Dassault Mirage III

The Dassault Mirage III is a supersonic fighter aircraft designed in France by Dassault Aviation during the 1950s, and manufactured both in France and a number of other countries. It was a successful fighter aircraft, being sold to many air forces around the world and remaining in production for over a decade. Some air forces still fly Mirage IIIs or variants as front-line equipment today, including Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Egypt, Gabon, Libya, Pakistan and Venezuela.

Dassault Mirage III
Class Aircraft
Type Fighter
Manufacturer Dassault Aviation
Origin France
Country Name Origin Year
France 1956
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Australia View
France View
Israel View
Pakistan View
South Africa View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Dassault Aviation 1422 View

The Mirage III family grew out of French government studies began in 1952 that 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. 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 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.

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. 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. 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. 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 area ruling 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 SEPR 841 booster rocket engine. The prototype Mirage III flew on 17 November 1956, and attained a speed of Mach 1.52 on its 10th flight. 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. In September 1957, the Mirage III attained a speed of Mach 1.8.

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, 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.

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.

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

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

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

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

Falklands War

Argentine Air Force used the Mirage IIIEA during the Falklands War (Spanish: Guerra de las Malvinas). Their lack of aerial refueling capability and long distance from their bases dramatically reduced their ability as long-range strike aircraft. Even using two 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 the Harrier CAP and cover the strike force would have no more than five minutes over the target area Their usual armament consisted of 1 Matra R530 or 2 Magic 1 AAMs. They only entered combat in one occasion with one being shot down by an AIM-9L Sidewinder and other destroyed by friendly fire after attempting to land at Port Stanley when nearly out of fuel. They were extensively used on diversion flights, flying very high altitude and baited the British with decoys, forced a response, and stretched their CAP coverage to improve the chances of survival and success of the attack force. Some of them were also maintained in quick response alert against possible Avro Vulcan raids on the mainland and against aggressive Chilean flights on the border.

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)
Number built 1422
Variants Dassault Mirage IIIV
Dassault Mirage 5
Atlas Cheetah

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 15 m (49 ft 3.5 in)
  • Wingspan: 8.22 m (26 ft 11 in)
  • Height: 4.5 m (14 ft 9 in)
  • Wing area: 34.85 m (375 ft)
  • Empty weight: 7,050 kg (15,600 lb)
  • Max takeoff weight: 13,500 kg (29,700 lb)
  • Powerplant: 1 x SNECMA Atar 09C turbojet


  • Maximum speed: Mach 2.2 (2,350 km/h, 1,460 mph)
  • Range: 2,400 km (1,300 NM, 1,500 mi)
  • Service ceiling 17,000 m (56,000 ft)
  • Rate of climb: 83.3 m/s (16,400 ft/min)
  • Wing loading: 387 kg/m (79 lb/ft)


  • 2 x 30 mm (1.18 in) DEFA 552 cannon with 125 rounds each
  • One centerline and four underwing pylons for 4,000 kg (8,800 lb) of stores. Initial interceptor armament was one Matra R530 and two AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles (later replaced by Matra Magic R550). Besides general-purpose bombs, a customary typical ground-attack store was the Matra JL-100 drop tank/rocket pack, each containing 19 SNEB 68 mm rockets and 250 liters (66 US gal) of fuel. Some models equipped to fire AM-39 Exocet anti-ship missile; French AdA IIIEs (through 1991 equipped for AN-52 nuclear bomb).

End notes