* The Mirage III was an advanced design for its era, and it proved both adaptable and popular in service, with a wide range of variants being sold to air forces all over the world. It would see significant combat action in the Middle East.
* 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 (11.2 miles) 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 little jet that was to be powered by twin Armstrong Siddeley MD30R Viper afterburning turbojets, each with 9.61 kN (980 kgp / 2,160 lbf) thrust. Additional burst power was to be provided by a 14.7 kN (1,500 kgp / 3,300 lbf) thrust SEPR liquid-fuel rocket motor. The wing was a delta configuration, with a 5% ratio of wing thickness to chord and 60 degree sweep.
The delta wing has a number of limitations. Classic delta-winged aircraft have a long take-off run -- flaps are impractical, they simply force the nose down -- as well as high landing speed and limited maneuverability; they also 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 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 (AAM), 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 kgp / 9,700 lbf) 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 IIIA" fighters. These machines were almost two meters longer (6.6 feet) than the Mirage III prototype, had a wing with 17.3% more area, the thickness to chord reduced to 4.5%, and an Atar 09B turbojet with afterburning thrust of 58.9 kN (6,000 kgp / 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 71.1 kN (7,250 kgp / 16,000 lbf) thrust as a part of a sales pitch for a deal with Australia, with the designation "Mirage IIIO" and the name "City of Hobart". This variant first flew on 13 February 1961, but the Avon powerplant did not offer enough of a performance improvement to make it worth adopting in favor of the Atar, and the Avon would never be used in production Mirages.BACK_TO_TOP
* 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 (AA) and first flew in October 1959. Two-seat variants of the Mirage III series are discussed below.
The first major production model, the "Mirage IIIC", performed its initial flight in October 1960. The IIIC was largely similar to the IIIA, though a little under a half meter (1.6 feet) longer and brought up to full operational fit. The IIIC was a single-seat interceptor, with an Atar 09B turbojet engine, featuring an "eyelid" style variable exhaust.
The pilot sat under a clamshell canopy that hinged to the rear on a Martin-Baker Mark 4 ejection seat -- upgraded later to a Mark 6 rocket-boosted "zero-zero (zero speed, zero altitude)" configuration. 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 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.
The Mirage IIIC and its successor variants were qualified for ground attack stores, such as light-to-medium bombs and various unguided rocket packs. Drop tanks of various capacities could be carried as well; the French also came up with an combination drop tank and rocket pack, and another unusual drop tank with tandem stores racks for bombs.
In time, Mirages carried improved weapons. The Sidewinder gave way to the Matra Magic heat-seeking missile, with other later stores including laser-guided bombs, directed by a laser designator from another aircraft or ground forces, since no operational Mirage III/5/50 ever carried a designator; cluster munitions; Durandal runway-cratering weapons; and the Martel air-to-surface missile.
Although the Mirage IIIC retained provision for the rocket engine, the SEPR rocket engine was rarely if ever fitted in practice. In the first place, it required removal of the aircraft's cannon, and in the second, it seems it had a reputation for setting the aircraft on fire. The space for the rocket engine was used for additional fuel; the rocket nozzle was replaced by a ventral fin at first, and an airfield arresting hook assembly later.
95 Mirage IIIC fighters were obtained by the AA, with initial operational deliveries in July 1961. The Mirage IIIC remained in service with the AA until 1988. The type was also exported to Switzerland, with one sold in preparation for license construction; Israel; and South Africa. Export Mirage IIIC aircraft 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 at the end of this document.
* The Israelis named the Mirage III the "Shahak", meaning "Sky". They were the first to score air combat "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 faster 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 (IAF) 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, all but winning the war for the Israelis in one swift blow. This advertisement and the low cost of the relatively simple and flexible Mirage delta fighter helped make it a major French export.BACK_TO_TOP
* 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 (1 foot) forward fuselage extension to increase the size of the avionics bay behind the cockpit. The stretch also helped increase fuel capacity; the Mirage IIIC had marginal range and improvements were needed. The stretch was small and hard to notice, but the clue was that the rear edge of the canopy on a Mirage IIIE ended directly above the top lip of the air intake, while on the IIIC it ended 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 IIIC had this feature, it was not universal to 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 tailfin. On some Mirages, the leading edge of the tailfin 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 usually fitted to production Mirage IIIA and Mirage IIIC machines, 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 tailfin; and an Atar 09C engine, with an afterburning thrust of 60.8 kN (6,200 kgp / 13,700 lbf) 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: _____________________ _________________ _______________________ spec metric english _____________________ _________________ _______________________ wingspan 8.22 meters 26 feet 11 inches wing area 34.85 sq_meters 375.13 sq_feet 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 _____________________ _________________ _______________________
* The first production Mirage IIIE was delivered to the AA in January 1964, and a total of 192 was eventually delivered to that service. A good number of were built for export as well, being purchased in small quantities by Argentina, Brazil, Lebanon, Pakistan, South Africa, Spain, and Venezuela with various subvariant designations and 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. 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 greater 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".
