The Navy conducted a feasibility study to deploy the Air Force F-111 aboard aircraft carriers as the next generation fighter/interceptor. A special version of the Aardvark was designed for the Navy and designated the F-111B. Carrier suitability trials were conducted aboard the USS Coral Sea during the summer of 1968 (between war cruises). However, the big planes proved to be too unwieldly for carrier operations and the Navy requirements could not be met. This opened the door for the F-14 Tomcat program to move forward.
F-111B #151974 made 9 arrested landings, 10 catapult-launches on the USS Coral Sea on June 23, 1968.
F-111B USS Coral Sea Video Gallery
- Here are two accounts from Naval Aviators involved in the F-111 evaluation program:
Lt. Roy Buehler (from VF-33, we put 6 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 a/c'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
There were 2 F-111Bs built. One of the 2 is currently (and permanently) assigned to the bone yard at China Lake. If you are ever out there it is an interesting slice of aviation history to see. The F-111B had a number of problems that made it carrier unsuitable, a technical term for, "this thing is really shitty". The original nose (as can be seen on the F-111A, USAF version, was so long that you couldn't see the carrier at the approach speed needed for a carrier type of landing. The F-111B nose is much shorter which caused some problems with the radar that was to be installed in the airplane. The normal approach speed for the F-111 was to fast for the ship arresting gear so they decided to fly the F-111B slower which gave the aircraft a very cocked up attitude for carrier landings. There was also a max weight problem for both the catapults and the arresting gear, which would result in the aircraft being restricted on both catapult and landing weights for shipboard use. The real killer was the fact that the Navy wanted to use it as a fighter/interceptor. The limited rear visibility and the side by side seating sucked for the fighter mission. In my day the F-111 was lovingly known as the Clavin Coolege aircraft, "build one airplane and let them all fly it". - Bob Scott
- Here is a follow-up from someone that was there, Chuck Doughdrill:
Having served aboard the Coral Sea and witnessing 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.
- FYI from Bob Styger at F-111.net:
Have to update you on the F-111B. There were 7 airframes:
bu 15970, 15971, 15972, 15973, 15974
bu 152714, 152715