Mirage F1 in SAAF Service

By Paul Dubois

Mirage Articles

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The Mirage F1 came about when plans for the successor to the Mirage III proved too expensive and unpopular to the French Air Force. It was a time when new technologies were being tested including vertical take-off and swing-wing concepts. Dassault developed the F1 as a private venture to offer a cheaper multi-role aircraft. From the outset it was designed to obtain the best operational efficiency and the widest flexibility. The idea being that even a small fleet of these aircraft should represent an important military threat. Something which was proven later in Angola! It was to be able to operate from short rough strips which the twin pulled wheel on the main gear together with medium pressure tyres plus low landing speed (145 kts) enabled it to do. It provided minimum and fully air transportable ground handling equipment together with a self starting system. It provided a short turn around time of about 15 minutes between two identical missions together with pressure refueling of about six minutes. An engine change involving four men took about three hours The SDAP automatic testing unit enabled automatic trouble shooting in the field. The GAMO alert unit allowed the Mirage F1 to be scrambled in less than 2 minutes. Thus it was to prove an ideal 'Bush' warfare aircraft capable of operating for extended periods away from itís home base, as was the case for the SAAF operating in Namibia.

The Mirage F1C prototype made itís first flight on the 23rd of December,1966. During September 1967, the French Air Force expressed interest on the Mirage F1C as an all weather interceptor. This was adequately provided by the use of the Cyrano IV radar. The second prototype F1-02 first flew on the 20th March,1967 and the third prototype F1-03 flew on the 18th of September,1969. On the 17th June 1974, the final prototype F1-04 flew and this became the production version. This was to become the first Mirage F1 ever flown by a South African when Zach Repsold flew it on 6 October 1971. This differed from the others by using slotted slats. On the 14th March 1974, the French Air Force received the first Mirage F1. The French Air Force Mirage F1C first saw combat during operation Manta in August 1983. This was when they were used for strafing an enemy column.

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First Prototype Mirage F1, Saint Cloud 23 December 1966. Photo: Keystone Press Agency / P. Dubois collection
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First prototype aircraft. Photo: Dassault Aviation /
P. Dubois collection
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Second prototype aircraft. Photo: P. Dubois collection.
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Third prototype aircraft, Le Bourget 29 May 1973.
Photo: P. Dubois Collection.
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First pre-production aircraft. Photo: Dassault Aviation /P. Dubois collection
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Fourth prototype and first production F1.  This particular aircraft was also the first Mirage F1 to be flown by a South African. Photo: Dassault Aviation

In July 1973, in what was to be known as the deal of the century, Dassault tended the Mirage F1E or the Mirage M53 as it was later to be known as a contender for the new European fighter aircraft required by Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands and Norway. To meet this requirement, the Mirage F1 was equipped with more sophisticated avionics and a more powerful engine, the M53 engine. This engine is shorter than the standard ATAR 9K50 and required larger air intakes and a shorter rear fuselage. Unfortunately, this lucrative deal was won by the American F-16.

In 1971, South Africa began looking for a replacement for the Mirage III . The Mirage F1 was an improvement of the Mirage III in that it has an increased speed, increase pursuit flight time an high mach which was tripled , and a ground mission range doubled, Take off length 30% less, with 25% less approach speed and increased maneuverability. On the 27th June 1971, Dassault and SNECMA announced a technical cooperation agreement with South Africa for the license manufacture of the Mirage F1 and engine. The intention being to produce up to 100 Mirage F1ís.

Snecma ATAR 9K 50/ Photo: Dassault Aviation
SNECMA ATAR 9K 50/ Photo: Dassault Aviation
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Mirage F1-E fitted with a SNECMA M53 engine. Photo: Dassault Aviation / P. Dubois collection

The 1977 arms embargo caused this license to lapse and unfortunately the Atlas Mirage Program did not move beyond the assembly stage. The South African Air Force acquired 16 Mirage F1-CZís (Serial 200-215) and 32 Mirage F1-AZís Serial 216-247). Mirage F1-CZ '200' was the main project aircraft, whilst Mirage F1-AZ '216' was used as the project aircraft for the 'AZ' fit. Due to the approaching Arms Embargo, Dassault rushed the F1-AZ delivery which not only led to teething problems with this ground attack variant but also caused problems with the manning of the Mirage III fleet which was later overcome by Operation Sand which enabled the Rhodesians to maintain the Mirage III CZ fleet.

Mirage F1-CZ "200" during acceptance trials in France. Photo: Dassault Aviation Film footage.
Mirage F1-CZ '200' salvo drop of eight 400kg bombs, during acceptance
trials in France.  Photo: Dassault Aviation Film footage.
Mirage F1-CZ '200' during acceptance trials in France, 1975. Photo: Dassault Aviation.
Mirage F1-CZ '200' salvo firing of
Matra 68mm rockets, during acceptance trials in France, 1975. Photo: Dassault Aviation.
Mirage F1-CZ "200" at the Paris Air Show 6 June 1975. Photo: P. Dubois Collection.
Mirage F1-CZ '200' at the Paris Air Show 6 June 1975.
Photo: P. Dubois Collection.
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Mirage F1-CZ '200' seen at Istres 1974 during acceptance trials. Photo: P. Dubois collection.
Mirage F1-AZ "216" during acceptance trials in France 1975. Photo: Peter Greve/P.Dubois collection.
Mirage F1-AZ '216' during acceptance trials in France 1975. Photo: Peter Greve/P.Dubois collection.
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Mirage F1-AZ "216" with the 14 bomb configuration during acceptance trials in France. Note the camera's fitted directly below the cockpit. which recorded the bomb release. Photo: Dassault Aviation/P. Dubois collection.

Delivery began under great secrecy on 4 April 1975 when two Mirage F1-CZís were flown to South Africa in a SAAF C-130 Hercules. Delivery ended in October 1976. South Africa maintained great secrecy over this aircraft and only revealed a new 'Mirage-type' during a fly past at the Ysterplaat Air Show in October 1975. It was only in April 1977 that the press could visit the production line in Kempton Park and even then the Mirage F1-AZ remained classified until 1980.

THE MIRAGE F1-CZ

South Africa was the launch foreign customer for the Mirage F1-C with the test aircraft for this project being Mirage serial '200' and whilst still being kept secret from the South African public, this aircraft appeared in several publications such as 'Paris Match' and it was also used as a display aircraft at the Paris Air Show 1975.

On the 4 April 1975, 3 Squadron became an autonomous unit once more with the arrival of Mirage F1-CZís serial 204 and 205 from the Atlas Aircraft assembly line at the then Jan Smuts Airport. The rest following at intervals until 1977 when Mirage F1-CZ serial '200' finally joined the fleet, thus completing the order for 16 aircraft. Serials 200-215.

Mirage F1-CZ, No 213, No 3 Squadron, 1981, AFB Ondangwa. Diagram by William S Marshall. Mirage F1-CZ, No 213, No 3 Squadron, 1981, AFB Ondangwa.
This aircraft was still painted in the original delivery camouflage colours
when it was used during the first MIG kill, on 6th November 1981.
Diagram by William S Marshall.

All aircraft were delivered in an olive drab/ deep buff scheme with blue/white springbok castle insignia. The squadron emblem being applied in South Africa. During the early eighties the scheme was changed to an air superiority blue/grey scheme with false canopy painted on the underside. The insignia was sprayed over to make it low viz. The first Mirage F1-CZ to receive this scheme was '203'.

The SAAF Mirage F1-CZ wasted no time getting operational and on the 3 November 1978, five Mirage F1-CZís were deployed to AFB Ondangwa in SWA/Namibia tasked with providing escort for reconnaissance flights over Southern Angola. From 1980 these deployments became regular with operations such as 'Smokeshell'. The tasking was normally as escort aircraft but due to teething problems with the Mirage F1-AZ, it was soon tasked with pre-emptive strikes against the enemy using Matra M155 rocket pods or 250 kg bombs.

A Cinethoeodolite image of Des Barker firing a V3C missile at a high speed drone. Photo: OTB/P.Dubois collection.
A Cinethoeodolite image of Des Barker firing a V3C missile at a high speed drone. Photo: OTB/P.Dubois collection.
Mirage F1-CZ drone kill, Pilot Des Barker. Photo: P. Dubois/TFDC.
Mirage F1-CZ drone kill, Pilot Des Barker.
Photo: P. Dubois/TFDC.

On the morning of the 6th November 1981 the Mirage F1-CZ got itís first test as an interceptor. Two Mirage F1-CZís flown by Major JJ Rankin and Lt. J du Plessis were scrambled from AFB Ondangwa to intercept two MiG-21MFís. Lt. du Plessis tried twice to engage one of the MiG-21MFís but on both occasions his missiles failed to engage.  Major Rankin flying Mirage F1-CZ '213' could also not lock his missile due to the proximity of the sun but opened fire with his 30mm DEFA cannons which caused Lt. Danacio Valdezís MiG-21MF to explode and was seen to break in half. Lt. Valdez was seen to eject but did not survive. This was the first confirmed SAAF kill since the Korean War.

Mirage F1-CZ's first kill. Photo: SAAF/P. Dubois collection.

Mirage F1-CZ's first kill.
Photo: SAAF/P. Dubois collection.

During the afternoon of 13 May 1982 the F1-CZís bagged their second kill. This was the Angolan Mil Mi-8 helicopter serialed either H-516 or H-518 which was believed to be carrying senior officers. Captain M Louw flying Mirage F1-CZ '206' and Lt. Jon Inges flying '210' were tasked with locating and destroying the helicopter in the Cuvelai area. The helicopter was located with rotors running on the ground. Lt. Inges attacked first but was off target. Captain Louw then followed, destroying the helicopter in a hail of 30mm fire.

Mirage F1-CZ's second kill. Photo: SAAF/P. Dubois collection.





Mirage F1-CZ's second kill.
Photo: SAAF/P. Dubois collection.
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Angolan Mil Mi-8. Photo: SAAF/P. Dubois collection

Events on the 5th October 1982 are not so clear and much controversy remains over what actually happened. There is also much contradiction amongst Cuban and South African sources. The author has done much research on this and Iíve tried to piece together what happened based on the information available. It is of course entirely up to the reader to choose what they want to believe. Due to the harsh restrictions of Cuban authorities and Johan Rankinís reluctance to discuss the matter Iíve had to rely almost solely on written statements by the parties involved, with the noted exception of the excellent feedback from Cobus Toerien and the detail given by Barbaro Perez Duran. Some information may have also been lost//misinterpreted in the translation from the original Cuban text. Whatever happened that day, both parties agree that at least one MiG-21bis was written off. The South Africanís providing convincing gun-camera footage of the MiG-21bis exploding, albeit a clean explosion without debris as if a fuel explosion. That said it should be noted that no sane pilot would remain with his aircraft after such an explosion especially when considering that Lt. Raciel Marrero Rodriguez was a Third Class Pilot with only 320 flying hours! Surely he would have ejected, wouldnít you? Also they had been flying with full burner for six minutes, did Lt. Rodriguez have sufficient fuel to make it back to Lubango? Cuban sources insist that he returned to Lubango were witnesses said that the aircraft looked like a sieve from all the projectile holes ripped into it. The remains of such a MiG were seen at Lubango during the nineties.

articles/mirage_f1/mig-21-b-is_pdc.JPG Angolan MiG-21bis. Photo: Paul Dubois.

During this period the Radar at Cahama was experiencing many difficulties and most of the MiG-21ís were scrambled to false alarms and thus the more experienced pilots tended to bully the younger pilots into doing these alerts. On this occasion it was for real. At 10h28 am SAAF aircraft had been detected between Virey and Tchibemba (The Mirage F1-CZís) and a second pair heading for Cahama. (The Canberra or Canberraís depending which version you wish to follow.) This was the Reconnaissance Canberra from 12 Squadron flown by Cmdt. Bertus Burger and navigator Maj Swanepoel tasked with a photo-reconnaissance of Cahama, together with one other? (Where two Canberraís involved?) Their escort was two Mirage F1-CZís from 3 Squadron, flown by Maj. Johan Rankin and his wingman Capt. Cobus Toerien. Maj. Rankin was flying Mirage F1-CZ '203' which was nicknamed 'Le Spectre' as it had the new air superiority blue/grey scheme, whilst the other Mirage still had the old scheme. The Mirage escort was late due to Capt Toerien having problems starting his Mirage and it is possible that this led the Angolanís to believe that the Canberra was unescorted.

