Dassault Mirage III

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Mirage III
A Mirage III of the Royal Australian Air Force 1 (altered).jpg
A Mirage III of the Royal Australian Air Force
Role Interceptor aircraft
Manufacturer Dassault Aviation
First flight 17 November 1956
Introduction 1961
Status In service
Primary users French Air Force (historical)
Pakistan Air Force
Royal Australian Air Force (historical)
Israeli Air Force (historical)
South African Air Force (historical)
Number built 1,422
Variants Dassault Mirage IIIV
Dassault Mirage 5
Atlas Cheetah

The Dassault Mirage III (French pronunciation: ​[miʁaʒ]) is a family of single-seat, single-engine, fighter aircraft developed and manufactured by French aircraft company Dassault Aviation. It holds the distinction of being the first Western European combat aircraft to exceed Mach 2 in horizontal flight.[1]

During 1952, the French government issued its specification, calling for a lightweight, all-weather interceptor. Amongst the respondents were Dassault with their design, initially known as the MD.550 Mystère-Delta and later renamed as the Mirage I. Following favourable flight testing held during 1955, in which speeds of up to Mach 1.6 were attained, it was decided that a larger follow-on aircraft would be required to bear the necessary equipment and payloads. An enlarged Mirage II proposal was considered, but was discarded in favour of a further-developed design, powered by the newly developed Snecma Atar afterburning turbojet engine, designated as the Mirage III. Following flight tests of a prototype, Dassault received an initial order for a fleet of 10 pre-production fighters, known as the Mirage IIIA. During October 1960, the first major production model, designated as the Mirage IIIC, performed its maiden flight. Initial operational deliveries of this model commenced during July 1961; a total of 95 Mirage IIICs were obtained by the French Air Force (Armée de l'Air, AdA). The Mirage IIIV was rapidly followed by numerous other variants.

The Mirage III was produced in large numbers for both the French Air Force and a wide number of export customers. Prominent overseas operators of the fighter included Argentina, Australia, South Africa, Pakistan and Israel, as well as a number of non-aligned nations. Often considered to be a second-generation fighter aircraft, the Mirage III experienced a lengthy service life with several of these operators; for some time, the type remained a fairly maneuverable aircraft and an effective opponent when engaged in close-range dogfighting.[2] During its service with the French Air Force, the Mirage III was normally armed with assorted air-to-ground ordnance or R.550 Magic air-to-air missiles. Its design proved to be relatively versatile, allowing the fighter model to have been readily adapted to serve in a variety of roles, including trainer, reconnaissance and ground-attack versions, along with several more extensive derivatives of the aircraft, including the Dassault Mirage 5, Dassault Mirage IIIV and Atlas Cheetah.[3] Some operators have undertaken extensive modification and upgrade programmes of their flights, such as Project ROSE of the Pakistani Air Force.

The Mirage III has been deployed most prominently in the Six Day War, the South African Border War, and the Falklands War, as well as a number of smaller conflicts.



The Mirage III family has its origins within a series of studies conducted by the French Defence Ministry which had commenced during 1952. At the time, several nations had taken an interest in the prospects of a light fighter, which had been motivated by combat experiences acquired during the Korean War, specifically the Soviet-built Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 jet-propelled fighter aircraft which had drawn considerable attention internationally.[4] Western nations were keen to explore the performance of a relatively uncomplicated and heavily armed jet-powered swept wing fighter, inspired by the rapid advances in aircraft capabilities that had been made by the Soviet Union. France was one of the quickest governments of several nations, including the United Kingdom (resulting in the Folland Gnat, the United States (leading to the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk), and Italy (which became the Fiat G.91), to embark on encouraging the development of such an aircraft.[4]

The tailless 1955 Mirage delta-wing prototype with the very large vertical stabilizer and no horizontal stabilizer and no flaps

During 1952, the French government issued its specification, calling for a lightweight, all-weather interceptor, capable of climbing to 18,000 meters (59,100 ft) in 6 minutes along with the ability to reach Mach 1.3 in level flight.[1][4] Three separate French manufacturers decided to respond to the specification, these being Dassault Aviation, Sud-Est, and Sud-Ouest, offering the MD.550 Mystère-Delta, SE.212 Durandal and SO.9000 Trident, respectively. Dassault's submission, which became known as the MD.550 Mystère-Delta, was a diminutive and sleek-appearing aircraft that was principally powered by a pair of 9.61 kN (2,160 lbf) Armstrong Siddeley MD30R Viper afterburning turbojet engines (built under license by Dassault); atypically, the design also featured provisions for the installation of a secondary propulsion system in the form of a SEPR-built 66 liquid-fuel rocket engine, capable of providing boost thrust of 4.7 kN (1,100 lbf).[4]

In terms of its basic layout, the Mystère-Delta featured a tailless delta configuration, possessing a 5 per cent thickness (ratio of airfoil thickness to length) and 60° sweep, complete with a large vertical stabilizer and rudder.[5][4] However, the tailless delta configuration imposed a number of limitations, including the lack of a horizontal stabilizer, which meant that conventional flaps could not be used; this resulted in a relatively long takeoff run and a high landing speed.[6] 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 visually pleasing design, easy to construct and relatively robust while providing generous amounts of internal volume in the wing for fuel tankage and being capable of achieving high speeds when flown in a straight line.[1]

