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 as front-line equipment today.

Table of contents
1 Early development
2 The Mirage IIIC
3 Mirage IIIE & IIIR
4 Mirage 5 / Milan / Mirage 50 / Mirage 3NG
5 Mirage IIIB & IIID trainers
6 IAI Nesher & Kfir / Atlas Cheetah / Enaer Pantera
7 Mirages external stores
8 Balzac / Mirage IIIV
9 Mirage III/5/50 users summary

Early development

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 kilometres 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 manoeuvrability; 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 IIIC

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 millimetre 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 millimetre 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 June 5 1967, the Israeli Air Force, the Hey'l Ha'Avir, performed pre-emptive 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.

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 on 1 April 1961.

The Mirage IIIE differed from the IIIC interceptor most obviously in having a 30 centimetre (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 millimetre DEFA cannon, and also had five stores pylons, with a total stores capacity of 4 tonnes (8,800 pounds).

wingspan8.22 m26 ft 11 in
length15 m49 ft 3.5 in
height4.5 m14 ft 9 in
empty weight7,050 kg15,600 lb
max loaded weight13,500 kg29,700 lb
maximum speed2,350 km/h1,460 mi/h / 1,290 kn
service ceiling17,000 m55,800 ft
range2,400 km1,490 mi / 1,295 nmi

The first production Mirage IIIE was delivered to the AdA in January 1964, and a total of 192 were eventually delivered to that service. 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. 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.

Mirage 5 / Milan / Mirage 50 / Mirage 3NG

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 Middle East 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 metre, and made it arguably the most elegant of the Mirage delta series. A pitot tube was distinctively moved 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 pretence of fitting the SEPR rocket engine was abandoned.

Rising tensions in the Middle East 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 moustache.

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 (Nouvelle 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 manoeuvrable.

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-Armée 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.

Mirage IIIB & IIID trainers

While Dassault kept their sales department busy taking orders for the 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:

The prototype and 27 similar production aircraft.

5 "Mirage IIIB-1s" as dedicated trials aircraft.

10 "Mirage IIIB-2(RV)s", with a dummy refuelling probe replacing the nose pitot to operate as inflight refuelling trainers for Mirage IV bomber pilots.

20 "Mirage IIIBEs", matching the multirole Mirage IIIE single-seat fighter. The Mirage IIIBE had a distinctly different nose from the Mirage IIIB, lacked the ventral fin extension of the Mirage IIIB, and was fitted with a set of strakes on the lower fuselage, below the cockpit. It was also fitted with the improved Atar 09C-3 turbojet of the Mirage IIIE, instead of the Atar 09B of the Mirage IIIC / IIIB, and so had the "petal" style exhaust instead of the "eyelid" style exhaust. 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 "Mirage IIIK" that was powered by a Rolls-Royce Spey turbofan was offered to the British Royal Air Force.

The "Mirage IIIM" was a carrier-based variant, with catapult spool and arresting hook, for operation with the French Aeronavale.

The "Mirage IIIW" was a lightweight fighter version, proposed for a US competition, with Dassault partnered with Boeing. The aircraft would have been produced by Boeing, but it lost to the Northrop F-5A. BACK_TO_TOP

IAI Nesher & Kfir / Atlas Cheetah / Enaer Pantera

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.

These suspicions have a sound basis in fact. Marcel Dassault, before the war, was Marcel Bloch, producer of the Bloch series of fighters before the German occupation. As a Jew, he naturally suffered the persecution the Nazis were exposing all of Europe to, and Bloch was sent from camp to camp through the war. He narrowly escaped death in Auschwitz, by some accounts escaping death by a matter of hours as the American expeditionary forces entered the gates of this terrible place. He returned to France as soon as he was able, and re-established his aircraft company. Being of Jewish extraction, he therefore was happy to take a lead in France's contributions of armaments to the new state of Israel. The sudden refusal of the French government to provide the Mirage V, after the proving in combat of the Mirage III for all the world to see in the Six Day War, prompted the Dassault to make his gift to Israel in the form of the Mirage V's complete blueprint set, minus that of the Atar engine. (The events described have been set forward semi-fictitiously in the novel 'Mirage' by Ken Follett)