At approximately 10h42 am Lt. Raciel Marrero Rodriguez, call sign 846 and Lieutenant Gilberto Ortiz Perez, call sign 324 got airborne. Lt. Barbaro Perez Duran was the GCI controller (Leon 5) and he directed them to the Cahama region. At this point the South African Dayton Radar picked them up and the controller Captain Les Lomberg instructed the Canberra to head south whilst vectoring the Mirage F1-CZís north climbing to 30 000ft. At this point two other MiG-21ís where placed on standby at Lubango. When Lt. Duran advised the MiG-21ís that the target was 10 kmís away they jettisoned their auxiliary tanks. Major Rankin picked up the two MiG-21ís 5nm away and at the same level to his right. The Mirageís then jettisoned their auxiliary tanks and went into afterburner whilst making a hard right hand turn. Lt. Perez visually located the Mirages when they released their auxiliary tanks and then the MiG-21ís also turned right with maximum turn.

As the Mirage F1ís began maneuvering the MiG-21 pilotís lost visual with the Mirage F1ís. The MiG-21 began a new turn whilst searching. At the crucial cross they flew so close that Captain Toerien could see Lt. Rodriguez helmet and in fact they almost flew into each other. At that point Lt. Rodriguez was looking downward. Two minutes after having lost sight of the Mirageís, Lt. Perez looked through his periscope and saw Maj. Rankin between 800 and 1000 metres behind him. He advised Lt. Rodriguez, did an abrupt semi reversal and leveled out. Major Rankin fired two Matra 550 missiles at Lt. Perez, one at 3000m and the other at 1500m, whilst doing in the region of Mach 1.2 at 30 000 amsl. The first being fired on the edge of the missiles parameter and this failed after the motor burnt out. The second missile was fired in the heart of the envelope, almost too close for the height and speed and exploded immediately behind Lt. Perezís MiG-21. Lt. Perez was seen to dive towards Lubango trailing smoke. He had not felt the impact to the right stabilizer and therefore did not realize that he had been hit. His MiG-21bis serial C-47 landed at Lubango without difficulty. During the combat his aircraft had pulled a maximum of 6 Gís.

At this point two more MiG-21ís were scrambled but failed to locate the Mirageís once in the area., returning once they were low on fuel. Did Cuban witnesses mistake these two for the original MiG-21ís scrambled thus believing that they had safely returned?

When Lt. Rodriguezís located the Mirageís they were directly in front of him and at the same time he noticed a very bright explosion to his left. He noticed the two Mirageís separate with one going up and the other to the left, his right, and before losing sight of them he noticed them turning to the right. At this he kept turning right at maximum speed, whilst trying to communicate with the GCI controller. When he finally got through, Lt. Duran ordered him descend to 2000 metres at 270 degreeís and to search that area. At this point Capt Toerien had caught up with Maj. Rankin. The new low viz scheme on Maj. Rankins Mirage started to pay dividends! Lt. Rodriguez was attacked by Maj. Rankin at around 500metres but he could only detected Capt Toerien's Mirage in his periscope at around 1800 metres and he thought the 30mm Cannon fire was coming from 1800metres. Lt. Rodriguez was turning hard at about 60-70 degreeís when he realized that Maj Rankin had entered his turn radius.

Due to the vertical form of his left wing, the wing became perforated and he also felt the impact from his tail being hit with a momentary increase of speed. At this point he advised Lt. Duran that he had been hit and was descending. Lt. Rodriguez claims that he still had control of the aircraft although flames were shooting from the tail and he was trailing black smoke. All hydraulics and oil pressures were normal, the only difference was a tendency for the aircraft to bank right. When about 45kmís away from Lubango he advised control that he was worried that the damage to his left wing was going to interfere with the lowering of his undercarriage. (This fitís with the radio messages picked up by South African forces and attributed to Lt. Perezís MiG-21.) Lt. Rodriguez claims to have landed safely. His aircraft having pulled a maximum of 6.7 Gís during the combat. Major Rankin had tried to fire at 350m but had pushed the trigger safety guard back by mistake.

