v2.1.0 / 01 nov 02 / greg goebel / public domain
* While the French were enthusiastic aviators in the early days of flight, and made contributions to aviation in the First World War and the peacetime that followed, the fact that they were an occupied country during World War II left them largely unrepresented in the history of aviation during the Second World War. In the postwar period, however, they made new contributions, one of the most significant being the Dassault "Mirage III" delta wing fighter, and its derivatives.
This document provides a survey of these Mirage delta fighters. The follow-on Dassault Mirage 2000 fighter, basically a completely new aircraft with only the same general configuration as the Mirage III, is discussed in a separate document, as is the scaled-up Mirage IV bomber.
* The Mirage III family grew out of French government studies begun in 1952 that led in early 1953 to a specification for a lightweight all-weather interceptor, capable of climbing to 18 kilometers in six minutes, with speed in level flight of Mach 1.3.
Dassault's response to the specification was the "Mystere-Delta 550", a sporty-looking little jet that was to be powered by twin Armstrong Siddeley MD30R Viper afterburning turbojets, each with 9.61 kN (980 kg / 2,160 lb) thrust. Additional burst power was to be provided by a 14.7 kN (1,500 kg / 3,300 lb) thrust SEPR liquid-fuel rocket motor. The wing was a delta configuration, with a 5% chord (ratio of airfoil thickness to length) and 60 degree sweep.
The delta wing has a number of limitations. Delta-winged aircraft have a long take-off run, since flaps are not practical as they would simply force the nose down; high landing speed; limited manouverability; and suffer from buffeting at low altitude, due to the large wing area and resulting low wing loading. However, the delta is a simple and pleasing design, easily built and robust, capable of high speed in a straight line, and with plenty of space in the wing for fuel storage.
The first prototype of the Mystere-Delta, without afterburning engine or rocket motor and an absurdly large vertical tailfin, flew on 25 June 1955. After some redesign, reduction of the tailfin to more rational size, installation of afterburners and rocket motor, and renaming to "Mirage I", the prototype attained Mach 1.3 in level flight without the rocket, and Mach 1.6 with the rocket lit in late 1955.
However, the small size of the Mirage I restricted its armament to a single air-to-air missile, and even before this time it had been prudently decided the aircraft was simply too tiny to carry a useful warload. After trials, the Mirage I prototype was eventually scrapped.
* Dassault then considered a somewhat bigger version, the "Mirage II", with a pair of Turbomeca Gabizo turbojets, but no aircraft of this configuration was ever built. The Mirage II was bypassed for a much more ambitious design that was 30% heavier than the Mirage I and was powered by the new 43.2 kN (4,400 kg / 9,700 lb) thrust SNECMA Atar afterburning turbojet. The Atar was an axial flow turbojet, derived from German World War II BMW designs.
The new fighter design was named the "Mirage III". It incorporated the new "area ruling" concept, where a changes to the cross section of an aircraft were made as gradual as possible, resulting the famous "wasp waist" configuration of many supersonic fighters. Like the Mirage I, the Mirage III had provision for a SEPR rocket engine.
The prototype Mirage III flew on 17 November 1956, and attained a speed of Mach 1.52 on its seventh flight. The prototype was then fitted with the SEPR rocket engine and with manually-operated intake half-cone shock diffusers, known as "souris / mice", which were moved forward as speed increased to reduce inlet turbulence. The Mirage III attained a speed of Mach 1.8 in September 1957.
* The success of the Mirage III prototype resulted in an order for 10 preproduction "Mirage IIIAs". These were almost two meters longer than the Mirage III prototype, had a wing with 17.3% more area, a chord reduced to 4.5%, and an Atar 09B turbojet with afterburning thrust of 58.9 kN (6,000 kg / 13,230 lb). The SEPR rocket engine was retained, and the aircraft were fitted with Thompson-CSF Cyrano Ibis air intercept radar, operational avionics, and a drag chute to shorten landing roll.
The first Mirage IIIA flew in May 1958, and eventually was clocked at Mach 2.2, making it the first European aircraft to exceed Mach 2 in level flight. The tenth IIIA was rolled out in December 1959. One was fitted with a Rolls-Royce Avon 67 engine with 71.1 kN (7,250 kg / 16,000 lb) thrust as a test model for Australian evaluation, with the name "Mirage IIIO". This variant flew in February 1961, but the Avon powerplant was not adopted.
* The Mirage IIIA led to the next variant to be produced, the two seat "Mirage IIIB" operational trainer, which was ordered by the French Armee de l'Air (AdA) and first flew in October 1959. Two seat variants of the Mirage III series are discussed in a later section.
The first major production model of the Mirage series, the "Mirage IIIC", first flew in October 1960. The IIIC was largely similar to the IIIA, though a little under a half meter longer and brought up to full operational fit. The IIIC was a single-seat interceptor, with an Atar 09B turbojet engine, featuring an "eyelet" style variable exhaust.
