The F-111’s disastrous operational debut in Vietnam

The revolutionary F-111 had a disastrous operational debut in Vietnam. Warren E Thompson describes the baptism that nearly became a requiem

Duels between F-86 Sabres and MiG-15s during the Korean War and rising tensions during the Cold War caused a torrent of swept-wing designs reflecting the latest advances in technology. When Robert McNamara was appointed US Secretary of Defense in January 1961 he set about combining the needs of the US Navy, looking for a replacement for the McDonnell F-4 Phantom and the USAF, seeking a successor for the Republic F-105 Thunderchief.

A pair of F-111As topping up from a Boeing KC-135.
A pair of F-111As topping up from a Boeing KC-135. Tom Germscheid

Both armed services shared a requirement to carry heavy armament and greater fuel loads, to have high supersonic speed, twin engines and two seats, and probably the use of variable geometry wings. Specifically, the air force was looking for tandem seating, low-level penetration ground attack with the potential to travel at Mach 2.5. Under the designation TFX - Future Tactical Strike Fighter - McNamara gave project oversight to the USAF.


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