"If it were not for the clumsy way in which you tackle things in Britain, you could have made the Mirage yourself."
Marcel Dassault, founder of Dassault Aviation[7]

Aviation author Derek Wood observed that the MD.550 Mystère-Delta design had "bore a striking resemblance" to the British Fairey Delta 2, an experimental fighter aircraft that set a new world speed record on 1 March 1956.[8] During the later stage of testing of the Delta 2, Fairey chose to perform much of its supersonic flights in France, the British company possessing good relations with both Dassault and the French Air Force.[9] During October and November 1956, a total of 47 low level supersonic test flights were conducted from Cazaux Air Base, Bordeaux, France; a detachment of Dassault engineers had closely observed these trials; from the Delta 2 test programme, Dassault obtained a great deal of experience and data on the performance and properties of delta wing aircraft.[8] Specifically, Wood credits the Delta 2 to have served as confirmation of Dassault's theories and having supported the design and development of what would become the Mirage III.[10]

Flight testing[edit]

On 25 June 1955, the first prototype of the Mystère-Delta, without afterburning engines or rocket motor and with an unusually large vertical stabilizer, conducted its maiden flight.[11][4] In this configuration, it was able to attain a maximum speed of Mach 1.15. Following initial flights, it received a redesign that involved the vertical stabilizer being reduced in size along with the installation of afterburners and a rocket motor; it was at this point that the aircraft was renamed as the Mirage I.[12] During late 1955, the prototype attained a recorded speed of Mach 1.3 in level flight without rocket assistance, as well as reaching Mach 1.6 when using the rocket motor.[1] According to aviation author John F. Brindley, testing of the Mirage I and prototypes of the rival Trident and Durandal designs had demonstrated the limitations of the light fighter concept, namely limitations on both endurance and equipment/payload capacity.[13] The small size of the Mirage I restricted its armament to a single air-to-air missile, and it was decided during flight trials that the aircraft was too small for the carriage of a useful armament. Following the completion of flying trials, the Mirage I prototype was eventually scrapped.[1]

Dassault was keen to produce a successor to the Mirage I prototype; at one point, the firm was considering the production of an enlarged version, known as the Mirage II, which would have been furnished with a pair of Turbomeca Gabizo turbojet engine.[13] However, the Mirage II ultimately remained unbuilt as it was bypassed for an even more ambitious design, being 30 per cent heavier than the original Mirage I, powered by the newly developed Snecma Atar afterburning turbojet engine, capable of generating up to 43.2 kN (9,700 lbf) of thrust. The Atar was an axial-flow turbojet design, having been derived from the German Second World War-era BMW 003 engine.[14] The new Atar-equipped fighter design received the name Mirage III.[13] There was also an even larger heavy fighter design drafted, referred to as the Mirage IV. A decisive factor had been interest from the French military, who had made its favour for the Mirage III proposal known to the company.[13]

The Mirage III incorporated various new design principles, such as the transonic area rule concept, where changes to an aircraft's cross-section were made as gradual as possible, resulting in the famous "wasp waist" configuration of many supersonic fighters.[13] Similar to its Mirage I predecessor, the Mirage III had provision for a booster rocket engine. On 17 November 1956, the prototype Mirage III perform its first flight.[11][13] During its 10th flight, it was recorded as having attained a speed of Mach 1.52 at one point.[15] During the course of the flight test programme, the prototype was fitted with a pair of manually-operated intake half-cone shock diffusers, known as souris ("mice"), which could be repositioning more forwards as the airspeed was increased to achieve a reduction in inlet pressure losses. Reportedly, their addition enabled an increased speed of Mach 1.65 to be reached, while use of the supplemental SEPR 66 rocket (as fitted to the Mirage I) had allowed for a speed of Mach 1.8 to be reached during September 1957.[11][15][13]

The success of the Mirage III prototype resulted in an order for 10 pre-production Mirage IIIA fighters. Although the type had initially conceived of as an interceptor, the batch had been ordered with the intention of using them to develop the type for additional roles as well.[13] The Mirage IIIA were almost 2 meters longer than the Mirage III prototype, had an enlarged wing of 17.3 per cent greater area, a chord reduced to 4.5 per cent, and an Atar 09B turbojet capable of generating afterburning thrust of up to 58.9 kN (13,200 lbf). The SEPR 841 rocket engine was also retained.[16] The Mirage IIIA was also fitted with a Thomson-CSF-built Cyrano Ibis air intercept radar, operational-standard avionics, and a drag chute to shorten its landing roll.