The Mirage IIIC was armed with twin 30 millimeter DEFA revolver-type cannon, fitted in the belly with the gun ports under the air intakes. Early Mirage IIIC production had three stores pylons, one under the fuselage and one under each wing, but a second outboard pylon was quickly added to each wing, for a total of five. The outboard pylon was intended to carry a Sidewinder air to air missile (AAM).
The twin 30 millimeter DEFA guns remained standard gun armament for following Mirage variants, though the number of stores pylons and types of external stores varied considerably. Details of external stores are discussed in a later section.
Although provision for the rocket engine was retained, by this time the day of the high-altitude bomber seemed to be over, and the SEPR rocket engine was rarely or never fitted in practice. In the first place, it required removal of the aircraft's cannon, and in the second, apparently it had a reputation for setting the aircraft on fire. The space for the rocket engine was used for additional fuel, and the rocket nozzle was replaced by a ventral fin at first, and an airfield arresting hook assembly later.
95 Mirage IIICs were obtained by the AdA, with initial operational deliveries in July 1961. The Mirage IIIC remained in service with the AdA until 1988.
The type was also exported to Switzerland, with one sold in preparation for license construction; Israel; and South Africa. The export Mirage IIICs were given modified designations, with an additional letter added as a country code. For example, the Swiss Mirage IIIC was a "Mirage IIICS", while the Israeli machines were designated "Mirage IIICJ" and the South African machines were designated "Mirage IIICZ".
Exports of later variants would also feature such modified designations, though there would be elaborations that could be very confusing. A summary list of exports is provided later in this document.
* The Israelis were the first to score air to air "kills" in the Mirage, when they shot down two Syrian MiG-17s on 20 August 1963, and followed up with more kills, including some against the more formidable MiG-21.
The Israelis put their Mirage IIICJ fighters to particularly good use in the "Six-Day War" of 1967. On the morning of 5 June 1967, the Israeli Air Force, the Hey'l Ha'Avir, performed preemptive strikes on the Egyptian, Jordanian, and Syrian air forces, destroying aircraft on the ground with cannon fire and breaking up runways with French "runway dibber" bombs. This advertisement and the low cost of the relatively simple and flexible Mirage delta fighter helped make it a major French export.
* While the Mirage IIIC was being put into production, Dassault was also considering a multirole / strike variant of the aircraft, which eventually materialized as the "Mirage IIIE". The first of three prototypes flew on 1 April 1961.
The Mirage IIIE differed from the IIIC interceptor most obviously in having a 30 centimeter (11.8 inch) forward fuselage extension to increase the size of the avionics bay behind the cockpit. The stretch also helped increase fuel capacity, as the Mirage IIIC had marginal range and improvements were needed. The stretch was small and hard to notice, but the clue is that the bottom edge of the canopy on a Mirage IIIE ends directly above the top lip of the air intake, while on the IIIC it ends visibly back of the lip.
Many Mirage IIIE variants were also fitted with a Marconi continuous-wave Doppler navigation radar radome on the bottom of the fuselage, under the cockpit. However, while no IIICs had this feature, it was not universal on all variants of the IIIE. A similar inconsistent variation in Mirage fighter versions was the presence or absence of an HF antenna that was fitted as a forward extension to the vertical tailplane. On some Mirages, the leading edge of the tailplane was a straight line, while on those with the HF antenna the leading edge had a sloping extension forward. The extension appears to have been generally standard on production Mirage IIIAs and Mirage IIICs, but only appeared in some of the export versions of the Mirage IIIE.
The IIIE featured Thompson-CSF Cyrano II dual mode air / ground radar; a
radar warning receiver (RWR) system with the antennas mounted in the vertical
tailplane; and an Atar 09C engine, with an afterburning thrust of 60.8 kN
(6,200 kg / 13,700 lb) and a petal-style variable exhaust. Like the Mirage
IIIC, the Mirage IIIE carried twin 30 millimeter DEFA cannon, and also had
five stores pylons, with a total stores capacity of 4 tonnes (8,800 pounds).
DASSAULT MIRAGE IIIE:
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spec metric english
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wingspan 8.22 meters 26 feet 11 inches
length 15 meters 49 feet 3.5 inches
height 4.5 meters 14 feet 9 inches
empty weight 7,050 kilograms 15,600 pounds
max loaded weight 13,500 kilograms 29,700 pounds
maximum speed 2,350 KPH 1,460 MPH / 1,290 KT
service ceiling 17,000 meters 55,800 feet
range 2,400 kilometers 1,490 MI / 1,295 NMI
_____________________ _________________ _______________________
One particularly interesting variation was the Pakistani "Mirage 5PA3", which was the only Mirage variant designed to carry the AM-39 Exocet antiship missile, and was appropriately fitted with the Thompson-CSF Agave maritime targeting radar in place of Cyrano radar.