After clearing the guard and firing he was down to 230m. The fuel started leaking from the MiG-21 and then exploded, Major Rankin flew through the fire ball, causing a compressor stall. He then cut the engine and did a hot relight before heading towards Ondangwa. Capt. Toerien had followed the MiG-21 which had turned right (Northwards) whilst rapidly descending trailing a large plume of black smoke from the left rear of the fuselage, but he turned back once Maj Rankin reported his compressor stall. At this point Capt. Toerien had lost sight of Maj. Rankin and was concerned about the other MiG-21ís which the South African radar had now picked up. Maj. Rankin then climbed past him at his right abeam position before both returned to Ondangwa on minimaís. The air combat had lasted around six minutes.

The Cuban pilots used rigid doctrine which did not allow for individual initiative, always under the control of the GCI Controller, thus no matter their experience, their tacticís always remained the same. Due to this disastrous attempt at intercepting the South Africanís, Colonel Bilardel, OC Lubango was removed from his post and demoted.

Like every year, the Bush War saw an escalation and by 1987 it was heading for conventional war status. From 1987 the Cubans deployed two MiG-23ML units to Angola forming 12th and 13th Squadrons of the FAPA-DAA, part of the 25th Air Combat Regiment. Some fifty MiG-23MLís were supplied direct from the USSR. Up until this point the Angolan Air Force had chosen to avoid the SAAF but now the Cubans goal was to challenge the SAAF air superiority over the battle fields. The main base was at Menongue which was heavily defended against air attack. It is clear that the Cubans plan was to start a war of attrition, something that due to the Arms Embargo the SAAF was never going to win. By the end of 1987 the Cubans had added another 30 MiG-23MLís
to the Angolan fleet.

The SAAF met this threat by deploying Mirage F1-CZís to Rundu AFB in the Eastern Caprivi. They also started upgrading this facility, something they should have done earlier, as events were to prove. The MiG-23ML crews preferred to use their superior speed for slash and dash type attacks on the SAAF, whilst the SAAF preferred to 'mix' it with the enemy. On the 10th September 1987 a Mirage F1-CZ fired an R.550 missile at a MiG-23ML but without results. Events took a dramatic change on the afternoon of 27th September 1988, when four Mirage F1-CZís where scrambled from Rundu to intercept a pair of MiG-23MLís flown by Maj. Alberto Ley Rivas and Lt. Juan Carlos Chavez Godoy who were providing CAP for some helicopters. Capt. Arthur Piercy in Mirage F1-CZ '206' was wingman to Cmdt. Carlo Gagiano and it was this aircraft that Maj. Rivas saw during the initial engagement. The Mirage F1-CZ was in front of him but slightly higher. Maj. Rivas fired one missile. (According to South African sources an AA-8 missile.) Capt. Piercy saw the bright flash as two missiles were fired from the frontal sector, one passing over Cmdt. Gagianoís aircraft, the other exploded alongside Capt. Piercyís Mirageís tail section, this was followed by Maj. Rivasís MiG flashing past.

A Pencil sketch by artist Geoff Pleasance depicting the attack by Maj. Alberto Ley Rivas against Capt. Arthur Piercy.
A Pencil sketch by artist Geoff Pleasance depicting the attack by
Maj. Alberto Ley Rivas against Capt. Arthur Piercy.
Angolan 'Vet', MiG-23ML '223' seen at the DAAFAR Museum, Havana. Photo: Paul Dubois.
Angolan 'Vet', MiG-23ML '223' seen at the DAAFAR Museum, Havana. Photo: Paul Dubois.
MiG-23ML '223' with star indicating a successful mission in Angola/ DAAFAR Museum, Havana. Photo: Paul Dubois.
MiG-23ML '223' with star indicating a successful mission in Angola/ DAAFAR Museum, Havana. Photo: Paul Dubois.

Capt. Piercy states that the combat lasted about 40 seconds. His aircraft plummeted earthward before he was able to recover it. He returned to Rundu AFB at extreme low level when the electric pump, right side fuel pump and hydraulic H-2 system failed. He also had no drag- chute as this had been damaged in the missile blast. The aircraft came down fast on the 2000m runway, overshot and went through a perimeter fence before the nose wheel struck a rock causing the seat to eject. The parachute had no time to open which resulted in serious injuries to Capt. Arthur Piercy. Mirage F1-CZ '206' was written off but parts were used later to rebuild Mirage F1-CZ '205' which had been damaged in a fire.

