Dassault Mirage F1

The Dassault Mirage F1 is a French single-seat air-superiority fighter and attack aircraft built by Dassault Aviation. More than 700 F1s have been produced. 

French Air Force Mirage F1s saw their first operational deployment in 1984 during the French intervention in the Chad. More recently, in October 2007, three Mirage 2000s and three Mirage F1s have been deployed at Kandahar Air Force Base, where they fly close air support and tactical reconnaissance missions in support of international forces in Southern Afghanistan.

Dassault Mirage F1
Class Aircraft
Type Fighter
Manufacturer Dassault Aviation
Origin France
Country Name Origin Year
France 1966
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Dassault Aviation 700 View

Dassault designed the Mirage F1 as a private venture, using its own funds, as a successor to its Mirage III and Mirage 5 fighters, with the F1 being a smaller version of the Mirage F2 being developed for the French Air Force. It was of similar size to the delta-winged Mirage III and V, and was powered by a SNECMA Atar 9K turbojet as used in the Dassault Mirage IV, but unlike its predecessors, it shared the layout of a swept wing mounted high on the fuselage and a conventional tail surface as used by the F2. Although it has a smaller wingspan than the Mirage III, the F1 nevertheless proved to be superior to its predecessor. It can carry up to 43% more fuel, has a shorter take-off run and better maneuverability.

The first prototype made its maiden flight on 23 December 1966. Despite the prototype crashing on 18 May 1967 due to flutter, killing its pilot, an order for three prototypes was placed on 26 May 1967, the larger and more expensive F2 being abandoned.

In order to comply with the French Air Force's requirement for an all-weather interceptor, the first production Mirage F1C was equipped with a Thomson-CSF Cyrano IV monopulse radar. The later Cyrano IV-1 version added a limited look-down capability. However Mirage F1 pilots reported that the radar can easily overheat, reducing its efficiency. First deliveries to the French Air Force took place in May 1973, entering squadron service with EC 2/30 Normandie-Niemen in December that year. Initially, the aircraft was armed with two internal 30 mm cannons, and a single Matra R530 medium-range air-to-air missile carried under the fuselage.

It was replaced after 1979, when the improved Matra Super 530 F entered into service with the French Air Force. In 1977, the R550 Magic was released. The F1 has these missiles mounted on rails on the wingtips. Around the same time, the American AIM-9 Sidewinder became part of the Mirage F1's armament, after the Spanish and Hellenic Air Forces requested integration of the Sidewinder on their own Mirage F1CE and CG fighters. The 79 aircraft of the next production run were delivered during the period March 1977 to December 1983. These were of the Mirage F1C-200 version with a fixed refuelling probe, which required an extension of the fuselage by 7 cm.

The Mirage F1 served as the main interceptor of the French Air Force until the Dassault Mirage 2000 entered service.

France

French Air Force Mirage F1s were first deployed operationally in 1984 during Operation Manta, the French intervention in Chad, to counter growing Libyan encroachment. Four Mirage F1C-200s provided air cover for a force of four Jaguars, and took part in skirmishes against the pro-Libyan GUNT rebels.

In 1986, French Mirage F1s returned to Chad, as part of Operation Epervier, with four F1C-200s providing fighter cover for a strike package of eight Jaguars during the air raid against the Libyan airbase at Ouadi Doum, on 16 February. Two F1CRs also flew pre and post-strike reconnaissance missions.

In response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, France made two deployments of Mirage F1s to the Persian Gulf, with 12 Mirage F1Cs being deployed to Doha in Qatar in October 1991 to boost air defences, while four Mirage F1CRs of ER 33 deployed to Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Daguet in September 1991. To avoid the risk of being mistaken for Iraqi Mirage F1s, the French F1CRs were grounded during the first few days of the Allied air attacks, flying their first combat mission on 26 January 1991. They were used as fighter bombers, using their more capable navigation systems to lead formations of French Jaguar fighter bombers, as well as to fly reconnaissance missions, flying 114 sorties by the end of hostilities. Following the end of the Persian Gulf war, France deployed Mirage F1CRs to Turkey as part of Operation Provide Comfort to protect Kurds from Iraqi aggression.

In November 2004 and in response to an Ivorian air attack on French peacekeepers three Mirage F.1 jets attack Yamoussoukro airport and destroy two Su-25 aircraft and three attack helicopters.

