The General Dynamics F-111C has a special place in the hearts of Australian aviation enthusiasts. Long the backbone of the Royal Australian Air Force, these fighter bombers served Australia for four decades and their unusual “dump and burn” capabilities at air shows and during fly-overs of big events only somewhat figuratively emblazoned the heroic planes in the minds of those who witnessed it. While the line was intended to be held in active service until 2020, the plane had long been retired by the US Air Force, the only other operator of F-111s, with the last stragglers in USAF service being officially retired in 1998, and support for the planes from General Dynamics ceasing, the decision was made to retire the F-111C in 2010.
With a beloved following among the public for the aircraft, and possibly due to the fact that though the planes were “old” they were still quite potent war machines, the Australian government decided to have the RAAF restore six planes and provide them on a cost-free “lease” to deserving museums, with deliveries taking place over the course of this year.
The first of the planes went to the South Australian Aviation Museum in Port Adelaide, South Australia, the second to Fighter World in Williamtown, New South Wales, third to the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) located in Illawarra, New South Wales, fourth to the Queensland Air Museum located in Caloundra, Queensland and the fifth plane arrived at the Australian Aviation Heritage Centre in Darwin, Northern Territory. The final plane of the six was delivered recently to the Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome Heritage Aviation Association (EHMAHAA) in Evans Head, New South Wales.
At each of the museums receiving the planes, care was taken to only select those that would be able to properly care for the meticulously restored planes, keeping them displayed out of the elements and with the leasing documents stipulating a certain level of ongoing maintenance and approved uses for the warbirds, going so far as to quantify the maximum number of visitors who might be allowed to sit within the gull-winged canopy of the plane in a given year.
Like its other museum-bound brethren, F-111C A8-147 was shipped overland and assembled by a team of RAAF specialists. It will become the centerpiece of the museum’s collection, housed in a restored WWII-era hangar, which includes a de Havilland Tiger Moth, a Mikoyan–Gurevich MiG-15, a Grumman G-73 Mallard flying boat and an original Lockwood Drifter.