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The most successful European fighter plane of modern times was the French-designed and built Dassault Mirage III. The prototype of the sleek, delta-wing, single-seat fighter first flew in November of 1956. Just two years later on October 24,1958 in level flight at 41,000 feet a Mirage III exceeded Mach 2, or twice the speed of sound.
As supplied to the French Armee de l'Air and to France's allies, the Mirage is one of the most sophisticated aircraft in the world. Not only was it a first class interceptor, but it was also fully capable of operating from small airfields and serving as a ground-support weapon. It was equipped with computer-controlled navigational instruments that gave the pilot a continuous reading showing his position in relation to his target. The aircraft could carry a wide variety of armament, depending on its mission. For ground strikes it was usually armed with two 30-mm cannons and two 1,000 pound bombs, and in addition it could carry an air-to-surface missile. As an all-weather, high-altitude interceptor, it was armed with both the MATRA and the Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and carried 125 rounds of ammunition for its cannons. A later version of the Mirage III had been specially modified to carry atomic weapons. Still other versions have been simplified-stripped of advanced electronics and rocket engines-for sale to developing nations.
The Dassault Mirage III was powered by a SNECMA Atar turbojet engine with afterburner that developed more than 13,600 pounds of static thrust, plus an optional single-chamber rocket motor that provided an additional 3,300 pounds of thrust. The Mirage was thus an extremely fast airplane, easily capable of exceeding the speed of sound at low altitude and able to climb to more than 36,000 feet in just three minutes. Its normal combat radius when fully armed varied from 300 to 470 miles, depending on the type of mission being flown. However, its range could be extended to 1,500 miles with auxiliary fuel tanks.
The Mirage III has been built under license in both Switzerland and Australia and has been adopted as standard equipment by the armed forces of a number of countries, including Israel, Libya, Lebanon, Switzerland, Brazil, Spain, South Africa, Peru and Pakistan.
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"The Great Airplanes Sterling Silver Miniature Collection", published by The Franklin Mint, 1979.
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