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 most successful model by far was the Mirage IIIE with a larger fuselage and optimized as a long range fighter bomber. The Mirage III was such a successful concept that it has served as the basis for no less than six related designs--the Mirage IV nuclear bomber, the Mirage 5/50 attack fighters, the Mirage F.1 fighter, the Mirage 2000 fighter, Mirage 2000 bomber, the Israeli Kfir attack fighter, and the South African Cheetah attack fighter. All told, some 1,400 Mirage III, 5, and 50 aircraft were built.
Mirage IIIE airframe modified with retractable canards, did not enter production
* Dassault then considered a somewhat bigger version, the "Mirage II", with a pair of Turbomeca Gabizo turbojets, but no aircraft of this configuration was ever built. The Mirage II was bypassed for a much more ambitious design that was 30% heavier than the Mirage I and was powered by the new 43.2 kN (4,400 kgp / 9,700 lbf) thrust SNECMA Atar afterburning turbojet. The Atar was an axial flow turbojet, derived from German World War II BMW designs.
The new fighter design was named the "Mirage III". It incorporated the new "area ruling" concept, where a changes to the cross section of an aircraft were made as gradual as possible, resulting the famous "wasp waist" configuration of many supersonic fighters. Like the Mirage I, the Mirage III had provision for a SEPR rocket engine.
The prototype Mirage III flew on 17 November 1956, and attained a speed of Mach 1.52 on its seventh flight. The prototype was then fitted with the SEPR rocket engine and with manually-operated intake half-cone shock diffusers, known as "souris (mice)", which were moved forward as speed increased to reduce inlet turbulence. The Mirage III attained a speed of Mach 1.8 in September 1957.
* The success of the Mirage III prototype resulted in an order for 10 preproduction "Mirage IIIAs". These were almost two meters longer (6.6 feet) 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 kgp / 13,230 lbf). The SEPR rocket engine was retained, and the aircraft were fitted with Thompson-CSF Cyrano Ibis air intercept radar, operational avionics, and a drag chute to shorten landing roll.
The first Mirage IIIA flew in May 1958, and eventually was clocked at Mach 2.2, making it the first European aircraft to exceed Mach 2 in level flight. The tenth IIIA was rolled out in December 1959. One was fitted with a Rolls-Royce Avon 67 engine with 71.1 kN (7,250 kgp / 16,000 lbf) thrust as a part of a sales pitch for a deal with Australia, with the designation "Mirage IIIO" and the name "City of Hobart". This variant first flew on 13 February 1961, but the Avon powerplant did not offer enough of a performance improvement to make it worth adopting in favor of the Atar, and the Avon would never be used in production Mirages.
This document provides a history and description of these Mirage delta fighters. The follow-on Dassault "Mirage 2000" fighter, basically a completely new aircraft with only the same general configuration as the Mirage III, is discussed in a separate document, as is the scaled-up "Mirage IV" bomber.
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, the "Mirage IIIC", performed its initial flight in October 1960. The IIIC was largely similar to the IIIA, though a little under a half meter (1.6 feet) longer and brought up to full operational fit. The IIIC was a single-seat interceptor, with an Atar 09B turbojet engine, featuring an "eyelet" style variable exhaust.
The Mirage IIIC was armed with twin 30 millimeter DEFA revolver-type cannon, fitted in the belly with the gun ports under the air intakes. Early Mirage IIIC production had three stores pylons, one under the fuselage and one under each wing, but a second outboard pylon was quickly added to each wing, for a total of five. The outboard pylon was intended to carry a Sidewinder AAM. The twin 30 millimeter DEFA guns remained standard gun armament for following Mirage variants, though the number of stores pylons and types of external stores varied considerably. 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, it seems 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 faster MiG-21.
The Israelis put their Mirage IIICJ fighters to particularly good use in the "Six-Day War" of 1967. On the morning of 5 June 1967, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) performed preemptive strikes on the Egyptian, Jordanian, and Syrian air forces, destroying aircraft on the ground with cannon fire and breaking up runways with French "runway dibber" bombs, effectively winning the war for the Israelis in one swift blow. This advertisement and the low cost of the relatively simple and flexible Mirage delta fighter helped make it a major French export.
South Africa’s arms imports are dominated by Sweden due to the purchase of Gripen aircraft in 2010 and 2011 respectively. In order to replace Dassault Mirage III, the South African Air Force (SAAF) acquired 26 Swedish-built Saab Gripen C and D model fighters in 2012. During 2008-2012, 61.2% of the country’s arms imports were from Sweden, 23.1% from Germany, 7.7% from UK, 5.3% from USA, 1.6% from Italy, 0.9% from Israel, and 0.3% from France.