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COLD WAR


General Dynamics F-111K (Aardvark)


Tactical Swing-Wing Strike Aircraft


The General Dynamics F-111K was drawn up for the British Royal Air Force after the cancellation of the BAC TSR.2 bomber - it too was abandoned.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Edited: 5/23/2019
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Specifications


Year: 1968
Status: Cancelled
Manufacturer(s): General Dynamics - USA
Production: 0
Capabilities: Ground Attack;
Crew: 2
Length: 73.82 ft (22.5 m)
Width: 62.99 ft (19.2 m)
Height: 17.13 ft (5.22 m)
Weight (Empty): 47,399 lb (21,500 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 101,413 lb (46,000 kg)
Power: 2 x Pratt & Whitney TF30-P-100 afterburning turbofan engines.
Speed: 1,920 mph (3,090 kph; 1,668 kts)
Ceiling: 65,617 feet (20,000 m; 12.43 miles)
Range: 3,728 miles (6,000 km; 3,240 nm)
Rate-of-Climb: 26,000 ft/min (7,925 m/min)
Operators: United Kingdom (cancelled)
After the cancellation of the BAC TSR.2 tactical strike aircraft (detailed elsewhere on this site) by the British government in 1965, the Royal Air Force (RAF) was left looking for more budget-conscious offerings. This eventually led the service to the American General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark "swing-wing" tactical strike / reconnaissance platform. This potent system was introduced with the USAF in 1967 and saw 563 examples produced. It was only ever exported to ally Australia where it flew under the nation's Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) banner for a time (these being Australian-centric "F-111C" models).

The swing-wing feature of these aircraft allowed a single airframe to maintain the necessary lift-versus-drag quality across various phases of flight by way of a "variable" wing arrangement. For low-altitude, low-speed flying (such as a landing action), the wings were outstretched/extended while, for high-speed flight envelopes, these same members were "tucked" in along the sides the fuselage - creating a more streamlined arrowhead-like form. Popular, classic examples of swing-wing aircraft of the period became the Grumman F-14 Tomcat naval fighter and PANAVIA Tornado strike aircraft though the concept was under study even in the days of World War 2 (1939-1945).

For the British during the Cold War period (1947-1991), the painful loss of the TSR.2 meant that the in-service, proven F-111 appeared to be a strong conciliatory selection for the RAF - which had passed on local solutions including a modified Blackburn "Buccaneer". The service contracted for fifty of a new "F-111K" production model modified to fit the requirements of its new owners. The K-model was to support current RAF ordnance and feature the lengthened wings of the F-111B production form with the overall design lines, form, and function of the F-111A. To this would be added an in-flight refueling capability (by way of a retracting fuel probe), an extra fuselage hardpoint for broadened munitions-carrying, British-centric systems throughout, and a Mark II series navigation / Fire Control System (FCS) to satisfy the intended strike / reconnaissance role. The aircraft's Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) would also see an increase.

The requirement was handled under "ASR.343" which was drawn up in the middle part of 1965 and this was to cover two distinct forms of the new aircraft - the standard strike bomber and a trainer-oriented model, both requiring prototypes to prove themselves sound. A formal design review involving British authorities was had in November of that year and this showcased the speed at which the program moved along. In March of the following year, the government formally signed an agreement with the United States to cover the first ten aircraft and the remaining forty was signed off for in March of 1967.

However, all things changed when economical factors came into play, resulting in the F-111K program being cancelled by the British government on January 16th, 1968 - this with final assembly of the first aircraft being well-advanced. The ASR.343 requirement was, in turn, suspended indefinitely and the outmoded Buccaneer moved into the RAF inventory while the Avro Vulcan strategic bomber was re-classified to the long-range interdiction role for the foreseeable future.

The program cost roughly 280 million Pounds for the time and very little was had to show for the investment.

As drawn up, the K-model was to continue many of the design qualities of the F-111. This included a crew of two - a pilot and weapons systems operator - seated side-by-side in the cockpit. Overall length of the aircraft reached 73 feet with a spread wingspan of 63 feet and a swept wingspan of 34 feet. Height was 17 feet. Power was to come from 2 x Pratt & Whitney TF30-P-100 afterburning turbofan engines of unknown thrust output. Performance indicated a maximum speed of Mach 2.5.

Installed systems were to encompass the Rockwell AN/APQ-130 attack radar, the Sperry AN/APQ-128 J-band terrain-following radar, and the Marconi AN/APN-189 Doppler navigation radar suite. A total of nine hardpoints would be featured under the aircraft and under the wings - four to each wing (8 total) and a weapons bay hardpoint at the belly.






Graphical image of an aircraft air-to-surface missile
Graphical image of an aircraft conventional drop bomb munition
Graphical image of an aircraft guided bomb munition
Graphical image of an aircraft external fuel tank

Armament



Nine hardpoints were planned with four under each wing member and a under-fuselage bomb bay to house various ordnance options including conventional drop bombs, laser-guided bombs, air-to-surface missiles, and fuel drop tanks.

Variants / Models



• F-111K - Base Project Designation; final assembly of first unit near completion at the time of project cancellation; two other incomplete airframes used for spares.
• TF-111K - Proposed trainer mark.
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