During May 1958, the first Mirage IIIA conducted its first flight.[13] During October of that year, this aircraft achieved a top speed of Mach 2.2 during one of its test flights, thus becoming the first European aircraft to exceed Mach 2 in level flight. During December 1959, the tenth and final Mirage IIIA was rolled out; the last six pre-production aircraft were largely representative of the subsequent initial production standard.[13] The test regime involved a wide variety of tasks, including the evaluation of the newer SEPR 841 rocket motor, various underwing drop tanks, and other major systems.[17] One Mirage IIIA was powered by a Rolls-Royce Avon 67 engine capable of generating 71.1 kN (16,000 lbf) of thrust, to serve as a test model for Australian evaluation, which was given the Mirage IIIO designation. This variant flew in February 1961, but the Avon powerplant was ultimately not adopted upon production aircraft.[18][19]

Mirage IIIC and Mirage IIIB[edit]

The first major production model, the Mirage IIIC, first flew in October 1960.[19] The IIIC was largely similar to the earlier IIIA, being less than a half meter longer and featuring a full operational fit. The Mirage IIIC was a single-seat interceptor, with an Atar 09B turbojet engine, featuring an eyelid type variable exhaust.[citation needed] The Mirage IIIC was armed with twin 30 mm DEFA 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; another outboard pylon was soon added to each wing, for a total of five, excluding a sleek supersonic tank which also had bomb-carrying capacity. The outboard pylon was intended to carry an AIM-9B Sidewinder air-to-air missile, later replaced by the Matra R550 Magic and also was armed with the radar guided Matra R530 Missile on the center line pylon.[citation needed]

Although provision for the rocket engine was retained, by this point in time, the era of the high-altitude bomber seemed to already be over; as such, the SEPR rocket engine was rarely or never fitted in practice. In the first place, it required removal of both the cannon armament and one of the internal fuel tanks, and in the second, apparently it had a reputation for setting the aircraft on fire.[citation needed] 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 assembly later.[citation needed]

A total of 95 Mirage IIICs were obtained by the French Air Force (Armée de l'Air, AdA), with initial operational deliveries in July 1961.[19] The Mirage IIIC remained in service with the AdA until 1988.[citation needed]

The Armée de l'Air also placed an order for a two-seat Mirage IIIB operational trainer.[19] Performing its first flight on 21 October 1959, it was developed in parallel with the Mirage IIIC. The fuselage was stretched about a meter (3 ft 3.5 in), while both cannon were removed to accommodate the second seat.[19] The IIIB lacked radar and provision for the SEPR rocket was also deleted, although it could carry external stores if desired.[19] The AdA ordered 63 Mirage IIIBs (including the prototype), including five Mirage IIIB-1 trials aircraft, ten Mirage IIIB-2(RV) 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.[20] One Mirage IIIB was fitted with a fly-by-wire flight control system in the mid-1970s and redesignated Mirage IIIB-SV (Stabilité Variable), it was used as a testbed for the system in the later Mirage 2000.[citation needed]

Mirage IIIE[edit]

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.

Cutaway view of the Cyrano radar system

The Mirage IIIE differed from the IIIC interceptor most obviously in having a 300 mm (12 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 behind the lip.[citation needed]

Many Mirage IIIEs (but not all) were fitted with a Marconi continuous-wave Doppler navigation radar radome on the bottom of the fuselage, under the cockpit; no IIICs had this feature. A similar inconsistent variation was the presence or absence of an HF antenna 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 Mirage IIIE's export versions. The IIIE featured Thomson-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.[citation needed]

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, including exports, 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.[citation needed]

Mirage IIIR[edit]

Nose of a Mirage IIIRS: thinner than the fighter version, this nose has several glass apertures for medium-format cameras.

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.[citation needed]

The AdA obtained 50 production Mirage IIIRs, not including two prototypes. 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.[citation needed]

Exports and license production[edit]


The largest export customers for Mirage IIICs built in France were Israel as the Mirage IIICJ and South Africa as the Mirage IIICZ. Some export customers obtained the Mirage IIIB, with designations only changed to provide a country code, such as: Mirage IIIDA for Argentina, Mirage IIIDBR and Mirage IIIDBR-2 for Brazil, Mirage IIIBJ for Israel, Mirage IIIDL for Lebanon, Mirage IIIDP for Pakistan, Mirage IIIBZ and Mirage IIIDZ and Mirage IIID2Z for South Africa, Mirage IIIDE for Spain and Mirage IIIDV for Venezuela.[citation needed]

After the outstanding Israeli success with the Mirage IIIC, 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.[citation needed]

The aircraft remained a formidable weapon in the hands of the Pakistan Air Force in No. 5 Squadron, which was fully operational by the 1971 War. Flying out from Sargodha, along with a detachment in Mianwali, these were extensively used for ground attacks. No Mirage was lost in the war. The Mirage fleet is currently being modified to accommodate Aerial Refueling and to carry Hatf-VIII (Ra'ad) cruise missiles. In wake of delays from JF-17 Thunder, aging Mirage IIIs continue to serve in the Pakistan Air Force.

A good number of IIIEs were built for export as well, being purchased in small numbers by Argentina as the Mirage IIIEA and Mirage IIIEBR-2 Brazil as the Mirage IIIEBR, Lebanon as the Mirage IIIEL, Pakistan as the Mirage IIIEP, South Africa as the Mirage IIIEZ, Spain as the Mirage IIIEE, and Venezuela as the Mirage IIIEV, 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 Thomson-CSF Agave radar with capability of guiding the Exocet anti-ship missile.[citation needed]

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, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Egypt, Gabon, Libya, Pakistan, Peru, Spain, Venezuela, and Zaire.[citation needed]

Export versions of the Mirage IIIR were built for Pakistan as the Mirage IIIRP and South Africa as the Mirage IIIRZ, and Mirage IIIR2Z with an Atar 9K-50 jet engine. Export versions of the IIIR recce 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.[citation needed]

Mirage IIICJ at the Israeli Air Force Museum (13 victory markings)

The Israeli Air Force (IAF) purchased three variants of the Mirage III:[21]

  • 70 Mirage IIICJ single-seat fighters, received between April 1962 and July 1964.
  • Two Mirage IIIRJ single-seat photo-reconnaissance aircraft, received in March 1964.
  • Four Mirage IIIBJ two-seat combat trainers, three received in 1966 and one in 1968.

