Chapter 414 put in the work to display the warbird in Illinois
The General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark spent three decades in service in the United States Air Force, performing roles ranging from interdictor, to attack aircraft, to nuclear bomber, to aerial reconnaissance aircraft. Now that the Aardvark is retired, one particular F-111 needs the help of volunteers and professionals whose roles can range just as widely to get prepared for display at a new veterans memorial at Waukegan National Airport.
EAA Chapter 414 has taken on the task of restoring the F-111, and has made significant progress since it was transported from the Octave Chanute Aerospace Museum, which closed its doors in December of 2015. Chapter 414 member Jim Hull, EAA 363718, is leading the restoration efforts.
Waukegan National Airport was able to obtain the Aardvark after airport manager James Stanczak applied to display an aircraft on loan from the U.S. Air Force. When the Octave Chanute Aerospace Museum closed, employees had to find new homes for the museum’s aircraft or see them scrapped, so moving the F-111 to Waukegan just made sense.
The Aardvark arrived on December 18, in a disassembled state. Due to tireless efforts from chapter volunteers, it’s since been essentially fully restored for static display. Chapter 414 did much of the large-scale work in actually assembling the wings and fuselage, but left the fine detailing to professional help.
“The guys really came out to work on it,” Jim said. “I had scheduled weekends for it … just because I knew we weren’t experienced in doing it, and it was early spring and cold and wet out. I think to put the first wing on took an hour and a half, the second took 45 minutes. It was amazing. The guys worked together well, within three weekends we had all the major components done, and then the real work comes, painting, sandblasting, which we had done professionally.”
Despite the aircraft being just about ready, and actually already displayed once for some veterans to take in at an air show in Waukegan, the work is not yet finished. Chapter 414 envisions a veterans’ memorial around the F-111, including a plaza featuring the Aardvark located in the center supported by three stainless steel columns.
Flags will be displayed behind the F-111 and bricks will be available for purchase to help support the monument. Veterans were a part of the first display of the Aardvark as well, which makes sense considering the prominent military role the aircraft played in its time in service.
“It really turned out nice, we’re happy with it, and the veterans are happy with it,” Jim said. “We put it on display and had three former pilots out there to talk to visitors. Three different generations were represented: the early, middle, and late years of its service.”
The F-111 is the second one General Dynamics built, and carried a tail number of 63-9767. It was a prototype used for engine intake and avionics testing, and is rumored to be the first Aardvark to reach supersonic speed.
Jim hopes that with continued financial support and a kind winter, the Lake County Veterans Memorial will be ready to go by spring 2018. More information can be found at the memorial’s website.