The Australian War Memorial has taken possession of a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) F-111C aircraft that is destined for a new exhibition hall, part of its controversial $498 million expansion to take place over the next nine years.
The Memorial said Aircraft A8-134, now at the recently built and completed storage facility at the Treloar Technology Centre in Mitchell, was the only remaining RF-111C that participated in reconnaissance missions over East Timor (Timor-Leste) in 1999, and had the greatest operational provenance of the preserved Australian F-111 fleet.
Critics of the expansion have attacked the need for a bigger memorial, particularly a new exhibition hall to display an array of aircraft, including the F-111, a type which never served Australia in an actual conflict. The expansion will double the size of the 77-year-old institution’s visitor areas and includes demolishing Anzac Hall, an award-winning building.
A8-134 has been transferred from the South Australian Aviation Museum and was installed at Mitchell on Thursday.
Memorial Director Dr Brendan Nelson said the aircraft, known as the ‘pig’ for its ability to fly close to the ground, proved an invaluable, much loved, and respected part of the Royal Australian Air Force and its service to the nation.
“This aircraft type flew with the United States Air Force in Vietnam, conducted air strikes against Libya in 1986, and participated in the Gulf War. The F-111 was the world’s first production variable-geometry wing aircraft, which enables it to change its shape during flight. It was an all-weather supersonic attack aircraft, capable of flying at more than twice the speed of sound at a high altitude,” Dr Nelson said.
“A8-134 is an important artefact that demonstrates the Australian experience of military service, and I am proud to welcome it into the National Collection.
“This aircraft and its type evoke great emotion for the two generations of RAAF men and women who flew and maintained it, and for the families who loved and supported them. As such it will be permanently displayed in the Memorial’s new gallery spaces to be built over the next few years.”
Memorial Assistant Director Major General Brian Dawson (Retd) said the aircraft was an exciting addition to the Memorial’s National Collection.
“This RF-111C aircraft is a major piece of Australian aviation history. It is an important visual reminder of the important work of the men and women of the RAAF who supported and flew the RF-111C aircraft for close to 40 years,” said Major General Dawson.
“I offer my thanks to the South Australian Aviation Museum for its assistance with the transfer.”
The F-111 fleet contained supersonic tactical attack aircraft that also filled the roles of strategic strike, aerial-reconnaissance, and electronic warfare, but it had a chequered history and was plagued with technical issues. Eight were lost in crashes and 10 airmen died.
From 1973, this particular aircraft served with both No. 1 and No. 6 Squadrons, RAAF. In 1980 reconnaissance and tactical equipment was added to a special bay in its underbelly. The aircraft remained in this reconnaissance role until its retirement on 3 December 2010.
Members of the public will have an opportunity to view the aircraft at the return of the Big things in store event in October 2019.
From late 2020, it and other large aircraft including the World War II Lancaster “G for George” bomber will be on public display at the Mitchell Storage facility throughout the redevelopment and expansion of the Memorial’s Campbell site.