Dassault Mirage III
Switzerland - Air Force
Dassault Mirage III
Brazil - Air Force
Dassault Mirage III
The Dassault Mirage III is a supersonic fighter aircraft designed in France
during the 1950s, and manufactured both in France and a number of other
countries. It was one of the most successful fighter aircraft ever made, being
sold to many air forces around the world and remaining in production for over a
decade. Some of the world's smaller air forces still fly Mirage IIIs or
variants as front-line equipment today, including Argentina, Chile, Democratic
Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Gabon, Libya, Pakistan, Peru, and the
United Arab Emirates.
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 18,000 m (59,040 ft) in six minutes and able to reach
Mach 1.3 in level flight.
Dassault's response to the specification was the Mystère-Delta 550, a
sporty looking little jet that was to be powered by twin Armstrong Siddeley
MD30R Viper afterburning turbojets, each with thrust of 9.61 kN (2,160 lbf).
A SEPR liquid-fuel rocket motor was to provide additional burst thrust of 14.7
kN (3,300 lbf). The aircraft had a tailless delta configuration, with a 5% chord
(ratio of airfoil thickness to length) and 60 degree sweep.
The tailless delta configuration has a number of limitations. The lack of a
horizontal stabilizer means flaps cannot be used resulting in a long takeoff
run and a high landing speed. The delta wing itself limits maneuverability and
suffers 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 in 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 SNECMA Atar afterburning
turbojet with thrust of 43.2 kN (9,700 lbf). The Atar was an axial flow turbojet,
derived from the German World War II BMW 003 design.
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 in the famous "wasp waist" configuration of many
supersonic fighters. Like the Mirage I, the Mirage III had provision for a SEPR
The prototype Mirage III flew in 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 (13,230 lbf). 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 thrust of 71.1 kN (16,000 lbf) 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.
Mirage IIIC and Mirage IIIB
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 mm 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), later
replaced by Matra Magic.
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, 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 French Armée de l'Air (AdA) also ordered a two-seat Mirage IIIB operational
trainer which first flew in October, 1959. The fuselage was stretched about a
meter (3 ft 3.5 in) and both cannon were deleted to accommodate the second seat.
The IIIB had no radar and provision for the SEPR rocket was deleted, although
it could carry external stores. The AdA ordered 63 Mirage IIIBs (including the
prototpe), including five Mirage IIIB-1 trails aircraft, ten Mirage IIIB-2 inflight
refueling trainers with dummy nose probes, used for training
Mirage IVA bomber pilots, and 20 Mirage IIIBEs, with the engine and some other
features of the multi-role Mirage IIIE. One Mirage IIIB was fitted with a
fly-by-wire flight control system in the mid-1970s and redesignated
Mirage IIIB-SV (Stabilitie Variable); this aircraft was used as a testbed for
the system in the later Mirage 2000.
Mirage IIIE & IIIR
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 in April, 1961.
The Mirage IIIE differed from the IIIC interceptor most obviously in having a
300 mm (11.8 in) 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 a petal-style variable exhaust.
The first production Mirage IIIE was delivered to the AdA in January, 1964, and a
total of 192 were eventually delivered to that service.
Total production of the Mirage IIIE, including exports, was substantially larger
than that of the Mirage IIIC totaling 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.
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.
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.
Exports and Licensed Production
The Mirage IIIC was exported to Israel as the Mirage IIICJ, to South Africa as
the Mirage IIICZ, and to Switzerland, to which one was sold in preparation for
license construction. Some export customers obtained the Mirage IIIB, with
designations only changed to provide a country code.
After the outstanding Israeli success with the Mirage IIICJ, scoring kills
against Syrian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17s and MiG-21 aircraft and then achieving a
formidable victory against Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in the Six-Day War of June,
1967, the Mirage III's reputation was greatly enhanced. The combat-proven image
and low cost made it a popular export success.
A good number of IIIEs were built for export as well, being purchased in small
quantities by Argentina, Brazil, Lebanon, Pakistan, South Africa, Spain,
and Venezuela, with a list of subvariant designations with minor variations in
equipment fit. Dassault believed the customer was always right and was happy
to accommodate changes in equipment fit as customer needs and budget required.
Pakistani Mirage 5PA3, for example, were fitted with Thompson-CSF Agave radar
with capability of guiding the Exocet anti-ship missile.
Some customers obtained the two-seat Mirage IIIBE under the general designation
Mirage IIID, though the trainers were generally similar to the Mirage IIIBE
except for minor changes in equipment fit. 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, Colombia, Egypt, Gabon, Libya,
Pakistan, Peru, Spain, Switzerland, Venezuela, and Zaire. Australian and Belgian
aircraft were locally assembled.
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. Export
versions of the IIIR aircraft were purchased by Abu Dhabi, Belgium, Colombia,
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 Mirage IIIE was also built under license in Australia and Switzerland. While
the Avon-powered Mirage IIIO built for the Australians 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)
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 AIM-4 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. Exports of later variants would also feature such modified
designations, though there would be elaborations that could be very confusing.
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