Mirage F1
mirage-f1cr-2.jpgWithin a year of the Mirage III entering service with the French air force, Dassault-Breguet was developing a successor. The Mirage F1 has 40 per cent more internal fuel than the Mirage III and a better wing design that improves maneuverability and enables it to take off from shorter runways. The Mirage F.1 replaced the familiar delta wing of the Mirage with a swept wing, set at shoulder height and fitted with flaps and slats. This was combined with a low-set slab tailplane.

In mid-1964, aware of the dead end represented by aircraft with large engines too expensive for export, Marcel Dassault had initiated a discrete design for a small Mach 2 aircraft on Corporation funds. The Mirage III E 2, a single-seater with a sweptback wing like the Mirage III F2 and equipped with a Snecma Atar 9 K jet engine exactly like the Mirage IV A, was primarily intended for export. As of the end of 1965, he launched the manufacture of a prototype suitable for the Air Force with contribution of industrial partners. It would be named the Mirage F1.

The French Air Force staff's need for an aircraft to supplant its earliest Mirage IIIs, and simultaneously one able to land at slower speeds, triggered the Mirage F1 program. The Air Force staff drafted its specifications for an all-weather low-altitude intruder in 1963. That plane, they stipulated, required supersonic interception capabilities, needed to use short and rudimentarily-equipped landing strips, and approach at less than 140 knots (260 km/h).

It also needed to accommodate two basic operational factors: longer autonomy and mission radii, and shorter take-off and landing distances freeing it from having to use easy-to-spot and exposed larger runways - at the lowest possible cost. The Mirage III family's delta wing meant pilots needed to approach and land at high speed. Extensive research on minimum combat aircraft speeds led Dassault to look at swept-wing designs which, at that point in development, were the ones able to house high-lift flaps.

When France announced its intention to withdraw from NATO's integrated military organization in 1966, the Air Force began focusing on an interceptor with secondary penetration capabilities. Dassault's engineering department started working on the Mirage F3, but finally shelved the plans because the withdrawal from NATO's integrated military organization entailed reshuffling the entire combat equipment policy. The successive cancellations left Dassault without a successor for its Mirage III. The need to overcome that deadlock, and to secure a future if the variable-sweep aircraft program was also aborted, led Marcel Dassault to start working on a new prototype, the Mirage F1, a smaller version than the Mirage F2 and Mirage F3.
The experience designing the Mirage F2 proved valuable in efforts to develop the Mirage F1, a lighter (7.4 ton unladen) single-seater. Its light weight made it especially suitable for interception. One of the Mirage F1's features is its ample airspeed variations. It can fly at Mach 2 and land at 125 knots, thanks to its wing's extraordinary lift augmentation from its leading edge nose and double-slot flaps which are gruelingly difficult to fit on thin wings.

Equipped with an interim Snecma Atar 9 K 31 jet engine, the Mirage F1 01 made its first flight on December 23, 1966 at Melun-Villaroche piloted by René Bigand. On January 7, 1967, he reached Mach 2 on the 4th flight. Flight trials continued until, during a low-altitude high-velocity pass, the horizontal stabilizers of Mirage F1 01 broke away due to a divergent vibration phenomenon called ‘flutter’ and the aircraft struck the ground near Fos-sur-Mer, killing Dassault chief pilot René Bigand. Despite the accident, notification was given of an order for three pre-production aircraft: the Mirage F1 02, 03 and 04 with the Atar 9 K 50 jet engine.

Mirage F 1 02 (Atar P l 31) accomplished its first flight at Istres on March 20, 1969 piloted by Jean-Marie Saget and reached Mach 1.15. Mirage F 1 03 equipped with a Snecma 9 K 50 engine flew on September 18, 1969, and Mirage F 1 04 equipped with all the on-board electronics designed for the production aircraft, on June 17, 1970.

Following on the Mirage F-2, which was a revival of the classic arrow-wing design with stabilizers, the Mirage F-1 was a defense and air superiority single-seater plane. This revival was made possible by technological advances which permit manufacture of ultra-thin but robust wings, enabling at supersonic speeds flight performance equivalent to that of delta wings. The integrity of the fuselage structure allows the aircraft to carry a maximum amount of fuel.

The wings are high-mounted, swept-back, and tapered. Missiles are usually mounted at the wing tips. There is one turbojet engine in the body. There are semicircular air intakes alongside the body forward of the wing roots. There is a single exhaust. The fuselage is long, slender, pointed nose and a blunt tail. There are two small belly fins under the tail section and a bubble canopy. The tail is swept-back and tapered fin with a blunt tip. The flats are mid-mounted on the fuselage, swept-back, and tapered with blunt tips.

The first flight of the first production model took place at Mérignac on February 15, 1973, piloted by Guy Mitaux-Maurouard. On March 14, 1974, it was delivered to the Air Force. The production models differed from the prototypes by the installation of slotted leading edge (inspired by the Jaguar) on the outboard two thirds of the wing, which increased the maximum angle of attack. As with the other serially-produced aircraft, a number of partner firms and subcontractors were involved in production.

The French air force ordered the Mirage Fl for its interceptor squadrons, and the first F1s entered service in 1973. Production of this aircraft, intended primarily for delivering strikes against ground targets, was curtailed by early 1983 after some 678 Mirage-Fl aircraft had been ordered, of which 252 were for the French Air Force and 426 were for export to other countries.
The Fl proved a very popular export, though there are conflicting reports as to how many were built for export. Dassault says that trom the outset, the Mirage F1 was an export success : 473 aircraft equipped the Air Forces of Ecuador, Greece, Iraq, Jordan Kuwait, Libya, Morocco, South Africa, Spain, and Qatar. with over 500 of them i in various models sold abroad in the first 10 years of production. One sources states that more than 700 Mirage F-1's had been sold to some 11 countries, including France. The F.1 did not achieve the enormous sales of the Mirage III, but was the standard French fighter before Mirage 2000 entered service in the air force in 1984.

The Mirage Fl has seen combat in the Persian Gulf, where Iraqi Mirage F1s played an important role in the attacks on tankers during the late 1980s. There are several versions now operational - all-weather interceptors, fighter-bombers and dedicated reconnaissance aircraft. A more advanced version, the F.1E with a M53 engine, lost the NATO fighter competition to the F-16. The Mirage 2000 has replaced the F1 on the production lines, but the Mirage F1 continued in service for some time.
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