In October 2007, three Mirage 2000s and three Mirage F1s were deployed at Kandahar Air Force Base, where they flew close air support and tactical reconnaissance missions in support of international forces in Southern Afghanistan.

The last French unit to still be equipped with the Mirage F1, was the Escadron de Reconnaissance 2/33 Savoie, home-based at Mont-de-Marsan, flying the latest version of the F1CR. The unit's primary mission was tactical reconnaissance, with a secondary mission of ground-attack. Because of the unique missions of the 2/33, their unofficial motto among the pilots has become, "Find; Identify; and Photograph or Destroy." In accordance with a bilateral defense agreement between France and Chad, two, 2/33 F1CRs, along with 3 pilots, a photo interpreter, an intelligence officer and ground crews are always deployed to N'Djamena, Chad. The two 2/33 F1CRs operated with three Mirage 2000Ds, also based on rotation from France to Chad. In March 2011, 2/33 Mirage F1CRs were deployed to Solenzara Air Base, Corsica and conducted reconnaissance missions over Libya (also a Mirage F1 operator) as part of Opération Harmattan. In 2013 2/33 F1CRs also participated in Operation Serval in Mali. On 10 January, launching from their base in N'Djamena in Chad, the first French air intervention mission against Islamist rebels in Mali, was undertaken by F1CRs and Mirage 2000Ds, supported by a French Air Force C-135K tanker. The 2/33 F1CRs provided valuable photo information for strike aircraft flying the next day from France. Later on 16 January, two 2/33 F1CRs, were deployed from Chad to Bamako, Mali. Both aircraft were fitted with extra long range 2,200 liter ventral tanks; and when operating over Mali also carried two 250 kg unguided bombs, plus their one internal 30mm cannon, in case they were called on for close air support missions.

It is planned that 2/33s elderly F1CRs will be replaced by Rafales fitted with an advance reconnaissance pod. The Rafale's range, maneuverability and combat load is far superior to the F1CR that it replaces—e.g. after the Rafale's pod has taken photos they can almost instantly be transmitted back to its base or where the photos are needed that has the down link equipment.

The French Air Force's last Mirage F1 fighters were retired from operational service on 13 June 2014. 11 single-seat Mirage F1CRs and three two-seat F1Bs will be transferred to storage, with six making a final appearance in a flypast during Bastille Day celebrations over Paris before eventual disposal.

Ecuador received 16 F.1AJs (a variant of the F1E) and two F.1JEs between 1978 and 1980, and they saw their first air combat very soon. The Ecuadorian Air Force's (FAE) squadron of Mirage F1JAs (Escuadrón de Caza 2112) entered combat in January–February 1981 during the brief Paquisha War between Ecuador and Peru, less than two years after the aircraft had been delivered to the FAE. At that time, the Ecuadorians decided against directly challenging the Peruvian Air Force (abbreviated FAP), whose Mirage 5Ps and Sukhoi Su-22 were providing air cover to the Peruvian heliborne operations in the combat zone. Instead, the Mirages were kept at a distance, performing combat air patrols (CAPs) on the fringes of the combat area, in case the border clashes gave way to open hostilities. Peruvian Sukhoi Su-22 were spotted once, and an air-to-air R.550 missile was launched, but failed to strike the Sukhoi.

In 1995, during the Cenepa War, the Ecuadorian Mirages went back into action against Peru. This time, while the bulk of the squadron was kept back at Taura AFB, a small detachment of Mirage F1s and Kfir C.2s was deployed to a forward air base to dissuade Peruvian attack aircraft from entering the combat zone. This time the planes had been upgraded: Israeli electronics and Python Mk.III air-to-air missiles, usually mounted on the outer underwing pylons, and Matra R550 Magic AAMs on wing-tip launch rails.

On 10 February 1995, two Mirage F1JAs, piloted by Maj. Raúl Banderas and Capt. Carlos Uzcátegui, were directed over five targets approaching the disputed Cenepa valley. After making visual contact, the Mirages fired their missiles, claiming two Peruvian Su-22Ms shot down, while a Kfir claimed a further A-37B Dragonfly. Peru, however, denied that the two Sukhois Su-22Ms were shot down by Mirages, stating that one was lost due to being struck by Ecuadorian anti-aircraft artillery during a low flying ground-attack mission, with the second Sukhoi was lost because of an engine fire. Banderas was made head of the Ecuadorian Air Force in May 2014, while Uzcátegui died in a training accident in 2002 at Salinas air base, in the Santa Elena Province.

