A warbird that opened the War on Terror will be making her public debut on June 15 during Aviation Heritage Park’s annual Hangar Party.
A General Dynamics F-111, affectionately known as the “Aardvark”, has been rescued from storage in the Arizona desert, and following a painstaking restoration, will soon take its place in Aviation Heritage Park.
“This is the largest aircraft we’ve ever restored,” said AHP President Jim Wright. “It’s over 73 feet long, with a wingspan of 32 feet when the wings are fully swept. And with the history she brings, her story is even larger than she is.”
This aircraft is a true combat veteran. In 1986, USAF aircraft launched from a base in England and roared through the skies of coastal Libya, delivering a crushing blow to Muammar Gaddafi in retaliation for an act of terrorism that killed or injured American servicemen in Germany. Gaddafi’s regime sponsored the attack, and President Reagan authorized retaliation. Known as Operation El Dorado Canyon, the lead ship of the Air Force contingent of F-111s was piloted by then Lt. Col Arnie Franklin, a Franklin, KY, native, Bowling Green High and WKU grad and past president of AHP. The mission was a success.
The actual aircraft that Franklin was flying that day is on display at the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton Ohio. The aircraft that is being unveiled at the Hangar Party was flying on his wing that night.
The F-111, a tactical strike and interdiction fighter/bomber, entered service in 1967, but has been retired from active service with the USAF since 1998. Upon retirement, the remaining fleet of F-111s was sent to Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona to be “mothballed”.
“That’s where we found her,” said Dan Cherry, Executive Vice President of AHP. “AHP honors South Central area pilots by finding and restoring aircraft that tell their stories. The Aardvark will tell the story of Col. Franklin and the brave pilots who ‘went downtown’ to avenge American service personnel who were killed in the terrorist attack in Germany. It was the longest fighter combat mission ever flown.”
The disassembled F-111 arrived on October 12, 2012, on several flatbed trailers. Following thousands of man-hours of careful restoration, this Aardvark is “ready for her close-up” when she is presented to the public at Hangar Party 2013. The annual event is a fundraiser for the park, located in Basil Griffin Park on Three Springs Road. In September, the F-111 will take her place with her glistening stablemates: a McDonnell-Douglas F4D (“Phantom 550”), a Grumman F9F Panther (“Panther One”), and a Lockeed T-33 (“SAC One”).
NOTE: This aircraft has been nicknamed “The Warhorse” for her long career in combat. Not only did this particular F-111 participate in Operation El Dorado Canyon, it went on to serve with distinction in the Gulf War. This aircraft has the highest number of combat sorties of any of her type.