Dassault Mirage III

Mirage III
Royal Australian Air Force Mirage IIIO(F) (fighter) from 2 Operational Conversion Unit
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 produced by Dassault Aviation for the French Air Force and widely exported. Prominent operators included Argentina, Australia, South Africa, Pakistan and Israel, as well as a number of non-aligned nations.[1] Though an older design, the second generation fighter is a fairly maneuverable aircraft and an effective opponent in close range dogfighting.[2] In French service it was armed with air-to-ground ordnance or R.550 Magic air-to-air missiles.[1]

The versatility of the design enabled production of trainer, reconnaissance and ground-attack versions as well as the Dassault Mirage 5, Dassault Mirage IIIV and Atlas Cheetah variants.[3] A Mirage III was the first Western European combat aircraft to exceed Mach 2 in horizontal flight.[4]



The Mirage III family grew out of French government studies begun in 1952 which led in early 1953 to a specification for a lightweight, all-weather interceptor capable of climbing to 18,000 meters (59,100 ft) in six minutes and able to reach Mach 1.3 in level flight.[4] Dassault's response to the specification was the MD.550 Mystère-Delta, a diminutive and sleek jet that was to be powered by two 9.61 kN (2,160 lbf) Armstrong Siddeley MD30R Viper afterburning turbojets, with a SEPR 66 liquid-fuel rocket engine to provide boost thrust of 4.7 kN (1,100 lbf). The aircraft had a tailless delta configuration, with 5% thickness (ratio of airfoil thickness to length) and 60° sweep.

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

The tailless delta configuration has a number of limitations. The lack of a horizontal stabilizer meant flaps cannot be used, resulting in a long takeoff 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.[4]

The first prototype of the Mystère-Delta, without afterburning engines or rocket motor and with an unusually large vertical stabilizer, flew on 25 June 1955.[5] After a redesign, the vertical stabilizer was reduced in size, afterburners and a rocket motor were installed, it was renamed to Mirage I. In late 1955, the prototype attained Mach 1.3 in level flight without rocket assist, and Mach 1.6 with the rocket.[4] 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 it was too small for a useful armament load. After trials, the Mirage I prototype was eventually scrapped.[4] Dassault considered an enlarged version, the Mirage II, with a pair of Turbomeca Gabizo turbojets; however, the Mirage II remained unbuilt as it was bypassed for a 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 was named the Mirage III. It incorporated the new 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. Like the Mirage I, the Mirage III had provision for a booster rocket engine. The prototype Mirage III flew on 17 November 1956,[5] and attained a speed of Mach 1.52 on its 10th flight.[6] The prototype was then fitted with manually-operated intake half-cone shock diffusers, known as souris ("mice"), which were moved forward as speed increased to reduce inlet turbulence, which increased speed to Mach 1.65, while use of the supplemental SEPR 66 rocket (as fitted to the Mirage I) allowed a speed of Mach 1.8 to be reached in September 1957.[5][6]

The success of the Mirage III prototype resulted in an order for 10 pre-production Mirage IIIA fighters. 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 (13,200 lbf). The SEPR 841 rocket engine was retained,[7] it was also fitted with Thomson-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, becoming 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, the Mirage IIIC, first flew in October 1960. The IIIC was largely similar to the IIIA, being less than a half meter longer and having a 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 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.

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 assembly later.

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. The Mirage IIIC remained in service with the AdA until 1988.

The Armée de l'Air 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 removed 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 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. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

Exports and license production


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.

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.

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 continues to serve in 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.

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.

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.

Mirage IIICJ in Israeli Air Force museum (13 victory markings)

The Israeli Air Force (IAF) purchased three variants of the Mirage III:[8]

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.[8]


Pakistan purchased 24 Mirage IIIE from France in 1967.[9] 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.[9] 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.[9] |Aircraft Designs

License production

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.

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.

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. Several examples are preserved in museums around Australia, and at least one is currently under restoration to airworthy condition.

South Africa

Much like Israel, South Africa was similarly isolated by a French arms embargo after the passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 418.[10] 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.[11]

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
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".[12]

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:

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 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.[13]

Operational history

Wreckage of downed Israeli Mirage during Yom Kippur war

Six Day War

Over the demilitarized zone on the Israeli side of the border with Syria, a total of six MiGs were shot down the first day Mirages fought the MiGs. In the Six-Day War, apart from 12 Mirages (four in the air and eight 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.[14]

Yom Kippur War

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.[15][16][17] Contrary to these claims, formal Israeli sources claim only five Israeli Air Force aircraft were shot down in air-to-air duels.[18] 106 Syrian and Egyptian aircraft were claimed shot down by Israeli Mirage IIICJ planes, and another 140 aircraft were claimed by the Nesher derivative.[14] 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.[19]

South African Border War

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.[20] 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.[21] South African pilots also found landing the high-nosed, delta-winged Mirage III airframe difficult on rudimentary airstrips near the operational area.[20]

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.[20] By the late 1980s, the Mirage IIICZ was considered so obsolete that it was utilised only for base security.[22] 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.[21]

SAAF Mirage IIIRZs often flew at extremely low altitudes—sometimes down to fifty feet (15 metres)—then rapidly gained elevation to take their photographs.[22] 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.[22]

Falklands War

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[23] 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.[24]


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.[5]
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.[5]
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.[5]
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.[5]
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.[25]
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.[26][27]
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.[29]
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.[33]
The first Argentine Mirage, a IIIDA.
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.[43] 183 built for the French Air Force.[44]
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.[49]
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.[50][51]
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, fitted with a 88.29 kN (19,850 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

Main article: Dassault Mirage 5

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.

Mirage 3NG

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.

The 3NG had a modified delta wing with leading-edge root extensions, plus a pair of fixed canards fitted above and behind the air intakes. The canards provided a degree of turbulent airflow over the wing to make the aircraft more unstable and so more maneuverable.

Avionics were completely modernized, 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.

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:

Balzac / Mirage IIIV

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.[52]


Main article: Project ROSE

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



Civilian operators

Espace Passion Foundation operates a single Mirage III-DS (S/N 101/228F) civil registration HB-RDF[54]

Specifications (Mirage IIIE)

Data from Encyclopedia of World Military Aircraft[55]

General characteristics




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

See also

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.

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