Israel was forced into updating its own Mirages when France imposed an arms embargo on the region after the 1967 Six Day War. The result was Israel Aircraft Industries' IAI Nesher, based on the Mirage 5. Nevertheless, Mirage IIIB upgrades up to and including a full Kfir-type conversion are also available from IAI.[21]


Pakistan purchased 24 Mirage IIIE from France in 1967.[22] Blue prints of the aircraft designs were given to Pakistan and the Mirage III aircraft are produced under license by the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex awarded since 1990. The total Pakistan Air Force order also included 3 Mirage IIIR and 3 Mirage IIID. An additional 10 Mirage IIIR were delivered in 1977. When French production of the aircraft ceased, Pakistan deferred to Australia and Lebanon, acquiring another 54 Mirage IIIE and 1 Mirage IIIB.[22] These have been modified to accept the Italian made Grifo M-3 radar and Chinese PL-12 air-to-air missiles from the CAC/PAC JF-17 Thunder.[22]

License production[edit]

The Mirage IIIE was also built under license in Australia and Switzerland.

Australian Mirage IIIO (top) and Mirage IIID (bottom) in 1980. These aircraft are now operated by the Pakistan Air Force
Dassault (GAF) Mirage IIIO (s/n A3-42). Photo taken at HARS open day; Albion Park, NSW.
An Australian Mirage IIID in 1988

While an experimental Rolls-Royce Avon-powered version did not enter production, the Australian government decided that the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) would receive the IIIE, albeit a variant assembled by the Government Aircraft Factories (GAF) in Fishermans Bend, Melbourne from Australian-made components, under the designation Mirage IIIO. The major difference between the IIIE and the IIIO was the avionics installed. The other major Australian aircraft manufacturer at the time, the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC), also in Melbourne, built the SNECMA Atar engine.[citation needed]

GAF produced three variants: the Mirage IIIO(F), which was an interceptor, the Mirage IIIO(A), a surface attack aircraft and the twin seat Mirage IIIO(D), a fighter lead-in trainer. Dassault produced two sample IIIO(F) aircraft, with the first flying in March 1963. GAF completed 48 IIIO(F), 50 IIIO(A) and 16 IIIO(D) aircraft.[citation needed]

All the surviving Mirage IIIO(F) aircraft were converted to IIIO(A) standard between 1967 and 1979. The Mirage was finally withdrawn from RAAF service in 1988, and 50 surviving examples were sold to Pakistan in 1990.[citation needed] Several examples are preserved in museums around Australia, and at least one is currently under restoration to airworthy condition.[citation needed]

South Africa[edit]

Much like Israel, South Africa was similarly isolated by a French arms embargo after the passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 418.[23] The South African Air Force launched an ambitious rebuild programme for its Mirage III fleet, soliciting Israeli technical assistance to convert existing airframes into the Atlas Cheetah. Fixed foreplanes distinguish the Cheetah from its Mirage predecessor, and an extended nose, probably inspired by the IAI Kfir, houses a modified electronics suite, including radar.[24]

Built in single-seat, two-seat interceptor, and two-seat combat trainer versions, Atlas Cheetahs entered service in 1987 during the South African Border War. Armament consists of Denel Kukri or Darter heat seeking air-to-air missiles, aided by a pilot's helmet mounted sight.

Swiss Dassault Mirage IIIRS recon on display
Swiss Air Force Mirage IIIS JATO (Jet Assisted Take-Off)

In 1961, Switzerland bought a single Mirage IIIC from France. This Mirage IIIC was used as development aircraft. The Swiss Mirages were built in Switzerland by F+W Emmen (today RUAG, the federal government aircraft factory in Emmen), as the Mirage IIIS. Australia too, bought one French-made aircraft in preparation for licensed production. Cost overruns during the Swiss production led to the so-called "Mirage affair".[25]

In all, 36 Mirage IIIS interceptors were built with strengthened wings, airframe, and undercarriage. The Swiss Air Force required robustness comparable to that of carrier based planes; the airframes were reinforced so the aircraft could be moved by lifting them over other aircraft with a crane, as the aircraft caverns in the mountains that Swiss Air Force uses as bunkers offer very little space to maneuver parked aircraft. The strengthened frames allowed for JATO capability. The main differences to the standard Mirage III were as follows:[citation needed]

  • New US avionics with
  • Changed cockpit design with gray instead of black panels
  • New U.S. radar, TARAN-18 from Hughes Aircraft Company
  • Use of HM-55S "Falcon" (Swiss designation of the SAAB Licence built Robot 27 (Rb27) which is similar to the Hughes AIM-26 "Falcon")
  • Radar warning receiver (RWR) on both wingtips and on the back of the rudder
  • Strengthened structure for use of JATO-Rockets
  • Retractable nosecone and lengthened nosewheel leg for storing in Aircraft cavern
  • Four lifting points for moving aircraft in underground caverns with a crane
  • Bay at the fin with a SEPR 841 rocket engine to double the velocity for short time or climb to 20,000 m (66,000 ft).
  • US TRACOR AN/ALE-40 chaff/flare dispenser at the back under the end of the engine (fitted with the upgrade 1988).
  • Canards designed and produced by RUAG Aerospace (fitted with the upgrade 1988)
  • New Martin-Baker ejection-seat (fitted with the upgrade 1988).

