Mirage IIIO in Australian Service

By the mid-1950s the RAAF started to consider a replacement for the Australian produced CAC Sabre. A joint evaluation team from the Departments of Air and Supply toured Europe and North America in 1960 to consider Australia’s options.

At the top of the list was the American Lockheed F-104 Starfighter and the French Dassault Mirage III.  In March 1961, following an intensive sales effort by the French, the Mirage was chosen as the first supersonic fighter for Australia. An order for thirty was placed, with subsequent orders seeing the number increase to 100 Mirage IIIO fighter-bombers and sixteen Mirage IIID two-seat operational trainers.

When Australia made the order, there was an engine choice between the French SNECMA Atar 9C or the Rolls-Royce Avon turbojets, (the latter already in RAAF service powering both the Sabre and the Canberra, but not with afterburner).

Rolls-Royce worked with Dassault to offer the Avon Mirage for the RAAF, and the fourth production Mirage IIIC was subsequently fitted with an afterburning Avon G7 turbojet. This variant was identified as a Mirage IIIO, and first flew on 13 February 1961.

Dassault proposed the designation of ‘IIIO’ for ‘Ostralia’ (with an ‘O’ rather than an ‘A’, as the suffix letter ‘A’ had already been allocated to other pre-production Mirage airframes).

Despite delivering superior performance, the Avon-powered variant was too expensive, and Dassault converted the Avon version to one with an Atar 9C engine, of which the rest of the Australian Mirages would be based.

The first of these aircraft (A3-1) was built in France and flew at Bordeaux on 14 March 1963. It was then handed over to the RAAF at Villaroche, near Paris, on 9 April.

Two further aircraft were shipped to Australia with assembly completed by the Government Aircraft Factories, the Australian prime contractor. French production would be reduced, with increasing amount of Australian construction and assembly by GAF and the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC), with the 16th airframe onward regarded as Australian-built.

This is a Royal Australian Air Force(RAAF)Squadron75 Mirage III-D taxis on the flight line. ID: DFST9000846 Service Depicted: Air Force A Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) No. 75 Squadron Mirage IIID aircraft taxis on the flight line while another Mirage is serviced. The jets are taking part in PITCH BLACK ’88, a joint AUSTRALIA-US Exercise emphasizing night flying. Camera Operator: SSGT MARVIN D. LYNCHARD Date Shot: 7 Jul 1988

No 75 Squadron became the first operational unit to be equipped with Mirages in 1965, followed by No 76 Squadron in 1966.

In 1967, No 75 Squadron deployed to Malaysia to replace No 3 Squadron, which then became the first unit to equip with the ground-attack version of the Mirage under Wing Commander Jake Newham. When No 3 Squadron returned to Butterworth in 1969, No 77 Squadron re-equipped and became the fourth RAAF Mirage squadron.

Australia’s 101th Mirage, the IIID was a two-seater, and first flew on 6 October 1966. A further nine trainers followed over the next year. This version replaced the nose radar with avionics to allow room for a second cockpit behind the first. These trainers were assembled by GAF from imported French-built fuselages and CAC-built wings and vertical tail surfaces. Six more of these trainers were ordered, enabling the retirement of the Sabre from operational fighter training by 1974.

With Defense cuts under the Whitlam Government, No. 76 Squadron was disbanded in August 1973. The remaining three squadrons continued operating the Mirage from Williamtown and Butterworth.

Several Mirage aerobatic teams were also formed during its service with No 77 Squadron – the Deltas in 1971, and the Miracles in 1976, and for the RAAF’s Diamond Jubilee in 1981, a three-aircraft team of red, white, and blue aircraft.

The Mirage in Australian service never fired its weapons in anger. Its period of service was characterized by the continued presence of (usually) two Mirage squadrons at Butterworth as part of Australia’s contribution to the Five Power Defense Arrangements.

Given a nominal fatigue life of 3000 flying hours per airframe the Australian Mirage was to be retired by 1979. However, RAAF operations took a greater toll on fatigue life than expected due to higher use than other air forces and intensity of low-level air-to-ground operations. Australia’s Aeronautical Research Laboratories (ARL) designed boron fibre repair patches to prevent wing cracks from spreading and extended wing life by re-skinning or replacing wings during the late 1970s. This was a time when the fleet was also being upgraded with improved avionics, ejection seats and air-to-air missile systems. Some Australian Mirages flew over 4000 hours.

No 77 Squadron finally relinquished their Mirages for Hornets in November 1987. No 79 Squadron operated the Mirage until disbanding in April 1988, leaving No 75 Squadron at Darwin and the Aircraft Research and Development Unit (ARDU) at Edinburgh as the remaining operators. In early September 1988, No. 75 Squadron flew a formation of Mirages over the east coast state capitals as a farewell gesture before the aircraft ceased squadron operations on 30 September.

No. 77 Squadron Mirage III taking off on a mission during the joint Australian, New Zealand and US (ANZUS) Exercise TRIAD ’84. September 1984

In 1990, Pakistan purchased fifty RAAF Mirages comprising 42 single-seaters and eight two-seaters, and five incomplete airframes. Of these, forty-five were taken into operational service with the Pakistan Air Force, and about two-thirds of them were upgraded to ROSE 1 (Retrofit of Strike Element) configuration by 1998.

The Mirage saw longer service in RAAF frontline than any other fighter before the F/A-18 Hornet. While over forty were lost in flying accidents, those who flew it held the type in high regard and is still remembered today as a remarkable aircraft.