The superior speed of the MiG-23ML , with there frontal aspect air-to-air capability, coupled with the very poor performance of the South African air-to-air missiles meant that the SAAF could no longer afford to risk itís precious few Mirage F1ís in air to air combat. This severely limited their daylight operations. The Mirage F1 remained a threat to the MiG-23 and as long as the SAAF retained the numbers they would act as a deterrent, thus the SAAF needed to avoid a war of attrition.

Claims have even been made by authors such as Timothy Good about two Mirage F1-CZís dueling with UFOís near Ludoritz (Namibia) on 18 June 1977. Even though no Mirage F1-CZís had been deployed to Namibia at that stage, nor had any been lost during 1977.

During almost ten years of continuous combat, the SAAF only lost one Mirage F1-CZ to enemy action. A further three were lost in accidents and one ('214') was broken up in 1992 as part of an engine upgrade program. The aircraft lost where;

'200' w/o on 15 February 1979 after the aircraft stalled.
'206' aircraft damaged severely due enemy action.
'208' w/o on 4th November 1980 after mechanical failure, pilot ejected.

The Mirage F1-CZ was withdrawn from service on 9th September 1993 when 3 Squadron was disband, however Mirageís '205' and '209' continued to operate as part of 190 Squadron until 1993. These aircraft were used for the clearance trials of various missiles.

articles/mirage_f1/mirage_f1-cz_209_livery_pdc.JPG  articles/mirage_f1/mirage_f1-cz_209_livery_02_pdc.JPG Mirage F1-CZ '209' showing the two different schemes worn by the Mirage F1-CZ.
Photo: P. Dubois collection.

THE MIRAGE F1-AZ

The Mirage F1-AZ is probably better known in the UK for the black painted jet in the French car manufacturer commercial which was shown on TV. The Mirage F1-AZ is optimised for ground attack and was designed to meet a South African requirement. Due to the 1977 arms embargo this project was rushed before all the 'gremlins' in the ground attack suite had been resolved, this caused a few initial problems in South Africa. The first Mirage F1-AZís to arrive in South Africa, came by sea during March 1976 and were assembled at Atlas Aircraft near Johannesburg. Thirty-two Mirage F1-AZís (Serial 216-247) were delivered from November 1975 until October 1976.

All Mirage F1-AZís went to 1 Squadron at Waterkloof AFB before finding a permanent base at the ultra modern Hoedspruit AFB. The first aircraft '216' was the project aircraft and Cmdt. Piet Huyser was the South African project officer for this aircraft. He was responsible for the cockpit layout. Two 'dummy' Mirage F1-AZís were given the serials '248' and '249', these were used as decoy aircraft.

Mirage F1-AZ decoy. Photo: Paul Dubois. Mirage F1-AZ decoy.
Photo: Paul Dubois.

Whilst the local South African magazine, 'Scope' covered the Mirage F1 in their edition on 29 July 1977, it was only in 1980 that the South African public became aware of the existence of the Mirage F1-AZ and even then itís air-to-air refueling capability was kept secret. Not only was the Mirage F1-AZ a South African concept but they also funded the design and development of the roller map and nav/weapon system. The fundamental difference between the Mirage F1-CZ and AZ variants is the removal of the expensive Cyrano IV radar, being replaced with the smaller ESD AIDA 2 target ranging radar. The AIDA radar still gave secondary air-to-air capability. Of greater value to the SAAF, especially during the later years was the additional fuel capacity coupled with the retractable air-to-air refueling probe.

Picture showing the retractable refuelling probe. Photo: P. Dubois Picture showing the retractable refueling probe.
Photo: P. Dubois

The extra fuel being provided by an additional fuel tank behind the cockpit. The ground attack suite consisted of the Doppler effect ESD Navigation system, Thomson CSF laser sighting, SFIM inertial control unit, Thomson CSF 129 HUD, moving map display and two Crouzet/Thompson computers. This system enabled a target to be located from 3 miles for an automatic bomb release.

Maj. Gawie Winterbach flew the first Mirage F1-AZ acceptance flight in Mirage F1-AZ '216' on 7 October 1975 and again on the 24 March 1976 when he became the first to fly a Mirage F1-AZ in South Africa. The Mirage F1-AZ began in-flight refueling from Buccaneer aircraft on 23 August1976 and from 1986 they also used Boeing 707 tanker aircraft.