* The Mirage IIIE was also built under license in Australia and Switzerland. Although 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 IIIE fighters, selecting the type in November 1960 in preference to the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. The Mirage won out on its superior ability to operate from austere airfields and its multirole capabilities. An initial order was placed for 30 machines, designated "Mirage IIIO", sometimes informally rendered as the "III-Oz" -- the "IIIA" suffix had already been used. It was the first combat aircraft obtained by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) from mainland Europe, and the RAAF's first "made in metric" aircraft.
The production Mirage IIIO retained the SNECMA Atar engine, the major difference between the IIIE and the IIIO being fit of a Sperry twin gyrocompass unit. The SEPR booster rocket was not obtained, the space being used for a fuel tank. 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. The Mirage IIIO(A) featured a Marconi CW Doppler radar navigation unit and, for later production, a wing with a "wet" leading edge to provide increased fuel capacity. The RAAF also obtained a number of Mirage IIID two-seat trainers, described below.
The first 12 machines were provided by Dassault as knockdown kits, with the next 25 featuring French-built fuselages, the rest of the aircraft being of Australian origin. The last 79 were mostly of Australian origin. Production was by the Australian Government Aircraft Factory (GAF) and Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC). CAC built major subassemblies including engine and the flight surfaces, while GAF built the rest and rolled out the completed aircraft. Initial flight of a Aussie Mirage was in March 1963. The final tally of 116 Mirages included 49 Mirage IIIO(F), 51 Mirage IIIO(A), and 16 Mirage IIID aircraft.
A few of the Mirage III0(A) attack fighters were converted to a reconnaissance configuration, with a single film camera shooting down out of the bottom of the nose displacing the Cyrano radar. The radar nose could be refitted if desired. All the surviving Mirage IIIO(F) aircraft were converted to IIIO(A) standard between 1967 and 1979, to be logically redesignated "Mirage IIIO(FA)". Late in their lives Aussie Mirages carried some interesting stores, such as US-built AN/ALQ-72 jamming pods and Paveway laser-guided bombs, with the bombs designated by ground forces. The Mirage was finally withdrawn from Australian service in 1988, and 50 surviving examples were sold to Pakistan in 1990. Some were overhauled there and put back into service, while the others were used as spares hulks.
* 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 the 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 the "Improved Swiss Mirage Aircraft (ISMA)" upgrade program, which included fitting them with fixed canard fins 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 film cameras.
The AA obtained 50 production Mirage IIIRs, not including two prototypes. Interestingly, the Mirage IIIR preceded the Mirage IIIE in operational service. Export versions of the Mirage IIIR were built for South Africa and Switzerland. The Swiss 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 under the ISMA program with fixed canards and new avionics.
The Mirage IIIRS, along with some of the two-seat trainers, was finally phased out of Swiss service in late 2003. All the Mirage IIIS fighters had been retired some time earlier. Many of the Mirages were auctioned off for display in museums.
The AA also obtained 20 improved "Mirage IIIRD" reconnaissance variants, essentially Mirage IIIR machines 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, Colombia, Egypt, Libya, Pakistan, and South Africa. Some export Mirage IIIRD aircraft were fitted with British Vinten cameras instead of OMERA cameras. Most of the Belgian aircraft were built locally.
* As a footnote to the business of Mirage III reconnaissance variants, some sources claim that the Israelis obtained two "Mirage IIIRJ" machines in 1964, but this is hard to confirm; if it happened, it might have been kept quiet for some reason. The same sources claim that the Israelis modified a number of their Mirage IIICJ machines with a camera nose, with these aircraft reverting to the normal fighter configuration after delivery of the two Mirage IIIRJ machines.BACK_TO_TOP
* The next major variant, the "Mirage 5", grew out of a request to Dassault from the IAF. Since the weather over the Mideast is clear and sunny most of the time, the Israelis suggested deleting all-weather 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, making it arguably the most elegant of the Mirage delta series. The pitot tube was moved from the tip of the nose to below the nose in the majority of Mirage 5 variants, providing a distinctive recognition feature. Like its predecessors, the Mirage 5 was fitted with 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,
A year later the batch was complete and the Israelis had provided final payments, but they still couldn't get their hands on the aircraft. 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 canceled 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 AA under the designation of "Mirage 5F".
* 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, Colombia, Egypt, Gabon, Libya, Pakistan, Peru, Venezuela, and Zaire, with the usual diverse 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.
A total of 531 Mirage 5s was built. The Israelis also built their own copy of the Mirage 5, under the name "Nesher", discussed in more detail in the next chapter. 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.
* In 1968, Dassault, in cooperation with the Swiss, began work on a Mirage update known as the "Milan (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 kgp / 15,900 lbf) 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, since 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 09K-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 5s.
Enhancements derived from the 3NG were incorporated into Brazilian Mirage IIIE fighters 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-AA Mirage IIIEs under the designation "Mirage IIIEX", featuring canards, a fixed in-flight refueling probe, a longer nose, new avionics, and other refinements.BACK_TO_TOP
* 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 (3.3 feet) 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 AA ordered a total of 63 Mirage IIIB trainers, 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 AA 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.
* A total of 1,422 Mirage III/5/50 aircraft of all types was built by Dassault. There were a few unbuilt variants: