F-84F inflight F-84F inflight - © Copyright
RF-84F in flight RF-84F in flight - © Copyright

During the mid-sixties, transition from the F-84F Thunderstreak and CF-100 Canuck on the F-104G Starfighter was completed in the 1st Wing at Beauvechain and the 10th Wing in Kleine Brogel respectively. Missions for both units remained unchanged: all-weather fighting for the former, strike and attack for the latter, totalling 72 aircraft. The remaining 68 F-84F Thunderstreak and RF-84F Thunderflash from the two other remaining operational units, 2nd Wing in Florennes in its fighter-bomber role and 3d Wing in Bierset for aerial reconnaissance, progressively reached their end-of-life. The United States also declared that USAF-support would be terminated by the end of 1968. Because of all this, the Belgian Air Force Staff started a replacement study for these aircraft.

Replacement study

During those days, the VTOL concept (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) was being examined in England but also jointly in the BRD-Italy and in France to name just these countries. Shape —Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe—encouraged different NATO countries to invest into this very promising technology but eventual final versions were far from becoming reality and proved too costly with regard to Belgian Defence budgets. In general, the required operational capabilities were as follows:

Saab 'Draken' Saab 'Draken' - © Copyright
North American F-100 Super Saber 'Spey' North American F-100 Super Saber 'Spey' - © Copyright
Fiat G-91 Fiat G-91 - © Copyright
Fiat G-91 Y Fiat G-91 Y - © Copyright
Jaguar 'Sepecat' Jaguar 'Sepecat' - © Copyright
LTV A-7 Corsair II LTV A-7 Corsair II - © Copyright

For whatever reason (economical, political, operational or simply for projects still running), the doubt of their real capacities to complete the missions tasked by our country and NATO, several candidates are rejected and eventually only two aircraft remain: the F-5 and the A-4.

Northrop F-5 'Freedom fighter' Northrop F-5 'Freedom fighter' - © Copyright
Douglas Skyhawk A-4 E Douglas Skyhawk A-4 E - © Copyright

Overall, it quickly appears that the A-4 better suits the BAF needs than the F-5 proposed at that time, i.e. the Skyhawk carries almost twice the weapon load of the F-5. For homogeneity reasons and Norway, Greece, Turkey and lately The Netherlands having opted for the F-5 constitutes a bonus but there’s also an economical aspect such as the possible returns.

The costly implementation of the A-4 will be the reason for it not being witheld. Also, the unilateral decision by The Netherlands —now becoming impatient due to Belgium’s hesitations– for the NF-5 built by Canadair and based on the CF-5, plus the fact that FOKKER was uncapable at that time to implement any military aircraft program, will make economical returns smaller than what Belgium could expect.

Even while the Mirage III E as from the beginning of the examination is deemed too expensive, the Dassault Mirage 5 will be the final choice for a successor of the F and RF-84F. 106 aircraft, of which 63 single seaters fighter-bomber, 27 single seaters reconnaissance and 16 twoseaters for conversion and training will be ordered. Economical returns for our aeronautical companies will be considerable.

Mirage 5 BR06 on Sabca apron Mirage 5 BR06 on Sabca apron - © Copyright
Mirage 5 BA01 on Sabca apron Mirage 5 BA01 on Sabca apron - © Copyright
Mirage 5 BA01 with three fuel tanks Mirage 5 BA01 with three fuel tanks - © Copyright
Mirage 5 BD01 clean taxiing Mirage 5 BD01 clean taxiing - © Copyright
 Mystère Delta - © Copyright

Short history of the Mirage

In the mid-fifties, the Staff of the French Armée de l’Air issues a request to several companies for a light, all-weather, supersonic and low-cost interceptor. Marcel Dassault starts the Mystère Delta project: a light monoplane with a delta wing and powered by two turbojets with reheat and an additional rocket motor. After some promising test flights during which the aircraft exceeds mach 0.95 in a dive, yaw problems start appearing.

All improvements made lead to a second prototype, re-named MD-550 01 Mirage I (On devait pouvoir le voir, mais jamais le rattraper -Marcell Dassault-) (You might see it but never attain it -Marcel Dassault-). This aircraft reaches mach 1.3 in level flight and somewhat later mach 1.6, supported by its rocket engine. While a second prototype is under construction, the program is halted because of changes issued by NATO as well as by the Armée de l’Air. Based upon these modified requirements Dassault starts the concept of a new prototype named MD-550 03, 30% larger than the first prototype and a redesigned fuselage incorporating the recently rediscovered area ruling in the USA and equipped with a new engine ATAR 101G-1. The first flight dates from November 1956. During the flight testing the aircraft exceeds mach 1.52 and later mach 1.8 boosted by its rocket motor. The air intakes prove to be the limiting factor for higher speeds because of the shock wave induced by that speed. Adding moveable inlet cones solves the problem.

Mystère Delta Mystère Delta - © Copyright
MD-550 01 Mirage I MD-550 01 Mirage I - © Copyright
MD-550 Mirage III MD-550 Mirage III - © Copyright
 Mirage III A clean - © Copyright

In 1957, a first order for 10 pre-production aircraft is issued. Named Mirage III A, the aircraft is larger by 1,40m: span is increased by 64 cm and the leading edges are now curved.

The engine built for the two-seat version (Mirage III B – October 1959) and the single seat (Mirage III C - October 1960) is the ATAR 9B, delivering 6.000 kg of thrust with re-heat and having a tail pipe with two mobile ‘scallops’ and a variable outlet.

Mirage III B in flight Mirage III B in flight - © Copyright
ATAR 09B ATAR 09B - © Copyright
Mirage III C on final Mirage III C on final - © Copyright
 Mirage III E - © Copyright

The Mirage III E makes its maiden flight in April 1961. It is built for ground attack and tactical support but also for interception.