Mirage F1-AZ's refuelling from a Boeing 707 tanker. Photo: P. Dubois Mirage F1-AZ's refuelling from a Boeing 707 tanker.
Photo: P. Dubois

On the 6th July 1978 the Mirage F1-AZ carried out itís first operational sortie from MíPacha AFB and the last was flown from Grootfontein AFB on 23 March 1988.
During the last seven months of the war 683 combat sorties were flown, delivering 3068 bombs. It is estimated that over this period more than 100 SAMís had been fired at them. The SAM was the greatest threat faced by the Mirage F1-AZ, with Mirage F1-AZ ď245Ē being shot down by a SA-13 missile. Mirage F1-AZís ď237Ē and ď234Ē had a lucky escape during 1980 after being hit by SA-3 missiles. Capt. Du Plessis received the Honoris Crux for saving his valuable aircraft. To counter this ever increasingly sophisticated SAM/AAA/Radar network not only were the tacticís changed but aircraft were also upgraded. The original BF radar detector was replaced with the Radar and Infra-red Misleading System better known as RIMS. This system consisted of a junction box fitted to the rear port fuselage and a dispensing pod located under each wing on station zero.

RIMS Chaff.  Photo © D. Coombe
RIMS Chaff.  Photo © D. Coombe
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Diagram of RIMS/ Atlas Aircraft
RIMS F1 Chaff.  Photo © D. Coombe
RIMS Chaff.  Photo © D. Coombe
RIMS Chaff.  Photo © D. Coombe
RIMS Chaff.  Photo © D. Coombe
RIMS Tail Wing.  Photo © D. Coombe
RIMS on tail, known as the 'cats balls'.  Photo © D. Coombe

This was not popular with the pilots because it created a tremendous amount of drag. The under fuselage keels were replaced with larger ones which held flare/chaff dispensers inside. This system was fitted to both Mirage F1 types. Some Mirage F1-AZís carried an ELT/555 (V)3 jamming pod under the port wing. Added to this the Mirage F1-AZ crews changed tacticís to use the long toss bombing profile or Vergooi as the SAAF called it. This involved pulling up the aircraft around 4nm from the target and literally ďtossingĒ the bombs towards the target. The aircraft also received a new camouflage. Whilst various schemes were used, the final scheme was with all upper surfaces retaining the olive drab and dark earth camouflage and all under surfaces and sides being blue/grey.

articles/mirage_f1/elt_555_v-3_epdc.JPG ELT/555 (V)3 jamming pod. Photo: Electronica/ P.Dubois collection

The Mirage F1-AZ also proved to be a very useful interceptor. On the 8th July 1981, Lt. Adriano Francisco Bomba of the Mozambique AF flew his MiG-17, serial '21' from his base near Maputo and defected towards South Africa. Two Mirage F1-AZís flown by Maj. F Pretorius and Capt. H Louw were returning from a training exercise when they got diverted to Intercept the MiG-17. The MiG-17 was 40km inside South Africa when intercepted. After exchanging hand signals Lt. Bomba was forced to land at Hoedspruit AFB. After much evaluation the MiG-17 was returned by road to Mozambique.

articles/mirage_f1/mig-17_pdc.JPG Mozambican MiG-17 being tested by Cmdt Bob Mason SAAF.
Photo: P. Dubois Collection.

Then again on the 31 March 1981, two Mirage F1-AZís intercepted a Zimbabwean AF CASA 212 and forced it to land at Hoedspruit AFB after asserting that the aircraft had 'strayed' into South African airspace, it was allowed to continue to Zimbabwe.

On the 25th February 1987 three Mirage F1-AZís fired several V-3B missiles at a group of Angolan MiG-23MLís without success. This was repeated again on 25th February 1988 when South Africaís ace (Rankin) tried his luck again, this time in a Mirage F1-AZ.
He fired a missile at an Angolan MiG-23ML and even tried his 30mm canon again but this time without success. Various other unsuccessful attempts were made during the 1987-88 period. Mirage F1-AZ '220' even received the same grey/blue air superiority scheme as used by the Mirage F1-CZ.

