The Australian War Memorial is to add a reconnaissance-configured Royal Australian Air Force RF-111C to its collection by mid-2019.
RF-111C A8-134 is the “sole surviving RF-111C that participated in missions over East Timor and has the greatest operational provenance of the preserved Australian F-111 fleet,” the Australian War Memorial said on Friday.
The aircraft is currently held by the South Australian Aviation Museum in Port Adelaide, which in turn will receive another ex-RAAF F-111C, A8-132, as a replacement for the RF-111C.
A8-134 served with both 1 and 6 Squadrons in the RAAF from 1973 until its retirement on December 3 2010, and was one of four RAAF F-111s modified to the reconnaissance RF-111C configuration, which involved fitting cameras mounted in a special pallet carried in the aircraft’s bomb bay.
“This RF-111C aircraft is a major piece of Australian aviation history, which will one day be an invaluable addition to the Memorial’s displays,” Australian War Memorial Assistant Director Major General Brian Dawson (Rtd) said in a statement.
“It will be a powerful visual demonstration to visitors of the important work of the men and women of the RAAF who supported and flew the RF-111C aircraft in theatres like East Timor and the F-111 fleet more broadly over nearly 40 years.
“I offer my thanks to the South Australian Aviation Museum for its assistance with the transfer.”
Despite being in service for 37 years as Australia’s principal strike and reconnaissance aircraft, from 1973 until 2010, the F-111 was only used once operationally, when RF-111Cs performed reconnaissance flights over East Timor in late October and early November 1999.
“In June 1999, civil unrest broke out in East Timor,” recalls the February 2010 issue of the Air Power Development Centre’s Pathfinder newsletter.
“When militia gangs later threatened United Nations staff and Australian nationals as well as the East Timorese, Australian peacekeeping troops were inserted under Operation SPITFIRE. With tensions building, six aircraft (both F-111s and RF-111s) from Nos 1 and 6 Squadrons deployed to RAAF Tindal if called upon.
“When INTERFET forces arrived in Dili on 20 September, the situation on the ground was volatile. Requests for RF-111 overflights of East Timor were initially refused by the Indonesian Air Commander, but after Indonesian forces withdrew in late October overflights were permitted. RF111 missions began on 5 November and continued until four days later.
“These flights over East Timor were the only operational employment of the RAAF F-111 fleet.”
Meanwhile on Saturday the South Australian Aviation Museum (SAAM) announced it had secured F-111C A8-132 as a replacement for A8-134.
“SAAM has agreed to an F-111 swap so that our existing loaned aircraft A8-134 will go to the Australian War Memorial and be replaced by A8-132, presently at RAAF Base Edinburgh,” the Museum announced via Facebook.
“We regard this as a win-win. The AWM gets an RF-111C aircraft that was active in the East Timor theatre, and we get an F-111C with a long and distinguished South Australian provenance of weapons trials with ARDU at Edinburgh. We are also delighted to further strengthen our existing cordial and cooperative relationships with the AWM and RAAF Heritage.”
A8-132 is another historically significant ex-RAAF F-111C as it was instrumented for flight test duties and long saw service with the Aircraft Research and Development Unit (ARDU), based out of Edinburgh, north of Adelaide. A8-132 also served as the prototype aircraft for the F-111C’s AUP digital avionics upgrade program.
In all 13 retired RAAF F-111 aircraft were preserved, with six presented to Australian aviation museums on long-term loans. Others are on display or stored at RAAF Bases Amberley and Wagga Wagga and the RAAF Museum at Point Cook, while A8-130 was gifted to the Pacific Aviation Museum in Hawaii.
VIDEO: The F-111 in action as shown on the RAAF’s YouTube channel.
The original version of this story has been updated to reflect the news that the South Australian Aviation Museum has received another F-111 in place of the RF-111C.