Iraq

During the Iran-Iraq War, Iraq's Mirage F1EQs were used intensively for interception, ground attack and anti-shipping missions. In November 1981, an Iraqi Mirage F1 accounted for the first Iranian F-14 Tomcat to be shot down, followed by several more in the following months, giving the previously timid Iraqi Air Force new confidence in air-to-air combat engagements with the Iranians.

According to research by journalist Tom Cooper, during the war 33 Iraqi Mirage F1s were shot down by Iranian F-14s and two were downed by Iranian F-4 Phantom II units. Iraqi F1EQs claimed at least 35 Iranian aircraft, mostly F-4s and Northrop F-5E Tiger IIs, but also several F-14 Tomcats.

On September 14, 1983, two Turkish Air Force F-100F Super Sabre fighter jets of 182 Filo “Atmaca” penetrated Iraqi airspace. A Mirage F-1EQ of the Iraqi Air Force intercepted the flight and fired a Super 530F-1 missile at them. One of the Turkish fighter jets (s/n 56-3903) was shot down and crashed in Zakho valley near the Turkish-Iraqi border. The plane's pilots reportedly survived the crash and returned to Turkey. The incident was not made public by either side, although some details surfaced in later years. The incident was revealed in 2012 by Turkish Defence Minister Ismet Yilmaz, in response to a parliamentary question by Republican People’s Party (CHP) MP Metin Lütfi Baydar in the aftermath of the downing of a Turkish F-4 Phantom II in Syria, in 2012.

In the opening minutes of the 1991 Persian Gulf War on 17 January 1991, an unarmed, United States Air Force (USAF) EF-111, crewed by Captain James A. Denton and Captain Brent D. Brandon scored a kill against an Iraqi Mirage F1EQ, which they managed to maneuver into the ground, making it the only F-111 to achieve an aerial victory over another aircraft.

Coalition forces shot down several Iraqi F1s during the Gulf War. Six F1EQs were shot down by USAF F-15 Eagles during the war. Two F1EQs preparing to carry out a Beluga cluster bomb attack on Saudi oil facilities were shot down by a Royal Saudi Air Force F-15C.

Morocco

30 Mirage F1CHs and 20 Mirage F1EHs were ordered from Dassault by the Royal Moroccan Air Force (RMAF) in 1975, with the first deliveries taking place in 1978. They were engaged in combat as soon as 1979, against the forces of the Polisario Front operating in Western Sahara. The RMAF lost seven Mirages shot down and six others crashed due to different mishaps. Three Mirage-pilots were killed, three were captured and one killed by guerillas.

South Africa

South Africa began looking for a replacement for the Mirage III in 1971 and purchased a licence to manufacture the Mirage F1 and its engine, the intention being to produce up to 100 Mirage F1s. This license was however cancelled because of the 1977 arms embargo. The SAAF then bought 16 Mirage F1CZs and 32 Mirage F1AZs which were quickly delivered by Dassault before the embargo was implemented, with deliveries starting in 1975. Both the F1CZ and F1AZ variants of the SAAF saw action during operations in the Border War.

In November 1978 the first five F1CZs were deployed to South-West Africa (Namibia), tasked with providing escort for reconnaissance flights over Southern Angola. From 1980 these deployments as escort aircraft became regular. Due to teething problems with the F1AZ, F1CZs were initially assigned the strike role in southern Angola using Matra M155 rocket pods or 250 kg bombs.

F1CZs of 3 Squadron downed two Angolan MiG-21s in 1981 and 1982. On 6 November 1981, during Operation Daisy, two F1CZs were vectored by GCI to intercept two MiG-21s heading south. Major Johan Rankin shot down the wingman with cannon fire, as the missiles failed to lock on to the MiGs. On 5 October 1982, while escorting a Canberra of 12 Squadron on a photo-reconnaissance sortie, Major Rankin and his wingman engaged two MiG-21s on an intercept course. He fired two Magic AAMs at one of the MiGs, damaging the aircraft with the second missile. Rankin then attacked the second MiG and destroyed it with cannon fire. The first MiG was able to return to base, but sustained additional damage making a belly landing.

