900 knots across the ground

February 27, 2020 3 min read

900 knots across the ground

I've been speaking with an ex-F-111 pilot - his story is below:

Towards the end of RAAF F-111 operations, it was clear to everyone that there was a lot where the aeroplane was lacking. We had no smart weapons, old Comms gear and an outdated sensor suite. One capability that the Pig never lost, however, was speed.

 

Sure, the Hornet was quick to accelerate - but with any sort of payload it would wheeze as it approached the speed of sound. An F-111 on the other hand, even with external stores, hoots past Mach 1 as if drag didn’t exist. Get the burners in, pull the wings back, and you’d be accelerating through the sound barrier before you knew it.

 

I’d pushed the aircraft through ‘the number’ heaps of times, but often we were constrained by artificial air traffic speed limits so I’d never seen how quick she could really go.

 

That was, until one night out of Tindal.

 

Our mission was a 4 ship opposed strike as a part of a large scale exercise. The profile was reasonably complex. The formation was split into two elements for simultaneous impacts on to seperate targets about 100ft apart. I was #4, and part of the second element. The plan was to split from the lead pair approaching the target, and follow them in 2 minute trail.

 

We fought our way into the range at low level on terrain following radar (TFR), under the cover of a capable Hornet escort and using what little terrain masking we could.

 

After we split from the lead pair, #3 manoeuvred us into position for the run in to the target. Sitting in spread formation, we released our bombs and the Weapon System Officer (WSO) began steering them onto our target.

 

Seconds from impact our warning systems lit up with a missile launch indication (simulated from the ground, obviously!). I called it out to my WSO, who was focused on guiding the bomb onto the target. He sent our counter measure system into action, just as the two quick flashes from our bombs lit up my periphery.

 

I didn’t wait to ask if we hit the target, we needed to get out of there! I pushed the burners in and heard the missile warning lock disappear. #3 and I rocketed out of the range and rejoined with the rest of the formation. The fight wasn’t over yet - AWACS came over the radio and gave us a heads up: we were being followed. Multiple hostiles were closing in on our six, and our Hornet escort was outnumbered.

 

We all fire-walled our throttles and started climbing. I looked left to see the three other F-111’s through my NVG’s with huge bright afterburner plumes trailing them. We were rocketing! We had a lot of gas left, and it was time to trade that for a dash to safety.

 

Within seconds we were all supersonic. We stopped climbing in the mid twenties, and by that time we were easily past Mach 1.5 and streaking northward. We were racing at over 900 knots ground speed. It was humbling to see how quick the aircraft was - even with four empty pylons she just kept on accelerating.

 

For everything that the Pig didn’t have, her speed was a difficult bone to chew for opposing fighters!



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