rd of December will mark the last time the F-111s will take to the skies. A final farewell flypast will be conducted over the towns and cities of South East Queensland, Northern NSW and Brisbane where the aircraft have traditionally conducted training missions over the years.

The Air Force is in the process of obtaining 24 Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornets by 2011 to ensure Australia’s air combat capability edge is maintained until the full introduction into service of the F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighter.

Wing Commander Alan Curr: “Oh yes they’re the Super Hornets. That’s the replacement for the F-111 and they’re here doing their business, yeah.”

The Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18F Super Hornet will give Australia an upgraded air combat capability for both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions until the full introduction into service of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). Twenty-four Super Hornets will replace the F-111s at Nos 1 and 6 Squadrons at RAAF Base Amberley from 2010.

I hope you enjoyed the shots and info. Cheers…