There can be few finer sights in aviation than a General Dynamics F-111 bomber demonstrating the “dump-and-burn” routine. And here this week enjoy every second of it, for it could well be the last time you have the chance to witness the spectacle. The Royal Australian Air Force is retiring its F-111s in early December, and the Singapore Airshow is the final hurrah for the type outside its homeland. After 37 years of sterling service Down Under, the “Pig” will fly no more.
The RAAF’s No. 6 Squadron is the last unit to fly the type, its sister unit at RAAF Amberley, No. 1 Squadron having already begun conversion to the Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet, with the first of the new jets set to arrive in March.
“We love flying the F-111; it’s a unique aircraft,” said Flt. Lt. Leon “Fuzzy” Izzat, the weapon system officer for the F-111 in the flying display, “but it’s probably retiring at the right time. No-one makes spares for it any more, and it’s a maintenance nightmare.”
“It’s a lovely jet to fly, but we’re not on the network,” added Sqn. Ldr. Phil “Budgie” Parsons, F-111 display pilot. “We’ve got the speed and we’ve got the range, but we just haven’t got the connectivity to work in a modern environment. It’s like being in an office where everyone else has e-mails and networks, and all you’ve got is a fax machine.”
RAAF “Pigs” make only rare airshow appearances, and the two No. 6 Squadron F-111Cs came to Singapore specially for the show, night-stopping at Darwin on the way. A key restriction here is a 15,000-foot lateral restriction to the display area, necessitated by the proximity of Malaysian airspace. This is tighter than the normal F-111 display, so Parsons and Izzat worked on a new routine.
“The passes are basically the same as we normally do,” Izzat told AIN. “But we had to modify the repositioning maneuvers to fit the tight space. We mapped out the area using land features back home, and worked to that.”
It’s a noisy and impressive display, but the highlight is the “dump and burn.” Thanks to the F-111’s unique design the fuel jettison pipe is located between the nozzles of the TF30 engines, but there’s an art to creating the spectacular “dragon’s tail” torching effect, as Parsons explained to AIN: “The fuel comes out of the dump-pipe as liquid, but then it mixes with the air to create a volatile mixture. You need to be in max afterburner or else it just won’t light. As we approach for the pass I push the engines to full afterburner. When they’re in full burner I call ‘Dump On,’ Fuzzy activates the dump and the mixture ignites. We fly the pass, and at the end call: ‘Dump Off,’ before powering back from full afterburner.
“We do two dump-and-burn passes in the show. One is the ‘dragon pass’ with the wings at 72 degrees sweep. Then we do the ‘dirty’ run, with the wings forward at 16 degrees sweep. It may look quite slow, but we’re still doing 250 knots.”
On December 3 and 4 the RAAF’s Amberley base will host the “Pig Tails” retirement ceremony for the F-111. Many current and former servicemen with associations with the “Pig” will gather to honor the unique contribution the old warhorse has made to Australian military aviation.