On the 30th July 1994, four Mirage F1-AZís escorted President Mitterrandís Boeing 747 into Cape Town.

After the war, plans were made to upgrade the Mirage F1 fleet by replacing the Snecma Atar 09K50 engine with the SMR95 engine which was based on the Klimov RD-33, and the integration of the Russian R-73 air-to-air missile. Fittingly the project aircraft for this was once again Mirage F1-AZ '216'. Mirage '216' became known as 'Super Mirage F1'. Echoing events of 1973 with the Mirage M53, sadly this project came to an end when after 22 years of service the SAAF withdrew the Mirage F1-AZ from service on the 25th November 1997. Thus ending the SAAFís 35 year association with Mirage aircraft.

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South Africa's 'Super' Mirage F1
with SMR-95 engine.
Photo: P.Dubois Collection.
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Closer view of Super Mirage F1 engine. Photo: P. Dubois.
Last day of F1-AZ in service.  Photo: Paul Dubois
Last day of F1-AZ in service. Photo: Paul Dubois.

Another project involved fitting an advanced avionics suite to Mirage F1-AZ '235', this system was introduced to the Spanish AF Mirage F1ís. Mirage '235' was given the unique white and arctic blue scheme, earning it the nickname as the worlds fastest dairy cart.

After 22 years of service, only eight Mirage F1-AZís were lost, one due to enemy action.

Those lost were:-

'221' w/o 5th February 1992 after a bird strike, pilot ejected.
'222' w/o 4th April 1985, pilot ejected.
'223' w/o 19th March 1988, aircraft flew into the ground when returning from Angola.
'224' w/o 9th June 1993 after aircraft ingestion of shrapnel during bombing exercise, pilot ejected.
'228' w/o 13th February 1984, pilot got disoriented in bad weather and ejected.
'234' w/o 23rd November 1993 when aircraft flew into the sea during a low level maritime strike exercise.
'234' Pilot ejected but lost at sea.
'245' Shot down by SA-13 missile, pilot was killed.
'246' w/o 15th February 1979 after engine failure, pilot ejected. This was the first Mirage F1 lost by the SAAF.

Mirage F1-AZ '245' shot down by a SA-13 missile. Photo: P.Dubois Collection.
Mirage F1-AZ '245' shot down by a SA-13 missile. Photo: P.Dubois Collection.
 

Of the 24 remaining aircraft, 22 were offered for sale in 1997 and in 2002 Aerosud purchased them with the intention of returning 18 of them to service. So far they have sold eight aircraft to the Gabonese Air Force.
Those known to have been delivered are:-

'239' which went to Gabon in August 2006 as TR-KML with about 1450 airframe hours.
'241' which went to Gabon in August 2006 as TR-KMM with about 1544 airframe hours.
'236' which went to Gabon in November 2007 as TR-KMN with about 1406 airframe hours.
'244' which went to Gabon in November 2007 as TR-KMO with about 1591 airframe hours.
This aircraft was one of the last  two aircraft to receive a service at Atlas Aircraft just months before retirement.

Gabon Mirage F1-AZ ex '239'. Photo: Cobus Coetzee.
Gabon Mirage F1-AZ ex '239'. Photo: Cobus Coetzee.
Gabon Mirage F1-AZ ex '241'. Photo: Cobus Coetzee.
Gabon Mirage F1-AZ ex '241'. Photo: Cobus Coetzee.

GENERAL PHOTOS

The pitiful 'Angolan War' display at the DAAFAR Museum in Havana. Photo: Paul Dubois
The pitiful 'Angolan War' display
at the DAAFAR Museum in Havana.
Photo: P. Dubois.
Mirage F1-AZ '227' Photo: Paul Dubois.
Mirage F1-AZ '227'. Photo: P. Dubois.
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Mirage F1-CZ '212'. Photo P. Dubois Collection
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Mirage F1-AZ's taxi back for the last time, on 25 November 1997, end of an era. Photo: P. Dubois
   

By Paul Dubois

With thanks to: Luc Berger, Des Barker, Cobus Toerien, Johan Rankin, Rubťn Urribarres, SAAF, TFDC, DAAFAR Museum, Dassault Aviation and the many other people who assisted me with this article.

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