Total production of the Mirage IIIE was substantially larger than that of the Mirage IIIC, totalling 523 aircraft. In the mid-1960s, one Mirage IIIE was fitted with the improved SNECMA Atar 09K-6 turbojet for trials, and given the confusing designation of "Mirage IIIC2".
* The Mirage IIIE was also built under license in Australia and Switzerland. While the Avon-powered Mirage IIIO built for the Australians, mentioned above, didn't work out, the Australians did become interested in producing their own Mirage IIIEs, retaining the designation "Mirage IIIO", sometimes informally rendered as the "III-Oz". The production Mirage IIIO retained the SNECMA Atar engine, the major difference between the IIIE and the IIIO being avionics fit.
The Australians actually produced two variants: the "Mirage IIIO(F)", which was optimized as an interceptor, and the Mirage "IIIO(A)", which was optimized for the attack role. Dassault produced the first two sample IIIO(F) aircraft, with the first flying in March 1963. The Australian Government Aircraft Factory and Commonwealth Aircraft went on to complete 48 more IIIO(F) fighters and 50 IIIO(A) strike aircraft.
All the surviving Mirage IIIO(F) aircraft were converted to IIIO(A) standard between 1967 and 1979. The Mirage was finally withdrawn from Australian service in 1988, and 50 surviving examples were sold to Pakistan in 1990.
* As mentioned, the Swiss acquired a single Mirage IIIC for tests, and then went on to produce 36 "Mirage IIIS" interceptors, with strengthened wings, airframe, and undercarriage. Avionics differed as well, with the most prominent difference being that the Thompson-CSF Cyrano II radar was replaced by Hughes TARAN-18 system, giving the Mirage IIIS compatibility with the Hughes Falcon AAM.
In the early 1990s, the 30 surviving Swiss Mirage IIIS interceptors were put through an upgrade program, which included fitting them with fixed canards and updated avionics.
* A number of reconnaissance variants were built under the general designation of "Mirage IIIR". These aircraft had a Mirage IIIE airframe; Mirage IIIC avionics; a camera nose and unsurprisingly no radar; and retained the twin DEFA cannon and external stores capability. The camera nose accommodated up to five OMERA cameras.
The AdA obtained 50 production Mirage IIIRs, not including two prototypes. Interestingly, the Mirage IIIR preceded the Mirage IIIE in operational introduction. Export versions of the Mirage IIIR were built for South Africa and Switzerland. The Swiss only bought one, designated "Mirage IIIRS", as a prelude to license manufacture, and built 17 more. Like the Mirage IIIS, Switzerland's Mirage IIIRS aircraft were later upgraded to feature fixed canards and new avionics.
The AdA also obtained 20 improved "Mirage IIIRD" reconnaissance variants, essentially a Mirage IIIR with an extra panoramic camera in the most forward nose position, and the Doppler radar and other avionics from the Mirage IIIE. Export variants were purchased by Abu Dhabi, Belgium, Columbia, Egypt, Libya, Pakistan, and South Africa. Some export Mirage IIIRDs were fitted with British Vinten cameras, not OMERA cameras. Most of the Belgian aircraft were built locally.
* The next major variant, the "Mirage 5", grew out of a request to Dassault from the Hey'l Ha'Avir. Since the weather over the Mideast is clear and sunny most of the time, the Israelis suggested deleting avionics normally stored behind the cockpit from the standard Mirage IIIE to reduce cost and maintenance, and replacing the lost avionics with more fuel storage for the attack mission. In September 1966, the Israelis placed an order for 50 examples of the new aircraft.
The first Mirage 5 flew on 19 May 1967. It looked much like the Mirage III, except it had a long slender nose that extended the aircraft's length by about half a meter, and made it arguably the most elegant of the Mirage delta series. A pitot tube was distinctively move from the tip of the nose to below the nose in the majority of Mirage 5 variants.
Like its predecessors, the Mirage 5 carried twin 30 millimeter DEFA cannon, and could lift a warload of 4 tonnes (8,800 pounds). It featured two more stores pylons, fitted at the rear junctions of the fuselage and wings, for a total of seven pylons. Any pretense of fitting the SEPR rocket engine was abandoned.
Rising tensions in the Mideast led French President Charles De Gaulle to embargo the Israeli Mirage 5s on 3 June 1967. This measure did no good, as the Israelis started the war anyway two days later. The Mirages continued to roll off the production line, even though they were embargoed, and by 1968 the batch was complete and the Israelis had provided final payments.
