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(John Freedman)

When Pigs Could Fly

The F-111, beloved by pilots in America and Australia, takes to the air for the last time

An airplane called “Aardvark” and “Pig” has got to be short on love. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth for the General Dynamics F-111. Treasured by its crews, who came up with those names, the swing-wing, supersonic F-111 has, after more than four decades of service, gone back to the barn for good.

Retired in 1996 by the United States Air Force, the brawny cold war fighter-bomber continued flying with the Royal Australian Air Force until last month. Aussie crews took its American name, Aardvark, meaning “earth pig,” and shortened it to Pig. Pilots in both countries, the only ones ever to fly the F-111, dug the fact that the jet’s terrain-hugging radar let them fly it “with its nose in the dirt.”

More than 3,000 people turned out on December 3, 2010, for the final flight of Australia’s Pigs at RAAF Amberley base, near Brisbane, ending 37 years of F-111 operations Down Under. A few misty-eyed Americans traveled halfway around the world for the event, including retired U.S. Air Force pilot Brad Insley, who holds that record for the most hours in the F-111 at 5,057. One Pig that happened to be on static display was the very tail number that Insley had ferried to Vietnam in 1972. The Aussies put him in the left seat as they towed it back to the hangar.

Brisbane-based photographer John Freedman, who spent plenty of time photographing Pigs over the years, was there for the big day. Here are a handful of his photographs. For more, visit F-111.net.

Pictured above: On the front end of some afterburning, an F-111C, number A8-109, takes to the air for the last time at RAAF Amberley, December 3, 2010.

Six-Ship Formation

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(John Freedman)

A memorable image from the day was the six-ship formation with the jets showing the variable sweep of the wings. The forward airplane had set its swing wings fully aft at 72.5 degrees, the high-speed configuration. Each airplane that followed progressed to full-out, or 16 degrees, the takeoff and landing profile.

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