In May 1982 an Angolan Mi-8 helicopter that the SADF believed to be carrying senior officers was located and destroyed in the Cuvelai area. The helicopter was located with rotors running on the ground by a pair of F1CZs and destroyed by 30mm cannon fire.

Two F1AZs of 1 Squadron were lost over Angola. On 20 February 1988, while flying an interdiction sortie in F1AZ '245' against a road convoy during Operation Hooper, Major Ed Every was shot down by an SA-13 Gopher SAM. F1AZ '223' was lost almost a month later, on 19 March, when Captain Willie van Coppenhagen flew into the ground while returning from a diversionary strike at night.; a SAAF Board of Inquiry was unable to determine the causes of the crash.

On 7 June 1980, while attacking SWAPO's Tobias Haneko Training Camp during Operation Sceptic (Smokeshell), Major Frans Pretorius and Captain IC du Plessis were both hit by SA-3 Goa SAMs. Du Plessis' aircraft was hit in a fuel line and he had to perform a deadstick landing at AFB Ondangwa. Pretorius's aircraft sustained heavier damage and had to divert to Ruacana forward airstrip, where he landed with only the main undercarriage extended. Both aircraft were repaired and returned to service. During the last phase of the Bush war 683 combat sorties were flown by the F1AZs, and more than 100 SAM’s were fired at them.

On 27 September 1987, during Operation Moduler, an attempt was mounted to intercept two Cuban FAR MiG-23MLs. Captain Arthur Piercy's F1CZ was damaged by either an AA-7 Apex or AA-8 Aphid AAM fired head-on by Major Alberto Ley Rivas. The explosion destroyed the aircraft's drag chute and damaged the hydraulics. Piercy was able to recover to AFB Rundu, but the aircraft overshot the runway. The impact with the rough terrain caused Piercy's ejection seat to fire; he failed to separate from the seat and suffered major spinal injuries.

In February 1987 three F1AZs fired several V-3B missiles at a group of MiG-23s without success. This was repeated again in February 1988 when a F1AZ fired a missile at a MiG-23 and fired 30mm canon, again without success. Various other unsuccessful attempts were made during the 1987-88 period.

Apart from operations from Namibia in July 1981 a pilot of the Mozambican Air Force defected with his MiG-17. He flew from his base near Maputo towards South Africa. Two F1AZs returning from a training exercise intercepted the MiG-17. In March 1981 two F1AZs intercepted a Zimbabwean Army CASA C-212 and forced it to land in South Africa after asserting that the aircraft had strayed into South African airspace.

The SAAF lost an additional six F1AZs and three F1CZs to various mishaps. F1CZ '205' caught fire after landing and was repaired using the tail section of F1CZ '206' (Piercy's aircraft).

Spain

In June 1975, with tension growing with Morocco, Spain decided to strengthen its Air Force and bought 15 Mirage F1C that were allovated to Albacete AB. In mid-1976 there was still some tension with Morocco and Algerian and Libyan MiG-25 flights on the Mediterranean, which would made Spanish Air Force to purchase ten more Mirage F1C and two years later order 48 Mirage F1C and F1E. They have also bought 12 F1EDA/DDA's from Qatar. In Spanish service the F1CE was known as the C.14A, the F1EE was the C.14B and the two-seater F1EDA as the C.14C.

They served as Spain's primary air defence interceptors until they were superseded by Spain's EF-18A Hornets. They served with Ala 11 (11th Wing) in Manises, Ala 14 in Albacete, and Ala 46 at Gando in the Canary Islands. In October 1996 Thomson-CSF was awarded a FFr700 million (US$96m) contract to upgrade 48 F1C/E single-seaters and 4 F1EDA trainers to Mirage F1M standard (see below). As well as a service-life extension, this improved the avionics and added anti-shipping capability with a modernised Cyrano IVM radar and Exocet compatibility. By 2009 there were 38 F1M's in service with Escuadrón 141 (141st Squadron) "Patanes" and Escuadrón 142 (142nd Squadron) "Tigres" of Ala 14, but they left Spanish service on 23 June 2013 as Spain built up its fleet of Eurofighter Typhoon. In 2013 it was reported that Spain may sell sixteen F1M's to Argentina but it seems they now have the budget to buy new Kfirs instead. The deal went through and Argentina bought the Spanish Mirages in October 2013, but the deal was scrapped in March 2014 after pressure from the United Kingdom on Spain to not assist in FAA modernization over tensions between the countries over the Falkland Islands.

