Mirage III

Designed at the end of 1955, the Mirage III is a single-engine bomber fighter aircraft with a delta wing and a fuselage designed according to the area rule.

Origins and context

France’s Air Force has taken delivery of 95 Mirage III C, 59 Mirage III B, B1, B2 and BE (the D version for the export market), 70 Mirage R and RD, 183 Mirage III E, and 50 Mirage 5 F, putting the total at 457 planes. The last of those planes were withdrawn from operational units in 1994. Some, however, were still used at CEV, a flight test center, after that.

The Mirage III/5/50 family points to France’s high-ranking position among the world’s industrial nations. A total 1 401 Mirage III/5/50, in 90 different versions, have been built since 1958. They have served in 21 countries around the world and clocked a combined 3 million flying hours.

MD 550/ Mirage I

The first Mirage

In 1953, the Air Force general staff and the authorities, concerned at the rising weight – and cost- of aircraft, began drawing up specifications for a light interceptor. In reply, the Dassault Corporation submitted its draft project for a Mystère-Delta to the authorities, a single seat delta-plane with twin Turboméca Gabizo jet engines with after-burners and an SEPR rocket for substantial extra-power at altitude.

One French Air Force program involved a lightweight (5-ton to 6-ton) interceptor it could use on small unprepared airfields. In response to that, GAMD developed a plane using its own funds.

The MD 550 was designed in the Saint Cloud plant in early 1953. It was a delta-wing single-seater powered by twin Viper engines that GAMD produced under license

The contract for the design, production and development of two MD 550 twin-engine rocket-boosted prototypes was made official on March 22.

The raised pilot’s seat, paired with retracted air intakes and a slender nose built to house a standard Dassault radar – afforded a clear, unobstructed view.

At 08 :50 on the morning of June 25, 1955, Roland Glavany took off from Melun-Villaroche in the MD 550. During its 20-minute flight, the aircraft climbed to 3,000 feet. A second flight was made that evening et 18 :25. For its first flights, the aircraft had neither after-burners nor rockets. Even with this engine configuration, it reached Mach 0,95 in a dive on its 4th sortie, on July 24. After a brief 6-month period of fine-tuning, it reached Mach 1.3 flying horizontally.

The first series of flight tests gave rise to refinements in the aerodynamic configuration. It was clear that the delta fin would have to be changed to a sweptback fin. The side-by-side twin engine configuration also posed some development problems; flanges were added to the rear fuselage, thereby changing the curvature.

Alteration work was completed at the beginning of May 1956. With its new sweptback fin (called the F fin) and its modified servo actuator for the elevons, the aircraft was ready to fly again. The MD 30 R engines were fitted with after-burner jet pipes, bringing the unit thrust to 1,000 kg. Finally the aircraft was equipped with an independent dual liquid SEPR 66 booster rocket providing 1,500 kg of thrust over 80 seconds. In order to adapt the aircraft to high Mach speeds and to the Viper reheat engines, the air intakes were redesigned with a smaller cross-section. These alterations made the aircraft heavier, bringing its total empty weight to 3,610 kg. The modified aircraft flew again on May 5, 1956, using for the first time, its after-burners. The MD 550-01 was renamed Mirage I and the MD 550-02 Mirage II.

For all its flight qualities, the performance of the Mirage 1 was limited by its non-adjustable air intakes and the lack of engine power. It appeared ill-suited to its mission profile. The Air Force general staff, for its part, was beginning to realize the limits of its light interceptor program:

  • 61623;  directing interception by remote display from a network of ground radar stations was over-ambitious – the material equipment did not yet exist
  • 61623;  NATO’s new massive retaliation strategy questioned the very concept of interception missions.
  • 61623;  the arrival on the scene of supersonic bombers required a new kind of interceptor, more powerful and better equipped.

Test flights in Mirage I 01 continued as a back-up to the Mirage IV bomber project until May 1957, when the aircraft was conveyed to Bretigny for storage. The Mirage 1 program enabled the delta-wing to be evaluated. Efforts were now directed towards a more complex but more advanced aircraft. The Mirage was on the road to Mach 2.

