In 1952, the French government issued a request for a new, lightweight, supersonic interceptor, to counter the threat posed by Soviet nuclear-capable bombers and fighters.

In October 1960, the first major production model, designated as the Mirage IIIC, performed its maiden flight. Initial operational deliveries of this model commenced in July 1961; a total of 95 Mirage IIICs were obtained by the French Air Force. The Mirage IIIC was rapidly followed by numerous other variants.

Classified as a single-seat interceptor, the Mirage III measures 15.03 m (49 ft 4 in) long, has a wingspan of 8.22 m (27 ft 0 in), height is 4.5 m (14 ft 9 in), an empty weight of 7 tons, and maximum take-off weight is 13.7 tons.

Mirage III
Mirage III

The Mirage III incorporated various new design principles, such as the 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. It has an excellent aerodynamic profile, with a low-mounted delta-wing configuration.

The pilot sits in a glass cockpit behind the nose, offering him a great view of the front and sides. With a delta-wing configuration, the Mirage III does not need horizontal tail planes, but only a single large vertical tail fin. Its delta wing meant that the Mirage III had to land with high pitch at high speeds, often causing accidents with inexperienced pilots, and required long airstrips for its take-off run and landing. The Mirage III also has a short operational radius and is unable to operate from robust forward air bases.

The Mirage III is powered by a SNECMA Atar 09C afterburning turbojet engine, with 41.97 kN dry thrust, and 60.8 kN with afterburner. The interceptor can reach a top speed of Mach 2.2, a combat range of 1,200 km (650 nmi), a service ceiling of 17,000 m (56,000 ft), and Rate of climb is 83 m/s (16,400 ft/min). Combat range can be expanded by 2 external fuel tanks.

Mirage III’s standard weapon is 2 × 30 mm DEFA 552 cannon, with 125 rounds per gun. In addition it can carry bombs, rockets and missiles on 5 external hard points, including AIM-9B Sidewinder Air to Air missiles, or Matra R.550 Magic AAMs, or Matra R.530 AAM. The avionics system equipped was Thomson-CSF Cyrano II radar; and Marconi continuous-wave Doppler navigation radar.

The Mirage III was produced in large numbers for both the French Air Force and a wide number of export customers. Prominent overseas operators of the fighter included Argentina, Australia, South Africa, Pakistan and Israel, as well as a number of non-aligned nations. Often considered to be a second-generation fighter aircraft, the Mirage III experienced a lengthy service life with several of these operators; for some time, the type remained a fairly maneuverable aircraft and an effective opponent when engaged in close-range dogfighting.


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