The FB-111H/FB-111B/C: the FB-111 armed with 14 SRAMs or 18 AIM-54 Phoenix air-to-air long range missiles that never was

The FB-111H/FB-111B/C: the FB-111 armed with 14 SRAMs or 18 AIM-54 Phoenix air-to-air long range missiles that never was

By Dario Leone
Jun 25 2024
Sponsored by: Mortons Books
Share this article

The FB-111

Originally known as the TFX (Tactical Fighter “X”), the F-111 was conceived to meet a US Air Force requirement for a new tactical fighter-bomber. In 1960 the Department of Defense combined the USAF’s requirement with a Navy need for a new air superiority fighter. The USAF’s F-111A first flew in December 1964, and the first production models were delivered to the USAF in 1967.

Meanwhile, the Navy’s F-111B program was canceled. In all, 566 F-111s of all series were built; 159 of them were F-111As.

Although the F-111 was unofficially referred to as the Aardvark, it did not receive the name officially until it was retired in 1996.

An interesting feature of the aircraft was its variable-geometry wings. While in the air, the wings could be swept forward for takeoffs, landings or slow speed flight, and swept rearward for high-speed flight. The F-111 could also fly at very low level and hit targets in bad weather.

F-111 print
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-111F Aardvark 48th Tactical Fighter Wing, 495th Tactical Fighter Squadron, LN/70-2391, RAF Lakenheath, UK, 1991.

The FB-111 was a bomber version of the F-111 Fighter, featuring advanced avionics.

The FB-111H

According to Scott Lowther’s book US Supersonic Bomber Projects, a much more modified aircraft was proposed in the form of the FB-111H. While the FB-111A was designed based on the presumption that the B-1 would be delayed and overly expensive, the FB-111H was designed with the prospect that the B-1 would be outright cancelled. It seems to have originated around 1975, but was described in 1977.

It used parts of the FB-111A – 43% structural commonality, including the forward fuselage and cockpit, the wings and carry-through structure, the horizontal and vertical stabilizers, and reportedly 75% of the subsystems – but married them to an otherwise quite different aircraft. The rear fuselage was noticeably larger, a necessity given that the TF30 engines were to be replaced with a pair of the same engines meant for the B-1… General Electric F101-GE-100 turbofans. These would provide greater thrust and improved fuel efficiency.

The FB-111H/FB-111B/C: the FB-111 armed with 14 SRAMs or 18 AIM-54 Phoenix air-to-air long range missiles that never was

The inlets would be wholly replaced. Instead of the complex movable spike inlets, the new inlets -which were reportedly wind tunnel tested and shown to be much less troublesome – were fixed, no translating spike. They were of a somewhat teardrop shape; reportedly, earlier FB-111H designs had used 2D ramp inlets of the kind used on the F-14 and F-15. There was a large fuel-filled raised spine. The nose gear was to have been that of the FB-111A, but the main gear was entirely new, a more conventional setup with two wheels on either side.

FB-111 Thermonuclear punch

The weapons bay appears to be capable of carrying five B61 bombs or four SRAMs. It could carry four more SRAMs under four pivoting underwing pylons, and six more attached to individual pylons under and alongside the rear fuselage. This would give a maximum load of 14 SRAMs, or ten SRAMs and five B61s… certainly a thermonuclear punch worthy of note. No fighter or interceptor variant seems to have been contemplated.

While the wings and folding mechanisms were the same as those on the FB-111A, the wings did not sweep back as far… only 60°. Curiously, this shallower wing sweep was married to a higher top speed… Mach 2.5. In order to have a hope of penetrating Soviet airspace, some consideration was given to radar cross section; two years of testing with a quarter-scale RCS model showed that the aircraft was reasonably stealthy (2.15m2).

The FB-111B/C

The FB-111H/FB-111B/C: the FB-111 armed with 14 SRAMs or 18 AIM-54 Phoenix air-to-air long range missiles that never was
A US Air Force General Dynamics F-111A prototype with dummy missiles during armament tests at Edwards Air Force Base, California (USA), in 1965. The US Navy F-111B variant should later have been equipped with four similar AIM-54 Phoenix missiles, but the program was cancelled.

The FB-111H did not succeed with the Air Force. Nevertheless, General Dynamics persisted, and in 1979 (by which point the B-1 programme had been cancelled and was seemingly dead) tried again. The aircraft GD proposed seems to have been little different from the FB-111H… same basic data, same artwork, same diagrams. But now it was called the FB-111B/C; the actual differences from the FB-111H were mostly wrapped up in simplified systems in the hopes of cutting costs.

The FB-111Bs were to be built from modified FB- 111A airframes while the FB-111Cs were to be built from modified F-111D airframes. And this time, there was an interceptor option proposed, or at least mentioned… the FB-111B/C could carry up to 18 AIM-54 Phoenix air-to-air long-range missiles. The F-14, in contrast, could only carry six of them. But in 1981, President Reagan revived the B-1 programme, and all the arguments for a stretched strategic bomber variant of the FB-111A evaporated.

US Supersonic Bomber Projects is published by Mortons Books and is available to order here.

Photo credit: U.S. Navy

F-111 model
This model is available from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

Share this article

Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.
Mortons new banner
Share this article


Share this article
Back to top