The Mirage III 001

Designed and built within the framework of the light interceptor program defined by the French Air Force after the Korea war (1950-1953), the Mirage III was a bomber fighter aircraft with a delta wing and a fuselage designed according to the area rule which gave it a distinctive waisted profile. Derived from the first Mirage formula with a Delta wing, the Mirage III is designed at the end 1955.

Mirage III 001 took off for the first time at Melun-Villaroche at 16:00 on November 17, 1956. Roland Glavany was at the controls.

The aircraft was then fitted with variable-section air inlets with moving conical hubs, called “mice”, and servo controls designed by Dassault engineers. The Air Force staff selected the Mirage III 001 as the future plane for its battle fleet. It hence ordered 10 pre-production aircraft in April 1957, (and a further 95 serially-produced Mirage III C in 1959).

Adjustment development went quickly. Thanks to its new fuselage shape and its new jet engine, Mirage III 001’s tests showed a great deal of promise.

On June 11, 1957, for its 62nd flight, the aircraft was presented at the 22nd Paris Air Show. Impressed by its results, the government decided to place an order. The contract was signed by GAMD on June 25.

On September 19, on its 78th sortie, Mirage III 01 –still with the traditional Pitot-tube air intakes – reached Mach 1.8 in level flight using its ancillary rocket and then, some two weeks later on October 2 (flight 84), Mach 1.89. The aircraft had reached its upper limit: its air intakes prevented any further increase in speed. Alerted to this problem, the design office found the answer: equip the air intakes with a moveable half-cone centerbody – a shock one – known in French as mouse (souris), varying as a function of the Mach speed.

On April 13, 1957, the Aircraft Section of the Service Technique Aéronautique asked GAMD to submit a definition dossier for the pre-production Mirage III A. Mirage III 01 was a little too small to accommodate all of the equipment required for the final version of the Mirage III A fighter.

The Mirage III A

Designed and built within the framework of the light interceptor program defined by the French Air Force after the Korea war (1950-1953), the Mirage III was a bomber fighter aircraft with a delta wing and a fuselage designed according to the area rule which gave it a distinctive waisted profile. Derived from the first Mirage formula with a Delta wing, the Mirage III is designed at the end 1955.

On May 9, 1957, the Secretariat of State for the Air Force ordered 10 pre-production Mirage III A. As the Air Force did not have the resources to finance a different aircraft type for each mission profile, the Mirage was to be manufactured as a single-role aircraft for all industrial purposes, but multi-role for military purposes, with a structure that could be adjusted depending on its mission.

On May 12, 1958, at Melun-Villaroche, Mirage III A 01 Honoré made its maiden flight, piloted by Roland Glavany. The State made then an order for 100 Mirage III. Mach 2 flight –quite an exploit for the end of the 1950s – was achieved for the first time in western Europe by Roland Glavany in Mirage III A 01.

The manufacture of the Mirage III was divided up between GAMD and several partners or subcontractors. The assembly line was organized in such a way that every aircraft would be completed just in time, according to its specialized role. In simple terms, it could be said that each aircraft had the same airframe and the same engine but could be delivered in any four different versions.

The Mirage III B, C, D, E, R

The Mirage III B

Ordered on February 25, 1958, the Mirage III B was the dual-control two-seater version of the Mirage III A. The prototype first flew at Melun-Villaroche on October 20, 1959, piloted by René Bigand. Compared to the basic Mirage III, its fuselage was elongated to house the second crew member in what had been the radio equipment bay. The equipment was relocated in the nose cone, which therefore no longer contained radar.

The Mirage III C

The Mirage III C was the interceptor version. CSF supervised the coordination of the weapons system. The first production-standard aircraft flew at Mérignac on October 9, 1960, with Jean Coureau at the controls.

July 7, 1961, saw the first 1/2 Cigognes fighter squadron’s Mirage III C land in Dijon-Longvic airfield. The Mirage III entered operational service with the French Air Force on December 19 that same year, and with it, French fighter pilots entered the days of bi-sonic flight. From December 1962 onwards, four fighter squadrons flying Mirage III C aircraft were in a constant state of alert. One Mirage is ready in 5 minutes, and a second will assist it after 30 minutes.

