Mirage III, Dassault


Dassault Mirage III

The delta-winged Mirage III jet fighter has been the largest succes of the post-war French aviation industry. More than 20 countries bought the Mirage III, and it is still in service, now undergoing extensive modernisation programmes in South-Africa, Chili and Switzerland. One of the most elegant aircraft ever flown, the Mirage III has a large delta wing and circular intakes with shock cones. A rectangular recess under the aft fuselage can contain either a fuel tank or a rocket engine. The Mirage 3NG was an upgrade of the Mirage III, proposed by Dassault (Prototype only). The changes included canards, extended wing root leading edges, a fly-by-wire control system, and the Atar 9K-50 engine.

Type: Mirage IIIE
Country: France
Function: fighter-bomber
Year: 1964
Crew: 1
Engines: 1 * 6200 kg SNECMA Atar 9C0-1 * 1500 kg SEPR 844
Wing Span: 8.22 m
Length: 15.03 m
Height: 4.05m
Wing Area: 35.00 m2
Wing loading: 387 kg/m²
Empty Weight: 7050 kg
Max.Weight: 13700 kg
Thrust/weight: 0.46
Speed: 2350 km/h
Ceiling: 17000 m
Rate of climb: 83.3 m/s
Range: 1666 km (some sources claim 2400 km)
Armament: 2*g30 mm, 4400 kg payload
Unit cost: 7 million USD

Type: Mirage 3NG
Function: fighter
Year: 1982
Crew: 1
Engines: 1 * 7200 kg SNECMA Atar 9K-50
Wing Span: 8.22 m
Length: 15.65 m
Height: 4.50 m
Wing Area: 35.00 m2
Empty Weight:
Max.Weight: 14700 kg
Speed: 2125 km/h


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 18,000 m (59,040 ft) in six minutes and able to reach Mach 1.3 in level flight.

Dassault's response to the specification was the Mystère-Delta 550, a sporty-looking little jet that was to be powered by twin Armstrong Siddeley MD30R Viper afterburning turbojets, each with thrust of 9.61 kN (2,160 lbf). A SEPR liquid-fuel rocket motor was to provide additional burst thrust of 14.7 kN (3,300 lbf). The aircraft had a tailless delta configuration, with a 5% chord (ratio of airfoil thickness to length) and 60 degree sweep.

The tailless delta configuration has a number of limitations. The lack of a horizontal stabilizer means flaps cannot be used, resulting in a long take-off run and a high landing speed. The delta wing itself limits maneuverability; and suffers from buffeting at low altitude, due to the large wing area and resulting low wing loading. However, the delta is a simple and pleasing design, easily built and robust, capable of high speed in a straight line, and with plenty of space in the wing for fuel storage.

The first prototype of the Mystere-Delta, without afterburning engine or rocket motor and an absurdly large vertical tailfin, flew 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 SNECMA Atar afterburning turbojet with thrust of 43.2 kN (9,700 lbf). The Atar was an axial flow turbojet, derived from the German World War II BMW 003 design.

The new fighter design was named the Mirage III. It incorporated the new area ruling concept, where changes to the cross section of an aircraft were made as gradual as possible, resulting in the famous "wasp waist" configuration of many supersonic fighters. Like the Mirage I, the Mirage III had provision for a SEPR 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 (13,230 lbf). The SEPR rocket engine was retained, and the aircraft were fitted with Thompson-CSF Cyrano Ibis air intercept radar, operational avionics, and a drag chute to shorten landing roll.

The first Mirage IIIA flew in May 1958, and eventually was clocked at Mach 2.2, making it the first European aircraft to exceed Mach 2 in level flight. The tenth IIIA was rolled out in December 1959. One was fitted with a Rolls-Royce Avon 67 engine with thrust of 71.1 kN (16,000 lbf) as a test model for Australian evaluation, with the name "Mirage IIIO". This variant flew in February 1961, but the Avon powerplant was not adopted.