In late 1969, the Israelis, who had pilots in France testing the aircraft, requested that the aircraft be transferred to Corsica, in theory to allow them to continue flight training during the winter. The French government became suspicious when the Israelis also tried to obtain long-range fuel tanks and cancelled the move.
The Israelis finally gave up trying to get the aircraft and accepted a refund. The 50 aircraft built for the Israelis eventually found their way into the hands of the AdA as "Mirage 5Fs".
* Like the Mirage IIIE, the Mirage 5 was popular with export customers, with different export variants fitted with a wide range of different avionics. While the Mirage 5 had been originally oriented to the clear-weather attack role, with some avionic fits it was refocused to the air-combat mission. As electronic systems became more compact and powerful, it was possible to provide the Mirage 5 with increased capability, even though the rear avionics bay had been deleted.
Reconnaissance and two-seat versions of the Mirage 5 were sold, with the designation "Mirage 5R", and "Mirage 5D" respectively. However, a little consideration of the differences between a Mirage III and a Mirage 5 quickly shows that these designations were simply for marketing purposes. There was no clear dividing line between the configuration of a Mirage III reconnaissance or trainer version and that of a Mirage 5 equivalent, and in fact they were one and the same in many cases.
The Mirage 5 was sold to Abu Dhabi, Belgium, Columbia, Egypt, Gabon, Libya, Pakistan, Peru, Venezuela, and Zaire, with the usual list of subvariant designations and variations in kit. The Belgian aircraft were fitted with mostly US avionics, and Egyptian aircraft fitted with the MS2 attack avionics system from the Dassault-Dornier Alpha Jet.
The Israelis also built their own copy of the Mirage 5, under the name "Nesher", discussed in more detail later. Some Neshers were supplied to Argentina. The Argentines took heavy losses in their Mirage and Nesher fleet during the Falklands war in 1982, and as a measure of solidarity the Peruvians transferred ten of their Mirage 5s to Argentina to help make good their losses.
A total of 531 Mirage 5s were built, not counting Israeli Nesher production.
* In 1968, Dassault, in cooperation with the Swiss, began work on a Mirage update known as the "Milan", or "Kite". The main feature of the Milan was a pair of pop-out foreplanes in the nose, which were referred to as "moustaches". The moustaches were intended to provide better take-off performance and low-speed control for the attack role.
The three initial prototypes were converted from existing Mirage fighters and had non-retractable moustaches. One of these prototypes was nicknamed "Asterix", after the internationally popular French cartoon character, a tough little Gallic warrior with a huge mustache.
A fully-equipped prototype rebuilt from a Mirage IIIR flew in May 1970, and was powered by the uprated SNECMA Atar 09K-50 engine, with 70.6 kN (7,200 kg / 15,900 lb) afterburning thrust, following the evaluation of an earlier model of this new series on the one-off Mirage IIIC2. The Milan also had updated avionics, including a laser designator and rangefinder in the nose. A second fully equipped prototype was produced for Swiss evaluation as the "Milan S".
The moustaches did provide significant handling benefits, but they had drawbacks. They blocked the pilot's forward view to an extent, and set up turbulence in the engine intakes. The Milan concept was abandoned in 1972, while work continued on achieving the same goals with canards.
* The Atar 09K-50 engine, however, was still a good idea, and fit of this engine led to the next Mirage variant, the "Mirage 50", during the 1970s. The uprated engine gave the Mirage 50 better take-off and climb characteristics than its predecessors.
While the Mirage 50 also incorporated new avionics, such as a Cyrano IV radar system, it did not prove popular in export sales, as the first-generation Mirage series was becoming obsolescent. South Africa received a small quantity of the type, and Chile ordered a quantity of Mirage 50s, receiving both new production as well as updated Armee de l'Air Mirage 5s. In 1990, Dassault also upgraded a batch of Venezuelan Mirage IIIEs and 5s to the Mirage 50 spec, with the upgrades designated "Mirage 50M".
* Following the development of the Mirage 50, Dassault had experimented with yet another derivative of the original Mirage series, named the "Mirage 3NG (Novelle Generation)". Like the Milan and Mirage 50, the 3NG was powered by the Atar 9K-50 engine. The prototype, a conversion of a Mirage IIIR, flew in December 1982.
The 3NG had a modified delta wing with leading-edge root extensions, plus a pair of fixed canards fitted above and behind the air intakes. The canards provided a degree of turbulent airflow over the wing to make the aircraft more unstable and so more maneuverable.
Avionics were completely modernized, leveraging off the development effort for the next-generation Mirage 2000 fighter. The Mirage 3NG used a fly-by-wire system to allow control over the aircraft's instabilities, and featured an advanced nav/attack system; new multimode radar; and a laser rangefinder system. The uprated engine and aerodynamics gave the Mirage 3NG impressive performance. The type never went into production, but to an extent the 3NG was a demonstrator for various technologies that could be and were featured in upgrades to existing Mirage IIIs and Mirage Vs.