The Mirage III E and D

The Mirage III E, ordered on April 6, 1960, was designed for low-altitude air strikes. The fuselage was lengthened by 30 cm to accommodate the relevant electronic systems (navigation center, Doppler radar), and was also equipped with a more powerful jet engine, the Atar 9C. The aircraft made its maiden flight at Istres on April 5, 1961, piloted by Jean Coureau. The French version was later fitted with AN 52 tactical nuclear warhead. The Mirage III D was the export version of the Mirage III E.

The Mirage III R

The Mirage III R,, ordered on April 6, 1960, specialized in tactical reconnaissance at low and medium altitudes by day or by night. It first flew at Istres on October 31, 1961, piloted by Jean Coureau.

Over the years, further versions were introduced, initially into the French Air Force : three two-seaters : the Mirage III B1 ancillary aircraft, the Mirage III B2 I-flight refueling trainer and the more powerful and better equipped Mirage III B E, the single-seat Mirage III RD reconnaissance aircraft, with the same navigation system as the Mirage III E.

When, on July 7, 1961, the first Mirage III C from ½ Cigognes Fighter Squadron touched down at Dijon-Longvic, it was Europe’s first operational Mach 2 aircraft. The Air Force received, in all, 95 Mirage III Cs, 59 Mirage IIIB, B1, B2 and Bes, 70 Mirage IIIR and RDs, 183 Mirage III Es and finally 50 Mirage Fs, a total of 457 aircraft.

A total 1 401 Mirage III/5/50, in 90 different versions, have been built since 1958. They have served in 21 countries around the world in more than 80 versions.

Mirage III NG

In April 1981, after several months of design studies, Dassault launched the production of the prototype of an aircraft designed to replace the Mirage III, Mirage 5 and Mirage 50 : the Mirage III NG (New Generation), equipped with the Snecma Atar 9K50.

Working from the airframe of Mirage 50 01, the Corporation added an extra airfoil surface, the canard (duck) – to the fore, over the air intakes. Now renamed the Mirage 50 K, the aircraft flew on May 27, 1981 at Istres, with Patrick Experton at the controls.

Its purpose was to confirm the preliminary studies leading ultimately to the Mirage III NG. The flight tests confirmed the aerodynamic qualities; electronic controls could be fitted on the airframe of the Mirage III to turn it into a Mirage III NG. The new aircraft benefited from the wealth of studies carried out for the enhanced versions of the Mirage III, as well as from electronic controls that had already been tested out on the Mirage 2000 and the Mirage 4000. The Mirage III NG first flew on December 21, 1982, piloted by Patrick Experton.

This version was never exported.

The Mirage III EX

This version was developed for Brazil and Venezuela. It is sub-categorized into two-models, differing mainly in the size of their canard ancillary airfoil and in their engines :

  • the Brazilian Mirage III EX, with a canard relative surface area of 3.8% and a Snecma Atar 9C turbo-jet
  • the Venezuelan Mirage III EX with a canard of 2.6%, a Snecma Atar 9K 50 turbo-jet, in-flight refuelling and an upgraded navigation and attack system.

The first Mirage III EX flew on April 8, 1988, piloted by Jean Pus.

MD 550/ Mirage I Datasheet


Title Value
Span 7.32 m
Length 12.80 m


Title Value
Unladen weight 3 330 kg


Title Value
Max. Speed Top Mach level flight 1.25
Max. height Practical ceiling 14 600 m / 47 900 ft


Title Value
Type Dassault MD 30 R 44.1 kN / Rocket SEPR 6614.7 kN

The Mirage III 001 Balzac Datasheet


Title Value
Span 7.58 m
Length 12.80 m


Title Value
Unladen weight 4 840 kg


Title Value
Max. Speed Top Mach level flight 1.8
Max. height Practical ceiling 16 500 m / 54 100 ft


Title Value
Type Snecma Atar 101 G 49.0 kgp / fusée SEPR 14.7 kN

The Mirage III A Datasheet


Title Value
Span Mirage III A 8.22
Length Mirage III A 14.20


Title Value
Unladen weight Mirage III A 5 340 kg


Title Value
Max. Speed Top Mach level flight (Mirage III A) 2
Max. height Practical ceiling (Mirage III A) 16 500 m / 54 100 ft