Last hurrah for the ‘Pig’

 - December 3, 2010, 7:12 AM
Now committed to the history books, the F-111 demonstrates its trademark ”dump and burn” party-piece. (Photo: David Donald)

In a ceremony held at RAAF Amberley, Queensland, the Royal Australian Air Force retired its General Dynamics F-111 fleet on December 2. Affectionately known as the “Pig,” the F-111 served the RAAF from 1973 in the long-range attack and reconnaissance roles. It has been replaced by the Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet, although the new fleet is not yet operational.

The “Pig Tails” ceremony occurred just days before the F-111 was due to mark the 46th anniversary of its first flight. Tagged by the press as “McNamara’s Folly” in its formative years, the type courted controversy throughout its career, but went on to mature into a highly capable attacker that was the backbone of NATO’s tactical nuclear response in Europe, and the workhorse of the air campaign in Desert Storm.

The U.S. Air Force retired the type in the 1990s, but Australia maintained its fleet through updates and the acquisition of surplus U.S. aircraft. Even in the twilight of its career, the type remained the subject of hot debate in Australia concerning its continued viability, proponents citing its range and speed as key attributes. Ultimately, its high cost of operation and inability to operate effectively in a networked environment brought about the F-111’s demise.