The III E is a direct descendant from the Mirage III C and equipped with a radar Cyrano 2 —high and low level altitude intercept capacity, navigation at low altitude and pre-instalments for terrain following—, the fuselage is lenghtened by 30 cm and powered by the new ATAR 9C — 6.000 kg of thrust with re-heat— and an outlet composed of 18 regulation vanes, an overspeed kicking in automatically at mach 1.4 and a turbo motor for autonomous start up. Maximum speed is mach 2.2.

 Mirage 5 BR on final - © Copyright

The Mirage III R makes its first flight in October 1961, followed in the mid-sixties by the Mirage III RD, an improved version of the Mirage III R with a navigation radar

 Mirage 5 BA with her armament - © Copyright

On request of Israel wanting an aircraft dedicated for ground attack, Dassault develops the Mirage 5, based on the Mirage III E. Without its Cyrano radar and other equipment for interception and with a lenghtened nose, the Mirage 5 has a fuel capacity increased by +-/ 30%, plus ground-to-air armament attachment points.

As Dassault offers an aircraft to Belgium existing in both a fighter-bomber configuration and a reconnaissance version, this clearly constitutes a bonus. Also, the two-seater can fulfill the same missions as the ground attack aircraft. The Mirage 5 makes its maiden flight in May 1967.

 BR, BA and BD in formation - © Copyright

The Belgian version will have even less electronics; only the doppler radar, the radio altimeter and, in the single seaters only, an American navigation system having insufficient precision during the life-time of the Belgian Mirages 5. BD01, the first of the 106 airplanes ordered, lands in Florennes on June 29, 1970. The aircraft has two internal DEFA 552 30 mm cannons, each with 125 rounds. It can carry two bombs of any type on central or outboard attachment points: two rocket 70 mm multi purpose rockets, or two air-air Sidewinder missiles, or a single rocket launcher and a Sidewinder. Many modifications will be applied afterwards such as a lateral firing correction, an internal electronic counter-measures system (Rapport II) and a Martin Baker Mk.10 (0-0) ejection seat.

Formation of 4 Mirages 5 Florennes Formation of 4 Mirages 5 Florennes - © Copyright
Formation of 4 Mirages 5 Lüdenscheid Formation of 4 Mirages 5 Lüdenscheid - © Copyright
Mirage 5 BA during AIr-air training Mirage 5 BA during AIr-air training - © Copyright
Mirages 5 line Bierset Mirages 5 line Bierset - © Copyright
Mirage 5 BA on landing in Brustem Air Base Mirage 5 BA on landing in Brustem Air Base - © Copyright
Mirage 5 BA on take-off Mirage 5 BA on take-off - © Copyright
 Mirsip dashboard - © Copyright

The MIRSIP program

By the end of the eighties, MIRSIP (Mirage Safety Improvement Program) was initiated, basically consisting of : integration of modern avionics, a head-up and look-down display, an integrated navigation system, a comprehensive flight management system, single point refuelling, fixed canard wings, a modernised stick and an anti collision light. The project was the result of a lengthy study and development.

Geopolitical events after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 resulted in severe cuts in military budgets. Fighter squadrons in Belgium were reduced to six; the Mirage 5 definitely left the Belgian military inventory in December 1993, without a replacement. The MIRSIP program however, found a ‘happy end’ in 1994 when Chile showed interest in the aircrfat and bought 20 modernised copies – ELKAN- and 5 unmodified Mirage.

Mirsip BA 60 in flight Mirsip BA 60 in flight - © Copyright
Elkan Elkan - © Copyright
End of the Belgian Mirage 5 era End of the Belgian Mirage 5 era - © Copyright
Delta Meet 2000 in Florennes Delta Meet 2000 in Florennes - © Copyright
 BMW 003 engine - © Copyright

The ATAR 09C5 engine

Rickenbach is a small town near the Lake Constance and situated on French territory after the German capitulation, where the Dornier company factories are located. They will be taken over by the French government and re-named ‘Atelier Technique Aéronautique de Rickenbach’ (ATAR).

During the war, Hermann Öestrich is the engineer in charge of developping the BMW 003 engine in the BMW factory situated near Magdeburg. After the conflict and some back-and-forth going between England and Germany, it seems he has been exfiltrated by the French to start working in Rickenbach. He is rapidly rejoined by other German engineers working for BMW or other aeronautical companies.

 Snecma ATAR 101 B thrust +/- 2400kg - © Copyright

In 1946, the complete team is repatriated to a small and discrete French village — Decize— and works as from now in developping the ATAR 101 engine for SNECMA.

Dr Oestrich and his german engineers team Dr Oestrich and his german engineers team - © Copyright
ATAR  101 thrust 2.400 kg ATAR 101 thrust 2.400 kg - © Copyright
 ATAR 09C5 schematic - © Copyright

The ATAR 09C5 (1961) powering the Mirage III E and the Mirage 5 is a single flow, axial jet engine with a nine-stage compressor, an annular combustion chamber and a two-stage turbine delivering 4.300 kg dry thrust or 6.000 kg with reheat. It is built by SNECMA —Société Nationale d’Étude et de Construction de Moteurs d’Aviation— and is derived from the German BMW 003 engine.

 ATAR 09C5 thrust 6.0000 kg with reheat - © Copyright

The latter offered 795 kg thrust and powered the Heinkel He 162 by the war’s end but also the last versions of the Arado Ar 234. It was the base for studying and developping the ATAR 101 (1948 – 1630 kg of thrust) in several versions ending with versions 08 (without re-heat) and 09 (with re-heat).