Enhancements derived from the 3NG were incorporated into Brazilian Mirage IIIEs following 1989, as well as into four ex-Armee de l'Air Mirage IIIEs that were transferred to Brazil in 1988. In 1989, Dassault offered a similar upgrade refit of ex-AdA Mirage IIIEs under the designation "Mirage IIIEX", featuring canards, a fixed in-flight refueling probe, a longer nose, new avionics, and other refinements.
* While Dassault kept their sales department busy taking orders for ever more refined Mirage fighters, the company did not ignore the need to provide trainers to help pilots learn how to handle the fast aircraft.
The Mirage IIIB trainer, mentioned earlier, had tandem seating, with a fuselage stretch of over a meter relative to the Mirage IIIA and the cannon deleted to accommodate the second seat. The IIIB also did not have radar nor provision for the SEPR rocket, but it could carry external stores.
The AdA ordered a total of 63 Mirage IIIBs, including:
One Mirage IIIB was fitted with a fly-by-wire flight control system in the mid-1970s and redesignated "Mirage IIIB-SV (Stabilitie Variable)". The scheme ended up in the Mirage 2000.
Some export customers obtained the Mirage IIIB with designations only changed to provide a country code. However, other customers obtained the Mirage IIIBE under the general designation "Mirage IIID" or "Mirage 5D", reflecting the fighter variant operated by the user, though the trainers were generally similar to the Mirage IIIBE except for minor changes in equipment fit.
In fact, in some cases they were identical, since two surplus AdA Mirage IIIBEs were sold to Brazil under the designation "Mirage IIIBBR", and three were similarly sold to Egypt under the designation "Mirage 5SDD". New-build exports of this type included aircraft sold to Abu Dhabi, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Egypt, Gabon, Libya, Pakistan, Peru, Spain, Switzerland, Venezuela, and Zaire. Australian and Belgian aircraft were locally assembled.
* A total of 1,422 Mirage III/5/50 aircraft of all types were built by Dassault. There were a few unbuilt variants:
* Dassault had developed the Mirage 5 at the request of the Israelis. When the French government prevented the aircraft from being delivered to Israel and cut off support for the Israeli's existing Mirage IIICJ fleet, the Israelis simply produced the Mirage 5 themselves without a license, using manufacturing specs obtained by Israeli intelligence. There is an elaborate cloak-and-dagger story behind this exercise that doesn't quite eliminate the suspicion that the Israelis were discreetly helped by Dassault in this effort, with the French government turning a blind eye to the whole matter.
The "Nesher (Eagle)" was a complete copy of the Mirage 5, except for the use of some Israeli avionics; a Martin-Baker zero-zero ejection seat; and provisions for a wider range of AAMs, including the Israeli Shafir heat-seeking missile.
The first Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) Nesher prototype flew in September 1969, with production deliveries to the Hey'l Ha'Avir beginning in 1972. These aircraft performed well during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, claiming over a hundred kills.
51 Nesher fighters and 10 Nesher two-seat trainers were built in all. As mentioned earlier, most of these aircraft were refurbished and exported to Argentina in 1978:82, under the name "Dagger". The Argentinians received 35 "Dagger A" single-seat fighters and 4 "Dagger B" two-seat trainers.
* Nesher production was terminated to make way for an improved Mirage derivative that had been in planning in parallel, in which the Atar engine was to be replaced with an Israeli-built General Electric J79 engine, the same engine used on the American F-104 Starfighter and F-4 Phantom fighters. The J79 provided a dry thrust of 49 kN (5,000 kg / 11,100 lb) and an afterburning thrust of 83.4 kN (8,500 kg / 18,750 lb).
The J79 was first fitted to a French-built Mirage III, flying in October 1970. This test aircraft was followed by an improved prototype in June 1973, with the name "Raam (Thunderbolt)". Apparently a number of Mirage III-based J79-powered aircraft were built by IAI under the name "Barak (Lightning)" and participated in the 1973 Yom Kippur war, but really making the most of the new engine meant airframe changes.
Production deliveries of an optimized J79-powered Mirage derivative, under the name "Kfir-C1 (Lion Cub)", began in April 1975. The Kfir-C1 superficially resembled a Mirage 5, except for a distinctive "ram" air inlet at the front base of the tail to provide added cooling required by the J79 engine.
Only 27 Kfir-C1 fighters were delivered, to be replaced by the improved
"Kfir-C2". The Kfir-C2 had a number of enhancements to traditional Mirage
aerodynamics. It featured narrow "strakes" along the tip of the nose; fixed
but detachable canards; and an extended "dogtooth" outer wing. The
aerodynamic improvements gave the Kfir better combat manouverability, reduced
landing and take-off distance, and improved low-speed handling.