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 Argentineans 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 manoeuvrability, reduced landing and take-off distance, and improved low-speed handling.

wingspan8.21 m26 ft 11.5 in
length15.65 m51 ft 4.25 in
height4.55 m14 ft 11.5 in
empty weight7,285 kg16,060 lb
max loaded weight14,670 kg32,340 lb
maximum speed2,440 km/h1,520 mi/h / 1,320 kn
service ceiling17,700 m58,000 ft
operational radius770 km480 mi / 420 nmi

All but two of the Kfir-C1s were upgraded to the Kfir-C2 configuration. 185 Kfir-C2s were built, including a number of "Kfir-TC2" two-seat trainers. The trainer versions are very unusual looking, as they have an extended nose containing avionics displaced by the second seat, and the nose is noticeably drooped to give a reasonable cockpit view. The result is a somewhat comical "big nose" appearance. 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 millimetre 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 refuelling. 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, it is a well understood fact that during the era of Apartheid, Israel, Taiwan and South Africa shared an excellent social and technological partnership. This combination permitted the development of the Cheetah C from Mirage III airframes and South African assembled Mirage V airframes (Cheetah D). The Cheetah embodies all the aerodynamic refinements of the Kfir and was fitted with many elements of Israeli technology. It retains its European filter systems, as the Southern African environment is not as dust plagued as the Israeli theatre.

Improvements to the Cheetah featured:

Structural upgrades to "zero-life" the airframe.

Kfir canards, nose strakes, and dogtooth wing.

An Atar 9K-50 engine, built under license in South Africa for the country's Mirage F1 fighters. The Cheetah featured larger engine intakes fitted to ensure the necessary airflow.

Two additional stores pylons under the intake ducts, for a total of seven pylons.

A fixed refuelling probe, mounted over the right air intake.

A Martin-Baker Mark 10 ejection seat.

New avionics, the majority of Israeli origin, refined with then-new Taiwanese electronics, but with most elements built in South Africa, packed into an extended nose.

Not all Cheetahs incorporated all these improvements, with the variations detailed later. The updated avionics kit included:

A lightweight Elta EL-2001 radar, a simple set but much better than the old unreliable Cyrano radar system, and capable of tracking and targeting in both air to air and air to ground combat.

An Elbit head-up display (HUD), and a South African built helmet mounted sight.

A self-defence suite, including missile and radar warning sensors, active jammers, and chaff-flare dispensers. The chaff-flare dispensers were fitted in a fairing under the tail.

New navigation and weapons management systems, possibly with a MIL-STD 1553B digital data bus. The Cheetah was qualified to carry locally built South African weapons, such as the Kukri and Darter AAMs, which are cued by the pilot's helmet-mounted sight, and Israeli weapons such as the Python AAM.

The South African Helmet mounted sight, a product of the Eloptro Optical Division of Armscor, latterly Denel, is one of the great triumphs of ingenuity over pricetag. Consisting of a light emitting diode mounted on the frame of the canopy, and an aray of light sensitive diodes mounted on the sid of the pilot's helmet, the unit tracks the motion of the pilots head as he moves it in the x-y plane. A heat seeking missile, typically either a Denel Darter or Kukri (although this system is also compatible with the Matra 550 Magic), has its tracking head slaved to the sight by a microwave radio channel, on the UHF band. The pilot has merely to hold his head on target, and is able to shoot off the bore by a phenomenal 42 degrees, which compares favourably with the Sukhoi Flanker optical sighting system's capability. But like modern systems, the unit is extremely compact, and thanks to its simplicity easily outperforms more complex laser based systems in terms of operability in harsh environments. This system was first developed in 1962, and has been used on a number of weapons targeting systems made by Armscor, such as the G-6 Mobile Howitzer, and the Rooivalk attack helicopter. It matches the extremely expensive laser sighting system used by the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, and trounces it in terms of price.