The Swiss Mirages are equipped with RWS, chaff & flare dispensers. Avionics differed as well, with the most prominent difference being that the Thomson-CSF Cyrano II radar was replaced by Hughes TARAN-18 system, giving the Mirage IIIS compatibility with the Hughes AIM-4 Falcon AAM. Also the Mirage IIIS had the wiring to carry a Swiss-built or French nuclear bomb. The Swiss nuclear bomb was stopped in the pre-production stage and Switzerland did not purchase the French-made one. The Mirage IIIS had an integral fuel tank under the aft belly; this fuel tank could be removed and replaced with an adapter of the same shape. This adapter housed a SEPR (Société d'Etudes pour la Propulsion par Réaction) rocket engine with its 300 l (79 US gal; 66 imp gal) nitric acid oxidiser tank. With the SEPR rocket, the Mirage IIIS easily reached altitudes of 24,000 m, an additional thrust of 1500 kp, the SEPR could be switched off and on minimum three times in a flight, a maximum use of 80 seconds was possible. In case of an emergency it was possible to jettison the SEPR Unit in low speed flight.

The rocket fuel (TG-02) was very hazardous and highly toxic, so the SEPR rocket was not used very often, special buildings for maintenance were built in Buochs and Payerne and the personnel had to wear special protective suits. The Mirage IIIRS could also carry a photo-reconnaissance centerline pod and an integral fuel tank under the aft belly; this carried a smaller fuel load but allowed a back looking film camera to be added. 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. The Mirage IIIS were phased out of service in 1999. The remaining Mirage IIIRS, BS and DS were taken out of service in 2003.[26]

Operational history[edit]

Wreckage of downed Israeli Mirage during Yom Kippur war

Six-Day War[edit]

Over the demilitarized zone on the Israeli side of the border with Syria, a total of 6 MiGs were shot down the first day Mirages fought the MiGs. In the Six-Day War, apart from 12 Mirages (4 in the air and 8 on the ground) left behind to guard Israel from Arab bombers, all the Mirages were fitted with bombs and sent to attack the Arab air bases. However, the Mirage's performance as a bomber was modest. During the following days Mirages performed as fighters, and out of a total of 58 Arab aircraft shot down in air combat during the war, 48 were accounted for by Mirages.[27]

Yom Kippur War[edit]

In the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Mirage fleet engaged solely in air-to-air operations. ACIG.org claims that at least 26 Mirages and Neshers were lost in air-to-air combat during the war.[28][29][30][unreliable source?] Contrary to these claims, formal Israeli sources claim only five Israeli Air Force aircraft were shot down in air-to-air duels.[31] 106 Syrian and Egyptian aircraft were claimed shot down by Israeli Mirage IIICJ planes, and another 140 aircraft were claimed by the Nesher derivative.[27] Giora Epstein, "ace of aces" of modern, supersonic fighter jets and of the Israeli Air Force, won all his victories in Mirage IIICJ and Nesher types.[32]

South African Border War[edit]

During the South African Border War, the South African Air Force operated 16 Mirage IIICZ interceptors, 17 Mirage IIIEZ multirole fighter-bombers, and 4 Mirage IIIRZ reconnaissance fighters from bases in South-West Africa.[33] Despite being recognised as an exceptional dogfighter, the Mirage III generally lacked the range to make it effective over long distances during strike operations against People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) insurgents in Angola.[34] South African pilots also found landing the high-nosed, delta-winged Mirage III airframe difficult on rudimentary airstrips near the operational area.[33]

The Mirage IIIs were eventually assigned to 2 Squadron, SAAF, and restricted to the secondary roles of daytime interception, training exercises, and photographic reconnaissance following the adoption of the Mirage F1. The mediocre performance of the fighter's Cyrano II radar precluded operations at night and during poor weather.[33] By the late 1980s, the Mirage IIICZ was considered so obsolete that it was utilised only for base security.[35] Nevertheless, Mirage IIIRZs continued to be flown in photo reconnaissance missions over Angolan targets, as the only other SAAF aircraft equipped for this role was the more antiquated English Electric Canberra.[34]

SAAF Mirage IIIRZs often flew at extremely low altitudes—sometimes down to fifty feet (15 metres)—then rapidly gained elevation to take their photographs.[35] During the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale they also carried out mock sorties over enemy positions in Xangongo and Humbe in an attempt to lure out Cuban MiG-21s and MiG-23s, which could then be engaged by the superior Mirage F1AZs.[35]

Falklands War[edit]

The Argentine Air Force used the Mirage IIIEA during the Falklands War. Their lack of aerial refueling capability dramatically reduced their ability as long-range strike aircraft. Even using two 2000 litre (550 gallon) drop tanks to carry extra fuel, the Mirages (and Daggers) were flying at the absolute limit of their range to reach the British fleet. The fighters sent to engage patrolling Harrier jets and cover a strike force had no more than five minutes over the target area[36] Their usual armament consisted of 1 Matra R530 or 2 Magic 1 AAMs. They only entered combat once, with one being shot down by an AIM-9L Sidewinder and another destroyed by friendly fire after attempting to land at Port Stanley when nearly out of fuel. They were frequently used on diversion flights, flying at very high altitude to force a response from the patrolling Harriers to improve the chances of survival and success of the attack force. Some were also kept on alert against possible Avro Vulcan raids on the mainland and against aggressive Chilean flights on Argentina's western border.[37]


M.D.550 Mystere-Delta
Single-seat delta-wing interceptor-fighter prototype, fitted with a delta vertical tail surface, equipped with a retractable tricycle landing gear, powered by two 7.35 kN (1,650 lbf) thrust M.D.30 (Armstrong Siddeley Viper) turbojet engines; one built.[11]
Mirage I
Revised first prototype, fitted with a swept vertical tail surface, powered by two reheated M.D.30R turbojet engines, 9.61 kN (2,160 lbf), also fitted with a 15 kN (3,400 lbf) thrust SEPR 66 rocket booster.[11]
Mirage II
Single-seat delta-wing interceptor-fighter prototype, larger version of the Mirage I, powered by two Turbomeca Gabizo turbojet engines; one abandoned incomplete.[11]
Mirage III-001
Prototype, initially powered by a 44.12 kN (9,920 lbf) thrust Atar 101G1 turbojet engine, later refitted with 43.15 kN (9,700 lbf) Atar 101G-2 and also fitted with a SEPR 66 auxiliary rocket motor; one built.[11]
Mirage IIIA 
Pre-production aircraft, with a lengthened, area ruled fuselage and powered by a 42.8 kN (9,600 lbf) dry and 58.84 kN (13,230 lbf) with reheat Atar 9B turbojet engine, also with provision for 13.34 kN (3,000 lbf) SEPR 84 auxiliary rocket motor. Fitted with Dassault Super Aida or Thomson-CSF Cyrano Ibis radar. Ten built for the French Air Force.[38]
A South African Air Force Mirage IIIBZ on display at the South African Air Force Museum on AFB Swartkop
Mirage IIIB 
Two-seat tandem trainer aircraft fitted with one piece canopy. Lacks radar, cannon armament and provision for booster rocket. Prototype (based on the IIIA) first flown on 20 October 1959. Followed by 26 production IIIBs based on IIIC for French Air Force and one for Centre d'essais en vol (CEV) test centre.[39][40]
  • Mirage IIIB-1 : Trials aircraft. Five built.[40]
  • Mirage IIIB-2(RV) : Inflight refuelling training aircraft for Mirage IV force, fitted with dummy refuelling probe in nose. Ten built.[41]
  • Mirage IIIBE : Two-seat training aircraft based on Mirage IIIE for the French Air Force, similar to the Mirage IIID. 20 built.[41]
  • Mirage IIIBJ : Mirage IIIB for Israeli Air Force. Five built.[40]
  • Mirage IIIBL : Mirage IIIBE for Lebanon Air Force.[41]
  • Mirage IIIBS : Mirage IIIB for the Swiss Air Force; four built.[40]
  • Mirage IIIBZ : Mirage IIIB for the South African Air Force; three built.[40]
Mirage IIIC 
Single-seat all-weather interceptor-fighter aircraft, with longer fuselage than the IIIA (14.73 m (48.3 ft)) and equipped with a Cyrano Ibis radar. The Mirage IIIC was armed with two 30 mm (1.181 in) cannon, with a single Matra R.511, Nord AA.20 or Matra R530 air-to-air missile under the fuselage and two AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles under the wings. It was powered by an Atar 9B-3 turbojet engine, which could be supplemented by fitting an auxiliary rocket motor in the rear fuselage if the cannon were removed. 95 were built for the French Air Force.[42]
  • Mirage IIICJ : Mirage IIIC for the Israeli Air Force, fitted with simpler electronics and with provision for the booster rocket removed.[43] 72 delivered between 1961 and 1964.[44]
  • Mirage IIICS : Mirage IIIC supplied to Swiss Air Force in 1962 for evaluation and test purposes. One built.[44]
  • Mirage IIICZ : Mirage IIIC for the South African Air Force. 16 supplied between December 1962 and March 1964.[45]
  • Mirage IIIC-2 : Conversion of French Mirage IIIE with Atar 09K-6 engine. One aircraft converted, later re-converted to Mirage IIIE.[40]
Mirage IIID 
Two-seat trainer version of the Mirage IIIE, powered by 41.97 kN (9,440 lbf) dry and 58.84 kN (13,230 lbf) with reheat Atar 09-C engine. Fitted with distinctive strakes under the nose. Almost identical aircraft designated Mirage IIIBE, IIID and 5Dx depending on customer.[46]
The first Argentine Mirage, a IIIDA.
  • Mirage IIID : Two-seat training aircraft for the RAAF. Built under licence in Australia; 16 built.[47]
  • Mirage IIIDA : Two-seat trainer for the Argentine Air Force. Two supplied 1973 and a further two in 1982.[47][48]