_____________________ _________________ _______________________
spec metric english
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wingspan 8.21 meters 26 feet 11.5 inches
length 15.65 meters 51 feet 4.25 inches
height 4.55 meters 14 feet 11.5 inches
empty weight 7,285 kilograms 16,060 pounds
max loaded weight 14,670 kilograms 32,340 pounds
maximum speed 2,440 KPH 1,520 MPH / 1,320 KT
service ceiling 17,700 meters 58,000 feet
operational radius 770 kilometers 480 MI / 420 NMI
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Final production Kfirs, delivered in the late 1980s, featured nine stores pylons, upgraded avionics, and other refinements, and were designated "Kfir-C7" and "Kfir-TC7".
Ten refurbished Hey'l Ha'Avir C2 fighters and two TC2 trainers were supplied to Ecuador in 1983, 13 Kfir-C7s and two TC7 trainers were provided to Columbia in 1987, and 25 of the upgraded Kfir-C1s were leased to the US Navy and the US Marine Corps to act as "F-21A" aggressor aircraft for "Red Flag" training.
* In 1991, IAI introduced an upgraded Kfir-C2, known as the "Nammer (Tiger)", for the export market. This aircraft had a slightly stretched fuselage; modern avionics, including multifunction displays and "hands on throttle and stick (HOTAS)", controls, and the ability to accommodate either a SNECMA Atar 9K-50 turbojet or a GE-Volvo F404 / RM12 turbofan. Apparently the use of the J79 engine led to American export restrictions on the type that the chafed on the Israelis, so they went to a different engine fit.
Along with the usual twin 30 millimeter cannon, the Nammer had nine stores pylons and could carry up to 6.25 tonnes (13,800 pounds) of external stores. It also had provision for in-flight refueling. Although it seems there were no takers for the Nammer, the aviation press has mentioned that IAI is promoting a "Kfir 2000" upgrade, though details are unclear. In any case, as with the Mirage III/5/50 itself, there is still life left in the Kfir.
* At least many of the elements of the Kfir 2000 update do appear to have been performed on South African aircraft. In 1986, Atlas Aircraft Corporation of South Africa rolled out a refurbished Mirage III machine named the "Cheetah". Although no mention was made of any involvement with IAI, the Cheetah resembled a Kfir and was fitted with many elements of Israeli technology.
Improvements to the Cheetah featured:
Not all Cheetahs incorporated all these improvements, with the variations detailed later. The updated avionics kit included:
The Cheetah was qualified to carry locally-built South African weapons, such as the Kukri and Darter AAMs, which could be cued by the pilot's helmet-mounted sight, and Israeli weapons such as the Python AAM. The Cheetah's radar is not capable of supporting long-range radar-guided AAMs. Of course, operational Cheetahs retain the twin DEFA cannon and can carry such ordnance as conventional bombs, cluster munitions, and unguided rocket pods.
The result of all the modifications is something like a Kfir without the J79 engine fit, resembling a Kfir except for the lack of a ram-air inlet at the base of the tail. The fact that the updated machines are named the "Cheetah" does imply a family relationship to the Kfir / Lion.
Atlas updated a quantity of Mirages, apparently including both South African machines and some obtained quietly from Israel and possibly some other foreign sources, to the Cheetah standard, with variants including:
The Cheetah C is a more sophisticated update, with the "C" apparently having no particular connection with the Mirage IIIC. At least 38 were built, with introduction to service in 1993. The Cheetah C can be distinguished from the Cheetah E by the fact that the Cheetah C has a one-piece windscreen, and a short but distinctive fuselage stretch between the cockpit and the engine intakes,
Other improvements include a new undercarriage and presumably new avionics, though the South Africans are quiet about the details. Oddly, the Cheetah C seems to retain the old Martin-Baker Mark 6 ejection seat.
There has been some interest in reengining the Cheetahs with Russian Klimov RD33-type turbofans, similar to the engines used on the MiG-29, and one Cheetah D was fitted with the Klimov engine on a trial basis. The RD33 is a much more modern engine than the Atar, which was a direct descendant of World War II German BMW designs, and would provide substantial improvement in performance. Another possible update, which may have been implemented in some of the Cheetah Cs, is the Elbit EL/M-2021 multimode radar.
* The Chilean company ENAER (Empresa Nacional de Aeronatica) performed a similar Kfir-C2-like upgrade under the name "Pantera (Panther)" of the Chilean Mirage 50 fleet, beginning in 1988. The Pantera incorporated fixed canards and other aerodynamic improvements, as well as advanced avionics. These aircraft have an extended nose to accommodate some of the new avionics.
* The weapons and other stores that could be carried by the Mirage delta fighters underwent continuous improvement over the decades.
