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The End of the Mirage III & Mirage IV; Cazaux, June 12, 2005

The Armée de l'Air, part 1; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

After many years it was time to say goodbye for 2 members of the Mirage family during the Meeting National at Cazaux. Both the Mirage III and the Mirage IV are going to be retired in 2005. The Mirage III is still operational at the CEV. The Mirage IV is operational at Mont-de-Marsan in the photo reconnaissance role.

The Dassault Mirage III is a supersonic fighter which was designed by Marcel Dassault in the 50s of the 20th century. The aircraft is fully designed in France and it is mainly built in this country. A reputation as a reliable aircraft was quickly created by the Mirage III. France was not the only user of this fighter. Other countries which used the Mirage III, are; Abu Dhabi, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Egypt, Gabon, Israel, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Peru, Spain, South Africa, Switzerland, Venezuela and Zaire. The Mirage III was built in 3 other countries. The aircraft which were produced in Chile were assembled under the name ENAER Pantera. The Mirages which were assembled in Belgium were built by SABCA Elkan. Finally, the assembled aircraft in South Africa were designated as the Cheetah and were built by DENEL. The Mirage III was operational in the Armée de l'Air from 1961 to 1988 and is nowadays still operational in several air forces. The Dassault Mirage III was developed in 1953 when France indicated it needed a modern all-weather interceptor aircraft. The designer Marcel Dassault designed as an answer to this question the prototypes of the Mirage I and the Mirage II. The 2 aircraft flew for the first time in July 1955. The planes were both designed according to the delta wing concept; it was a very progressive design in that time. The Mirage III was designed after several changes to the other planes. This aircraft flew for the first time in November 1956. A series of 10 prototype aircraft of the Mirage III were ordered by the French Air Force.

The Mirage III entered operational service in 1959. There were 63 two-seat variants of the type Mirage IIIB purchased by the AdlA. This variant of the Mirage III had two cockpits and was not armed. From 1961, 95 Mirage IIIC’s were delivered to the AdlA in addition to the Mirage IIIB. The Mirage IIIC was used as an air defense fighter. The Mirage IIIC was equipped with 2 DEFA 30mm cannons and five suspension points for external armament. The third variant of the Mirage III which entered service was the

Mirage IIIE in April 1961. The Mirage IIIE was the multirole attack variant of the Mirage IIIC air defensive fighter. The aircraft was improved at several points and it had a bigger flying range. The first aircraft of a series of 92 aircraft entered service in the AdlA in 1964. A total of 763 Mirage IIIE aircraft were built for export to other countries. The Mirage IIIR was the photo reconnaissance variant of the Mirage IIIE. The AdlA received a total of 50 Mirage IIIR reconnaissance aircraft. The aircraft design was based on the Mirage IIIE airframe and it contained the avionics of the Mirage IIIC. The aircraft was not equipped with radar and armaments but it had a modified nose with 5 Omera cameras. Later, 20 of these aircraft were changed as Mirage IIIRD to the Mirage IIIE standard. The Mirage V was a special project for the Israeli Air Force. It was actually a Mirage IIIE which was changed to the Israeli Air Force specifications. This aircraft was not delivered to Israel due to the international situation of the country. All drawings were stolen by the Israeli Mossad and the aircraft was successfully copied as the Nesher. In total, approximately 1500 Mirage III’s were built.

The Dassault Mirage IV is a French supersonic nuclear bomber and also a reconnaissance plane. It was for years the number 1 aircraft of French nuclear department; this department is called the Force de Frappe. The aircraft design was based on the Dassault Mirage III. In the mid 50s France has decided to become a nuclear power. This created the demand for a strategic bomber with a nuclear capacity. They decided to develop an aircraft with the Dassault Mirage III as a starting point. The specifications of the Mirage IV were after joint consultation between the French government and Dassault Aviation adopted on March 20, 1957. The Mirage IV was 50% larger than the Mirage III. The aircraft was also equipped with a second engine and a fuel capacity which was 3 times bigger than the Mirage III. Both aircraft have for the remaining items on the aircraft many similarities. The first prototype, the Mirage IV 01, was built in 18 months time in Saint-Cloud near Paris. The prototype was transported to Melun-Villaroche at the end of 1958. The prototype of the Mirage IV flew its first test flight on June 17, 1959. The Mirage IVA flew its first flight on October 12, 1961. The first production aircraft flew in December 1963. 62 Mirage IVA’s entered service in the AdlA between 1964 and 1968. The first squadrons which were equipped with the Mirage IV were operational in February 1964. These units were stationed at Mont-de-Marsan and Saint-Dizier.

France left the military structure of the NATO in 1966. The nation became a nuclear power. The main task of the Mirage IV was the bombing of cities and military airfields in the Soviet Union. France bought also a fleet of 12 Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers to reach all the Soviet cities. The Mirage IV aircraft flew their missions in pairs. The first aircraft carried the extra fuel capacity which was needed to refuel the second aircraft which was armed with the nuclear weapon. The AN-11 (operational from 1963-1973), was the first French nuclear weapon and was therefore the standard weapon for the Mirage IVA. This conventional bomb was used since 1963 in the Air Force and it had a strength of 60 kilotons. The ASMP missile was introduced in 1970; it could be mounted under the fuselage of the Mirage IV. The Mirage 2000N took over the nuclear mission of the Mirage IVP and the squadrons were eliminated in 1996. Only the Escadron de Reconnaissance Stratégique remained in service with 12 Mirage IVR’s aircraft. Both the Mirage III and the Mirage IV will be phased out at the end of 2005. The CEV was the only user which was still operational with the Mirage III for test flights. The Mirage IV was used for photo reconnaissance missions. The goodbye party for both aircraft types was held during the airshow at Cazaux in 2005. A great era ends here for 2 of the finest aircraft of the French Air Force.

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