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Thursday, 5 March 1970

Mr Malcolm Fraser (WANNON, VICTORIA) - by leave - On 22nd December 1969, an F111 A of the United States Air Force crashed during rocketry exercises. The investigation into this accident revealed that the left hand wing had broken off in flight at a fault in the D6ac steel wing pivot fitting. All aircraft were then grounded, and save for seven aircraft since released for special flight test purposes, remain grounded.

A number of committees, including the United States Air Force Scientific Advisory Board ad hoc Committee, were established to advise the Secretary, Department of Air Force, on the many scientific and engineering aspects of the problem. To assist in the Australian evaluation as affecting F111C aircraft, three scientists of the Aeronautical Research Laboratories of the Department of Supply were sent to the United States of America to augment the engineer staff of the Royal Australian Air Force Project Manager.

As the fault in the D6ac steel material of the wing pivot fitting had been undetected by the non-destructive testing methods used during manufacture, the conclusion was reached that faults could exist in other D6ac steel components already installed in all F111 aircraft. These events have established a set of circumstances markedly different from that which prevailed when the Government on 5th December announced the decision to accept the aircraft. The nature of the fault in the D6ac steel introduced a new and serious element which has not yet been resolved. Information such as is available indicates the certainty of further considerable delays in delivery of our aircraft.

The Government has decided thatI should visit the United States at an early suitable opportunity to discuss the whole matter with the United States Secretary of Defence. Mr Laird has himself said that the United States must consult with the Australian Government on any modifications to the F111 contract. All aspects of the matter will be canvassed. I emphasise that no decision can yet be made concerning the future of our F111C because the scientific and engineering problems have not yet been resolved. The purpose of the visit is to canvass the possibilities concerning the F111C.

If in the course of discussion it appeared desirable to do so I would expect to explore the alternatives to the present F111C, and here I would point out that the United States Secretary of Defence himself recently said:

I believe we do need in our tactical air force structure the capability available in the F111, but I also believe that if we are going to be plagued with a continuation of these problems we must explore other alternatives.

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