The Mirage IIIC was intended primarily as an interceptor, and so its initial external armament were early Sidewinder missiles and the Matra R-530 missile, with interchangeable infrared (IR) or radar-homing seeker. These were not very effective weapons, but better ones became available in time.
Ground attack stores, such light-to-medium bombs and various unguided rocket packs, were quickly adopted, as were drop tanks of various capacities. The French also came up with an odd combination drop tank and rocket pack, and another odd drop tank with tandem stores racks for bombs.
The Sidewinder gave way to the improved Matra Magic heat-seeking missile, as well as other advanced stores, such as laser-guided bombs, directed by a laser designator from an spotter, as no operational Mirage ever carried a designator; cluster munitions; Durandal runway-cratering weapons; the Martel ASM; and a wide range of guided air-to-ground missiles.
The Israeli Kfir carried Israeli-built weapons, such as the Shafir II and follow-on Python 3 heat-seeking missiles, and US-built weapons, such as Maverick air-to-ground and Shrike anti-radar missiles.
* One of the most interesting offshoots of the Mirage III/5/50 fighter family tree was the "Mirage IIIV" vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) fighter. "IIIV" is read "three-vee", not "three-five", by the way. This aircraft featured eight small vertical lift engines straddling the main engine. The Mirage IIIV was built in response to a mid-1960s NATO specification for a VTOL strike fighter.
To test the lift-engine concept, Dassault modified the first Mirage III prototype. Eight Rolls-Royce RB-108 lift engines were added, each with 980 kilograms (2,160 pounds) thrust. This demonstrator was known as the "Balzac V", with the "V" for "VTOL", or just "Balzac". It made its first hover flights in October 1962, with its first transition from vertical to horizontal flight in March 1963.
The name was not actually given to the aircraft in honor of a French literary figure. As the machine was the first Mirage III, it was serial-numbered "001", and at the time there was a French movie advertising agency that widely publicised its phone number, "BALZAC 0-0-0-1".
The Balzac crashed in January 1964. The pilot was killed, but the aircraft was repaired, only to crash in September 1965 and be permanently destroyed, killing another pilot in the process.
* In the meantime, the Balzac had led to the Mirage IIIV, which was twice as big. Two prototypes were built. The first Mirage IIIV performed its first hovering trial in February 1965. The IIIV had the general layout of earlier Mirage fighters, but it was longer and had a bigger wing, and, like the Balzac, nine engines: a single SNECMA-modified Pratt & Whitney JTF10 turbofan, designated TF-104, with 61.8 kN (6,300 kg / 13,900 lb) thrust, and eight Rolls-Royce RB162-1 engines, each with 15.7 kN (1,600 kg / 3,525 lb) thrust, mounted vertically in pairs around the centerline. The TF-104 was originally evaluated on a special-built trials machine, the "Mirage IIIT", which was much like a Mirage IIIC except for the change in engine fit.
The TF-104 engine was quickly replaced by an uprated TF-106 engine, with 74.5 kN (7,600 kg / 16,750 lb) thrust, before the first prototype made its initial transition to forward flight in March 1966. It later attained Mach 1.32 in test flights.
The second prototype featured an 82.4 kN (8,400 kg / 18,500 lb) thrust TF-30 turbofan for forward thrust, and first flew in June 1966. In September of that year, it attained Mach 2.04 in level flight, but was lost in an accident on 28 November 1966.
The loss of the second prototype effectively killed the program, and in fact killed any prospect of an operational Mach 2 vertical take-off fighter for decades. The British had been proceeding on design work towards the "Hawker P.1154", a supersonic follow-on to the "Kestrel" experimental VTOL fighter then flying, but the French preferred the Mirage IIIV, and the international cooperation needed to make the P.1154 a reality never materialized.
The British cancelled the P.1154 and used some of its design features to come up with an operational vertical take-off fighter based on the Kestrel, the highly successful BAE "Harrier". The Mirage IIIV was never a realistic combat aircraft. The eight lift engines would likely have been a maintenance nightmare, and certainly their weight imposed a severe range and payload penalty on the aircraft. Apparently the program was all but dead even before the loss of the second prototype.
* This section provides a quick summary list of Mirage III/5/50s obtained by different air arms.
This should be regarded as an approximate list, as guaranteeing these numbers
would be a major and difficult task. The key "1S" indicates a single-seat
Mirage fighter, while "2S" indicates a two-seat Mirage, and "PR" indicates a
ABU DHABI 1S: 12 5AD + 5 EAD
2S: 3 5DAD
PR: 5 RAD
ARGENTINA 1S: 19 IIICJ + 17 IIIEA + 10 5P
2S: 3 IIIBJ + 4 IIIDA
Plus 35 IAI 1S Dagger-A & 2S Dagger-B.