Mirage IIIC and Mirage IIIB

The first major production model of the Mirage series, the Mirage IIIC, first flew in October 1960. The IIIC was largely similar to the IIIA, though a little under a half meter longer and brought up to full operational fit. The IIIC was a single-seat interceptor, with an Atar 09B turbojet engine, featuring an "eyelet" style variable exhaust.

The Mirage IIIC was armed with twin 30 mm DEFA revolver-type cannon, fitted in the belly with the gun ports under the air intakes. Early Mirage IIIC production had three stores pylons, one under the fuselage and one under each wing, but a second outboard pylon was quickly added to each wing, for a total of five. The outboard pylon was intended to carry a Sidewinder air-to-air missile (AAM), later replaced by Matra Magic.

Although provision for the rocket engine was retained, by this time the day of the high-altitude bomber seemed to be over, and the SEPR rocket engine was rarely or never fitted in practice. In the first place, it required removal of the aircraft's cannon, and in the second, 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 French Armée de l'Air (AdA) also ordered a two-seat Mirage IIIB operational trainer, which first flew in October 1959. The fuselage was stretched about a meter (3 ft 3.5 in) and both cannon were deleted to accommodate the second seat. The IIIB had no radar, and provision for the SEPR rocket was deleted, although it could carry external stores. The AdA ordered 63 Mirage IIIBs (including the prototpe), including five Mirage IIIB-1 trails aircraft, ten Mirage IIIB-2(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. One Mirage IIIB was fitted with a fly-by-wire flight control system in the mid-1970s and redesignated Mirage IIIB-SV (Stabilitie Variable); this aircraft was used as a testbed for the system in the later Mirage 2000.

Mirage IIIE

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 300 mm (11.8 in) forward fuselage extension to increase the size of the avionics bay behind the cockpit. The stretch also helped increase fuel capacity, as the Mirage IIIC had marginal range and improvements were needed. The stretch was small and hard to notice, but the clue is that the bottom edge of the canopy on a Mirage IIIE ends directly above the top lip of the air intake, while on the IIIC it ends visibly back of the lip.

Many Mirage IIIE variants were also fitted with a Marconi continuous-wave Doppler navigation radar radome on the bottom of the fuselage, under the cockpit. However, while no IIICs had this feature, it was not universal on all variants of the IIIE. A similar inconsistent variation in Mirage fighter versions was the presence or absence of an HF antenna that was fitted as a forward extension to the vertical tailplane. On some Mirages, the leading edge of the tailplane was a straight line, while on those with the HF antenna the leading edge had a sloping extension forward. The extension appears to have been generally standard on production Mirage IIIAs and Mirage IIICs, but only appeared in some of the export versions of the Mirage IIIE.

The IIIE featured Thompson-CSF Cyrano II dual mode air / ground radar; a radar warning receiver (RWR) system with the antennas mounted in the vertical tailplane; and an Atar 09C engine, with a petal-style variable exhaust.

The first production Mirage IIIE was delivered to the AdA in January 1964, and a total of 192 were eventually delivered to that service. Total production of the Mirage IIIE, including exports, was substantially larger than that of the Mirage IIIC, 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.

Mirage IIIR

A number of reconnaissance variants were built under the general designation of Mirage IIIR. These aircraft had a Mirage IIIE airframe; Mirage IIIC avionics; a camera nose and unsurprisingly no radar; and retained the twin DEFA cannon and external stores capability. The camera nose accommodated up to five OMERA cameras.

The AdA obtained 50 production Mirage IIIRs, not including two prototypes. Interestingly, the Mirage IIIR preceded the Mirage IIIE in operational introduction. The AdA also obtained 20 improved Mirage IIIRD reconnaissance variants, essentially a Mirage IIIR with an extra panoramic camera in the most forward nose position, and the Doppler radar and other avionics from the Mirage IIIE.

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