  • Mirage IIIDBR : Two-seat trainer for the Brazilian Air Force, designated F-103D. Four newly built aircraft delivered from 1972. Two ex-French Air Force Mirage IIIBEs delivered 1984 to make up for losses in accidents.[49]
  • Mirage IIIDBR-2 : Refurbished and updated aircraft for the Brazilian Air Force, with more modern avionics and canard foreplanes. Two ex-French aircraft sold to Brazil in 1988, with remaining two DBRs upgraded to same standard.[50]
  • Mirage IIIDE : Two-seat trainer for Spanish Air Force. Six built with local designation CE.11.[51]
  • Mirage IIIDP : Two-seat trainer for the Pakistan Air Force. Five built.[52]
  • Mirage IIIDS : Two-seat trainer for the Swiss Air Force. Two delivered 1983.[53]
  • Mirage IIIDV : Two-seat trainer for the Venezuelan Air Force; three built.[47]
  • Mirage IIIDZ : Two-seat trainer for the South African Air Force; three delivered 1969.[45]
  • Mirage IIID2Z : Two-seat trainer for the South African Air Force, fitted with an Atar 9K-50 turbojet engine; giving 49.2 kN (11,100 lbf) thrust dry and 70.6 kN (15,900 lbf) with reheat. Eleven built.[54][55]
Mirage IIIEA of the Argentine Air Force
Mirage IIIE
Single-seat tactical strike and fighter-bomber aircraft, with 300 mm (12 in) fuselage plug to accommodate an additional avionics bay behind the cockpit. Fitted with Cyrano II radar with additional air-to-ground modes compared to Mirage IIIC, improved navigation equipment, including TACAN and a Doppler radar in undernose bulge. Powered by an Atar 09C-3 turbojet engine.[56] 183 built for the French Air Force.[57]
  • Mirage IIIEA : Mirage IIIE for the Argentine Air Force. 17 built.[48]
  • Mirage IIIEBR : Mirage IIIE for the Brazilian Air Force; 16 built, locally designated F-103E.[50]
  • Mirage IIIEBR-2 : Refurbished and updated aircraft for the Brazilian Air Force, with canard foreplanes. Four ex-French aircraft sold to Brazil in 1988, with surviving Mirage IIIEBRs upgraded to same standard.[50]
  • Mirage IIIEE : Mirage IIIE for the Spanish Air Force, locally designated C.11. 24 delivered from 1970.[58]
  • Mirage IIIEL : Mirage IIIE for the Lebanese Air Force, omitting doppler radar, including HF antenna. 10 delivered from 1967 and 1969.[59][60]
  • Mirage IIIEP : Mirage IIIE for the Pakistan Air Force. 18 delivered 1967–1969.[52]
  • Mirage IIIEV : Mirage IIIE for the Venezuelan Air Force, omitting doppler radar. Seven built. Survivors upgraded to Mirage 50EV standard.[61]
  • Mirage IIIEZ : Mirage IIIE for the South African Air Force; 17 delivered 1965–1972.[45]
Mirage IIIO
Single-seat all-weather fighter-bomber aircraft for the Royal Australian Air Force. Single prototype powered by 53.68 kN (12,070 lbf) dry thrust and 71.17 kN (16,000 lbf) Rolls-Royce Avon Mk.67 turbojet engine, but order placed for aircraft based on Mirage IIIE, powered by Atar engine in March 1961. 100 aircraft built, of which 98 were built under licence in Australia. The first 49 were Mirage IIIO(F) interceptors which were followed by 51 Mirage IIIO(A) fighter bombers, with survivors brought up to a common standard later.[62]
French Mirage IIIR
Mirage IIIR
Single-seat all-weather reconnaissance aircraft, with radar replaced by camera nose carrying up to five cameras. Aircraft based on IIIE airframe but with simpler avionics similar to that fitted to the IIIC and retaining cannon armament of fighters. Two prototypes and 50 production aircraft built for the French Air Force.[63][64]
  • Mirage IIIRD : Single-seat all-weather reconnaissance aircraft for the French Air Force, equipped with improved avionics, including undernose doppler radar as in the Mirage IIIE. Provision to carry infrared linescan, Doppler navigation radar or side looking airborne radar (SLAR) in interchangeable pod. 20 built.[63][64]
  • Mirage IIIRJ : Single-seat all-weather reconnaissance aircraft of the Israeli Air Force. Two Mirage IIICZs converted into reconnaissance aircraft.
  • Mirage IIIRP : Export version of the Mirage IIIR for the Pakistan Air Force; 13 built.
  • Mirage IIIRS : Export version of the Mirage IIIR for the Swiss Air Force; 18 built.
  • Mirage IIIRZ : Export version of the Mirage IIIR for the South African Air Force; four built.
  • Mirage IIIR2Z : Export version of the Mirage IIIR for the South African Air Force, fitted with an Atar 9K-50 turbojet engine; four built.
The belly of a Mirage IIIS
Mirage IIIS
Single-seat all-weather interceptor fighter aircraft for the Swiss Air Force, based on the IIIC, but fitted with a Hughes TARAN 18 radar and fire-control system and armed with AIM-4 Falcon and Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. Built under licence in Switzerland; 36 built.
Mirage IIIT
One aircraft converted into an engine testbed, initially fitted with a subsonic 46.7–61.8 kN (10,500–13,890 lbf) Pratt & Whitney/SNECMA TF104, but retrofitted with a supersonic 51.96–74.53 kN (11,680–16,755 lbf) Pratt & Whitney/SNECMA TF106 turbofan engine.
Mirage IIIX
Proposed version, announced in 1982, fitted with updated avionics and fly-by-wire controls, powered by an Atar 9K-50 turbojet engine. Original designation of the Mirage 3NG.