IIICJs & IIIBJs were ex-Israeli, 5Ps were ex-Peruvian.
AUSTRALIA 1S: 49 IIIO(F) + 51 IIIO(A)
2S: 16 IIID
Most built locally, all now out of service.
BELGIUM 1S: 63 5BA
2S: 16 5BD
PR: 27 5BR
Minor upgrade performed on survivors in early 1990s, but
all were then retired.
BRAZIL 1S: 16 IIIEBR + 4 IIIEBR-2
2S: 6 IIIDBR + 2 IIIDBR-2
2 IIIDBR, all IIDBR-2 & IIIEBR-2 were ex-AdA.
Many assembled locally. Survivors upgraded with canards &
so on in early 1990s.
CHILE 1S: 6 50C + 8 50FC
2S: 3 50DC
50FC were upgraded by Dassault from AdA 5Fs. Chilean
survivors mostly updated to Pantera standard.
COLUMBIA 1S: 14 5COA
2S: 2 5COD
PR: 2 5COR
Plus 12 IAI Kfir-C2 & 1 Kfir TC7. Most Columbian Mirages
upgraded in early 1990s to improved Kfir standard.
EGYPT 1S: 54 5SDE + 16 5E2
2S: 6 5SDD
PR: 6 5SDR
FRANCE 1S: 95 IIIC + 183 IIIE + 58 5F
2S: 27 IIIB + 5 IIIB1 + 10 IIIB2(RV) + 20 IIIBE
PR: 50 IIIR + 20 IIIRD
GABON 1S: 3 5G + 2 5G-2
2S: 4 5DG
Two surviving 5Gs were updated to 5G-2 spec.
ISRAEL 1S: 72 IIICJ
2S: 5 IIIBJ
IAI built 61 Nesher / Daggers, with 51 single-seaters and
10 two-seat Nesher-Ts; and 212 Kfirs, with 40 early Kfir-1s
(many updated to Kfir-C1 spec), about 12 Kifr-TC2 trainers,
and the rest Kfir-C2s. Confusing pattern of upgrades to
Kfir-C7 and Kfir-TC7.
LEBANON 1S: 10 IIIEL
2S: 2 IIIBL
All out of service.
LIBYA 1S: 53 5D + 32 5DE
2S: 15 5DD
PR: 10 5DR
Most or all out of service.
PAKISTAN 1S: 18 IIIEP + 43 III(0) + 28 5PA + 28 5PA2 + 12 5PA3
2S: 5 IIIDP + 7 IIID + 2 5DPA2
PR: 13 IIIRP
The III(0) and IIIDs were ex-Australian and locally
refurbished. Some source hint a few were converted into
PERU 1S: 22 5P + 10 5P3 + 2 5P4
2S: 4 5DP + 2 5DP3
SOUTH AFRICA 1S: 16 IIICZ + 17 IIIEZ
2S: 3 IIIBZ + 3 IIIDZ + 11 IIID2Z
PR: 4 IIIRZ + 4 IIIR2Z
All out of service, some having been upgraded to Cheetah
standard. There are about 16 Cheetah-E conversions (all
out of service); 38 Cheetah-C conversions; 16 Cheetah-D
conversions; and one Cheetah-R conversion.
SPAIN 1S: 24 IIIEE
2S: 6 IIIDE
Withdrawn from service in early 1990s.
SWITZERLAND 1S: 1 IIICS + 36 IIIS
2S: 4 IIIBS + 2 IIIDS
PR: 18 IIIRS
Most built locally, many upgraded with canards, etc.
VENEZUELA 1S: 7 IIIEV + 6 5V + 9 50EV
2S: 3 IIIDV + 1 50DV
Survivors mostly updated to 50 standard.
ZAIRE / CONGO 1S: 8 5M
2S: 3 5DM
All out of service.
* Writing this document was troublesome, since there are so many minor variations on the Mirage III series, including rebuilds and even rebuilds of rebuilds, that keeping track was a major headache.
I have only seen a Mirage, or rather a pair of them, once, but it was memorable. I was stationed with the US Army in Germany in 1974:75 and was running through a vineyard one day when two of them roared over my head at low altitude. I can still clearly recall the image of their hot stovepipes and feel the roar of their Atar engines.
* Sources include:
* Revision history:
v1.0 / 20 jul 97 / gvg
v1.1 / 22 sep 97 / gvg / Minor revision.
v1.2 / 01 aug 98 / gvg / Cosmetic rewrite.
v2.0 / 01 apr 00 / gvg / Broke out materials, big update.
v2.1.0 / 01 nov 02 / gvg / New illustrations, Cheetah, user list.
This was one of the first documents in my collection, and is of course now one of the most mature. Oddly, most of the time when I've come back to it, expecting to only make a few changes and corrections, I've ended up making substantial additions.