By Tommy H. Thomason

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

F-111B Carrier Trials

One of the half-truths in the Navy's campaign to smear the F-111B was its poor performance in carrier trials accomplished aboard Coral Sea in July 1968. In fact, few new airplanes get much better than a barely passing grade from the NATC carrier suitability test pilots, with several deficiencies usually noted. In this case, the F-111B being evaluated was actually a prototype that did not have the carrier compatibility modifications like the raised cockpit and lowered forward windscreen interface with the nose shown here that were being incorporated- along with engine thrust, control system, and wing lift improvements- on the aircraft on the production line.

Although the F-111B would be 4,000 lbs heavier than the F-14 on landing (only 8%, far less than most people would guess based on the poor reputation of the "SeaPig"), it also approached 10 knots slower which meant it was actually easier on the arresting gear than the F-14 (ashore, landing ground roll was 21% less). It could come back aboard with all six big, expensive Phoenix missiles whereas the F-14 was limited to four. The F-111B also did not have as significant a directional control problem on a single-engine waveoff, since the engines were not as far from the centerline of the aircraft as they were on the F-14.

From the Coral Sea website: 

“Lt. Roy Buehler (from VF-33, we put six guys thru test pilot school in 2 ½ years) flew the carrier suitability trails. No one who flew the a/c was allowed to comment on the aircraft’s performance until the report was published. We almost got this one. Roy attempted a close-in wave-off. From the normal power setting for an approach (about 88% on each engine), the a/c landed, rolled out to the end of the wire, and the engines had not gotten to 100%. Not a real sharp performer. - Joel Jaudon”
“Here is a follow-up from someone who was there, Chuck Doughdrill:

Having served aboard the Coral Sea and witnessed the sea trials of the F-111, I can give you a bit more truthful evaluation of what occurred aboard Coral Sea. This trial was conducted as I understand it after the Navy had rejected the aircraft but because the money for the sea trial had nevertheless been appropriated. From a taxpayer's point of view, it was a waste of money. For us, it was a damned enjoyable afternoon. We were the open deck carrier available for that period off the California coast. The size of the aircraft was such that the JBD's could not be elevated but since we had no aircraft on board, save the COD, we just cleared the area aft for launch. We had the initial session of landings followed by a shutdown, while the pilots enjoyed a break, and then a start up and second session after which they left for home base. It was a welcome break from receiving cats and dogs from every persuasion who were trying to get in carquals on the open deck.

I had two Air Force officers from an inspection team visiting me onboard at the time and they probably are the only Air Force officers to witness the carrier trials by the F-111. As a naval aviator, not involved in the trial but only an observer, the aircraft operated magnificently and was a beauty to behold. I did not meet the pilots but understood they were former naval aviator test pilots for General Dynamics, not active naval aviators.* Whoever they were, their airwork was impressive. The airplane fairly leaped off the cats and came aboard gracefully, much like the A-6. It came aboard so slowly that it looked as if the pilot could have chosen which wire to engage. The general feeling among the flight deck handlers and officers was amazement although the aircraft was too large to ever have been used aboard Coral Sea.

As for the comments that the F-111 could not spool up sufficiently on wave off, etc., I never heard any of this at the time nor heard of anything but amazement by all the pilot types that were involved with direct support and who talked at length with the test pilots. The navy had already made up their minds and those comments may have been laundered to justify the decision. It's been done before but I really don't know.”

*Not correct; with rare exceptions, only active-duty Naval aviators accomplished carrier trials.

For a complete and more-balanced history on the F-111B, order my monograph on the F-111B from Ginter Books: Here

Also see

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