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. This is mainly dueto the requirements of SADC forces, as South African Air Force fighters and pilots are arguably the best in the sub-continent, and unlikely to meet serious airborne opposition, apart from SAM's.

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 not imply a family relationship to the Kfir / Lion, although it is striking in similarity. The name is derived from the first SAAF squadron to receive the new aircraft, No. 3 Squadron, 'The Flying Cheetahs'.

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 single-seat "Cheetah C" and "Cheetah E" variants. The Cheetah E was actually the first rolled out, the "E" designation it seems merely indicating that it was an updated Mirage IIIE, retaining the old Atar 09C engine. At least 16 Cheetah-Es were manufactured, going into service beginning in 1988. These aircraft were put into storage in 1992, and were apparently an interim machine to pave the way for the Cheetah C.

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. The aircraft is in fact a new-built airframe, using the drawings copied from the Israelis of the Mirage V. The Mirage IIIEZ would be a more accurate comparison, as the EZ was in fact the immediate precursor to the Mirage V. Thus Cheetah C's are almost Mirage V's, but with Kfir aerodynamic improvements.

Other improvements include a new undercarriage and new avionics, though the South Africans are understandably quiet about the details. The Cheetah C seems to retain the old Martin-Baker Mark 6 ejection seat, but this has mainly been due to budgetary constraints combined with general peacetime armament requirements.

The two-seat "Cheetah D" variant, with about 16 converted from various Mirage IIID airframes, the first conversion being delivered in 1986. The two-seaters were apparently tasked with the nuclear strike role, until the South Africans scrapped their nuclear weapons in 1992, and now is used for operational training and conventional attack. The Cheetah Ds retained the older Atar 09C engine, though there was some interest in re-engining them with the Atar 9K-50. By 2001, all Cheetah D's had been re-engined with the Atar 9K-50.

The "Cheetah R" reconnaissance variant, though it appears that only one was built and it never went into operational service. It had no cannon and no refuelling probe. There has been some interest in re-engining 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. There has been a resurgence in interest among SADF Chiefs in a small run of Cheetah R2's, more or less equivalent to the Mirage IIIR2Z's currently still in service.

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.

Mirages external stores

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 a 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.

Balzac / Mirage IIIV

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 honour 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 centreline. 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.

A piece of the technology of the IIIV was re-used in the extremely successful Mirage IIIF, later Mirage F1. The cockpit and ancillary electronics found a home in what has become one the most successful French interceptors after the illustrious Mirage III.

Mirage III/5/50 users summary

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 photoreconnaissance machine.


ABU DHABI 1S: 12 5AD + 5 EAD 2S: 3 5DAD


  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 reconnaissance machines.

  PERU          1S: 22 5P  + 10 5P3 + 2 5P4
                2S:  4 5DP +  2 5DP3
Some upgraded.

                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.

                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.



  • Sources include:

THE COMPLETE BOOK OF FIGHTERS, by William Green and Gordon Swanborough, Smithmark Books, 1994. This provided the original seed for this document.

VTOL MILITARY RESEARCH AIRCRAFT, by Mike Rogers, Haynes Publishing, 1989. This fascinating book gave some useful details on the Balzac and Mirage IIIV vertical take-off variants of the Mirage.

THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WORLD MILITARY AIRCRAFT, edited by David Donald & Jon Lake, Barnes & Noble, 2000.

"Mirage III/5/50 Variant Briefing", by Paul Jackson, WORLD AIR POWER JOURNAL, volumes 14, 15, and 16.

"Atlas Cheetah" by Jon Lake, WORLD AIR POWER JOURNAL, Volume 27 / Winter 1996, 42:53.

"Armscor" : Film by Armscor, SABC and Leephy Atlejees, public broadcast SABC Television. 1972, rebroadcast 1982, 1984.

"Cheetah : Fighter Technologies" in Archimedes Vol. 12 : June 1987.

This page is based on "The Dassault Mirage III/5/50 Series", version 2.1.0 , by Greg Goebel. The original version (placed in the public domain) can be accessed at: