Bombers from B-70 to Stealth
F-111A, F-111B, F-111E
F-111 Aardvarks as bombers
In April 1964 the number of intercontinental missiles on alert surpassed the number of intercontinental bombers on alert, and the destruction of all possible enemy strategic fixed targets seemed assured. No strategic bombers were being produced in the United States. While strategic heavy and medium bomber squadrons decreased from 78 in June 1964 to 40 in June 1968 and 24 in September 1977, Air Force leaders continued to press development of new manned bomber designs.
The next bomber to enter SAC service was the General Dynamics FB-111A, which was developed from the F-111A tactical fighter-bomber. Powered by two Pratt & Whitney TF-30-P-7s, its outstanding feature was variable-sweep wings that could be swept back 72.5 degrees for high-speed attack. Terrain-following radar permitted a low-
altitude attack approach that avoided the dangers of a high-altitude approach: early detection by enemy radar and interception by SAMs.
Two crewmen sat side by side and depended on speed and electronics for protection rather than any guns. On the basic mission two 2,247-pound nuclear SRAMs (AGM-69As) in the weapons bay and two more under the wings, along with four 600-gallon drop tanks, were carried over a 6,160-mile range, including 3,300 miles added by air refueling. Under wing pylons could hold six drop tanks for ferry flights, 24 750-pound M117A1 bombs, or Mk 43 nuclear bombs.
The FB-111A program was first announced December 10, 1965, as a low-cost interim supersonic replacement for the B-58. A production contract was approved, and an extended wing prototype, converted from the 18th F-111A, flew July 30, 1967. The first production aircraft flew at Fort Worth on July 13, 1968, but on March 19, 1969, a new Defense Secretary, Melvin Laird, cut the program from 263 to 76 aircraft.
SAC formally accepted its first FB-111A on October 8, 1969, and the first FB-111A SRAM launch tests began March 27, 1970. After the last FB-111A was received June 30, 1971, the 380th and 509th Bomb Wing operated them. The cost per production aircraft was listed as 9.8 million dollars.
In 1989, SAC began to retire their FB-111As, and 34 of these aircraft were transferred to TAC and redesignated
F-111Gs with their SRAM provisions replaced by conventional bomb gear. The last SAC FB-111A unit, the 380th BW, was deactivated in July 1991 and the F-111Gs used for training at Cannon AFB.
Australia had contracted October 24, 1963, for 24
F-111Cs to replace their Canberra bombers and the first, which had the longer F-111B wings and FB-111A landing gear, was formally accepted in September 1968. The entire order was then stored pending the results of USAF F-111A testing, and, after becoming a scandal in Australian politics, were not rebuilt and delivered until June to December 1973.
Those were the only F-111s sold abroad, for a 50-plane contract for a Royal Air Force F-111K version announced February 1, 1967, was cancelled in January 1968. The almost completed first two were to be redesignated YF-111A for special tests, but the USAF decided instead to salvage both airframes for useful parts.
Four Australian F-111Cs added cameras to become RF-111C recon types in 1977, and in 1982, four ex-USAF F-111As replaced attrition losses.
Other F-111Cs were upgraded with Pave Tack electronics, and 15 used F-111Gs were purchased as replenishments in 1993.
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