Mirage 5/Mirage 50[edit]

The next major variant, the Mirage 5, grew out of a request to Dassault from the Israeli Air Force. 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. The Mirage 5 itself led directly to the Israeli Nesher, either through a Mossad (Israeli intelligence) intelligence operation or through covert cooperation with AdA, depending upon which story is accepted. (See details in the Nesher article). In either case, the design gave rise to the Kfir, which can be considered a direct descendant of the Mirage III.


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; 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 70.6 kN (15,900 lbf) afterburning thrust SNECMA Atar 09K-50 engine, 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 canards 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.[citation needed]

Mirage 3NG[edit]

Mirage IIING

Following the development of the Mirage 50, Dassault had experimented with yet another derivative of the original Mirage series, named the Mirage 3NG (Nouvelle Génération, new 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

Avionics were completely modernized, using 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.[citation needed]

After 1989, enhancements derived from the 3NG were incorporated into Brazilian Mirage IIIEs, 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.

A total of 1,422 Mirage III/5/50 aircraft of all types were built by Dassault. There were a few unbuilt variants:[citation needed]

  • 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 Aéronavale.
  • 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-5.

Balzac / Mirage IIIV[edit]

One of the 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"). This aircraft featured eight small vertical lift jets straddling the main engine. The Mirage IIIV was built in response to a mid-1960s NATO specification for a VTOL strike fighter. Mirage IIIV carries eight RB.162-31 lift engines(generating 5,400 lb thrust each), long-stroke landing gears, and additional covers to reduce impact of the lift engine exhausts. Main engine a SNECMA TF-104 turbojet.[65]

Mirage III ROSE[edit]

Project ROSE (Retrofit Of Strike Element) was an upgrade programme launched by the Pakistan Air Force to upgrade old Dassault Mirage III and Mirage 5 aircraft with modern avionics. In the early 1990s, the PAF procured 50 ex-Australian Mirage III fighters, 33 of which were selected after an inspection to undergo upgrades. In the first phases of Project ROSE, the ex-Australian Mirage III fighters were fitted with new defensive systems and cockpits, which included new HUDs, MFDs, RWRs, HOTAS controls, radar altimeters and navigation/attack systems. They were also fitted with the FIAR Grifo M3 multi-mode radar and designated ROSE I. Around 34 Mirage 5 attack fighters also underwent upgrades designated ROSE II and ROSE III before Project ROSE was completed. The Mirage III/5 ROSE fighters are expected to remain in service with the PAF until replacement in the mid-2010s.


Mirage III operators, current (blue) and former (red)

Military operators[edit]



Civilian operators[edit]

Espace Passion Foundation operates a single Mirage III-DS (S/N 101/228F) civil registration HB-RDF[67]

Aircraft on display[edit]


Mirage IIIE

Specifications (Mirage IIIE)[edit]

Mirage III-5 Risszeichnung.png

Data from Encyclopedia of World Military Aircraft[69]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 15.03 m (49 ft 4 in)
  • Wingspan: 8.22 m (27 ft 0 in)
  • Height: 4.5 m (14 ft 9 in)
  • Wing area: 34.85 m2 (375.1 sq ft)
  • Empty weight: 7,050 kg (15,543 lb)
  • Gross weight: 9,600 kg (21,164 lb)
  • Max takeoff weight: 13,700 kg (30,203 lb)
  • Powerplant: 1 × SNECMA Atar 09C afterburning turbojet engine, 41.97 kN (9,440 lbf) thrust dry, 60.8 kN (13,700 lbf) with afterburner
  • Powerplant: 1 × SEPR 841 liquid-fuelled rocket engine, 14.7 kN (3,300 lbf) thrust


  • Maximum speed: 2,350 km/h (1,460 mph; 1,269 kn)
  • Combat range: 1,200 km (746 mi; 648 nmi)
  • Ferry range: 3,335 km (2,072 mi; 1,801 nmi)
  • Service ceiling: 17,000 m (56,000 ft)
  • Rate of climb: 237 m/s (46,600 ft/min)



  • 2x Matra R.550 Magic AAMs plus 1× Matra R.530 AAM
  • Bombs: 4,000 kg (8,800 lb) of payload on five external hardpoints, including a variety of bombs, reconnaissance pods or Drop tanks; French Air Force IIIEs through to 1991 were equipped to carry the AN-52 nuclear bomb.

Thomson-CSF Cyrano II radar; Marconi continuous-wave Doppler navigation radar

See also[edit]

Related development
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
Related lists

Record setting pilots



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The initial version of this article was based on a public domain article from Greg Goebel's Vectorsite.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]