Spanish Mirage F1 were deployed to Lithuania, during NATO Baltic Air Policing from July 2006 to November 2006, and were scrambled twice to intercept undisclosed intruders. On 20 January 2009 two Spanish F1s from the 14th Wing crashed near their base, during a routine Spanish Air Force dogfight training mission, killing all three crew members. The wreckage of the two jets, including the remains of the aircrew, was found about 3 km (1.9 mi) apart.

The Spanish Air Force retired its fleet of Mirage F-1 in 2013, replacing it with the Eurofighter Typhoon.

Libya

Libya bought the Mirage F.1AD, F.1ADs, a specialized strike-variant lacking the radar but having a retractable fuel probe mounted instead. Libyan Mirage F.1s participated in the war in Chad intensively and proved its worth during the Libyan campaigns, in 1981 and 1983, but were not used later as the Air Force held them back for an eventual confrontation with the USA and its allies. When operating in Chad Mirage F1.ADs were flown by Libyan, Pakistani and Palestinian pilots, usual configuration consisted in two 1.300 litre drop tanks and a pair of Belouga CBUs under the "surfboard". From 1981 a detachment was deployed at Marten es-Serra, in southern Libya, and from 1983 they were regularly detached also to Faya-Largeau, in central northern Chad. Together with Mirage 5s, Mirage F.1s were instrumental in the huge success enjoyed during different campaigns against the Chadian troops in the early 1980s: operating over the open and barren desert terrain, they caused heavy damage, making any larger troop movements very costly, for no losses in exchange.

The Mirage F1 fleet saw action during the 2011 Libyan Civil War. Two Libyan aircraft landed in Malta on the 21 February 2011 after they were ordered to bomb protesters in Benghazi; both of the pilots claimed political asylum. Following the death of Muammar Gaddafi and end of the civil war, France and Libya formed an agreement in 2012 to modernise the Mirage F-1 fleet and potentially purchase addition Mirage F1s formerly operated by the French Air Force.

Role Fighter aircraft
Manufacturer Dassault Aviation
First flight 23 December 1966
Introduction 1973
Status Retired from the French Air Force operational service on June 2014. In service in Gabon, Iran, Libya and Morocco
Primary users French Air Force (historical)
Iraqi Air Force (historical)
Hellenic Air Force (historical)
Spanish Air Force(historical)
Produced 1966-1992
Number built 720+
Developed from Dassault Mirage III


General characteristics

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 15.33 m (50 ft 3 in)
  • Wingspan: 8.44 m (27 ft 8 in)
  • Height: 4.49 m (14 ft 8 in)
  • Wing area: 25 m (270 ft)
  • Empty weight: 7,400 kg (16,000 lb)
  • Loaded weight: 11,130 kg (24,540 lb)
  • Max takeoff weight: 16,200 kg (35,700 lb)
  • Powerplant: 1 x SNECMA Atar 9K-50 afterburning turbojet

Performance

  • Maximum speed: Mach 2.3 (2,573 km/h, 1,600 mph) at 11,000 m (36,000 ft)
  • Combat radius: 425 km (229 nm, 265 mi)
  • Ferry range: 2,150 km (1,160 nm, 1,335 mi)
  • Service ceiling 20,000 m (66,000 ft)
  • Rate of climb: 215 m/s (42,300 ft/min)
  • Wing loading: 450 kg/m (91 lb/ft)
  • Thrust/weight: 0.64

Armament

  • Guns: 2 x 30 mm (1.18 in) DEFA 553 internal fixed forward firing cannons
  • Other:
    • 6,300 kg (14,000 lb) on 5 external hardpoints
  • 4 x R.550 or AIM-9L
  • 2 x Super 530F
  • 2 x AM.39 Exocet Anti-Ship Missiles
  • 2 x AS.30L
  • 4 x Mk.82

End notes