In 1963, the French Air Force requested an aircraft capable of low-level penetration and air defense, with a greater range than the Mirage III, while still having ADAC capabilities. After the Mirage G and F2, Dassault began work on a smaller version of the latter: the Mirage F1. He then returned to the swept wing, the only one capable of integrating high lift flaps. These flaps would allow a speed range of 125 knots to Mach 2.
Four prototypes were built and the first of them made its maiden flight on December 23, 1966 in the hands of René Bigand. It crossed Mach 2 on its fourth flight. Unfortunately, he was killed on board this prototype on May 18, 1967 and was replaced by Jean-Marie Saget. The first production aircraft flew in 1973 in the hands of Guy Mitaud-Maurouard. The aircraft entered service in 1974 with the Normandy-Niemen Regiment. The 30th, 5th and 12th fighter wings were equipped with Mirage F1s. Initially armed with the R-530 medium-range missile, the Mirage F1 was later equipped with two more powerful R-530F missiles and R-550 Magic short-range missiles.
The Mirage F1C is the main fighter version, with a redesigned nose to house the Cyrano IV radar. After the 84th model, another version, which could be refueled in flight, appeared: the F1C-200, 7 cm longer. Total production reached 168 units for the French Air Force alone. The Mirage F1B is the two-seater version, originally designed at the request of Kuwait. It began flying on May 26, 1976 and entered service in 1980. A few of the 20 Mirage F1Bs built for France are still in service.
The Mirage F1A is a version optimized for ground attack, built at the request of South Africa. South Africa also tried to re-engine a Mirage F1 with a Russian RD-33 engine, the same as the MiG-29, without much success.
Since the Mirage F1 was a great success on the export market, a specific version, the Mirage F1E, was developed with customer-specific variants. In 1973, another Mirage F1E appeared, powered by a Snecma M-53, to compete with the F-16 in Europe. But it was not successful.
The Mirage F1CR is a reconnaissance version intended to replace the Mirage IIIR, and flies from November 20th 1981. It entered service in 1983, and is equipped with Omera 33 and 40 cameras. Its right-hand cannon was replaced by an infrared sensor. In all, 43 examples were built. There is a variant which was proposed without success for export, the F1R. In France, it was with the F-1B the last variant in service, and was retired in June 2014. French Mirage F1s made their last public appearance at the July 14, 2014 air show.
The Mirage F1CT was the last variant of the Mirage F1. 55 Mirage F1C-200s upgraded and optimized for ground attack replaced the Mirage IIIE. Their left cannon is replaced by two cameras, in addition to their laser rangefinders. They entered service on 6 November 1992, and were finally retired in 2012.
The Mirage F1 entered service in more than 10 countries, and participated in several conflicts. Within the air force, it is very present in Africa where it replaced the Jaguar, notably in Chad. It was also used in Libya in 2011 and in Mali in 2013. Still in Africa, South Africa used it during the conflict with Angola, where it successfully confronted the MiG-21 (2 aircraft shot down) but with more difficulties with the MiG-23. As for the Libyan Mirage, 36 examples were delivered between 1975 and 1980. A contract to restore the last 12 aircraft to flight condition was signed at the end of 2006. Only 4 were recovered before the 2011 revolution: 2 F1EDs that landed in Malta on 21 February 2011 and 2 two-seaters.
Iraq was supposed to receive 110 Mirage F1EQs and 18 Mirage F1BQs, but 17 Mirage F1EQs and 3 Mirage F1BQs were blocked in France, both because of a default in payment and because of the embargo that followed the invasion of Kuwait. Iraq used it successfully against Iran, with less success during the Gulf War, to the point that 24 of them fled to Iran where they are used again. NATO only used the French aircraft escorted, and far from the front line, for fear of confusion. At the beginning of 2011, France offered to sell the 20 remaining aircraft to Iraq, restored to flying condition.
In South America, Ecuadorian Mirages shot down two Peruvian Su-22s during the Cenepa conflict in 1995. They were particularly appreciated by the mechanics. Finally, Morocco used them against the Polisario Front in the 1980s and in 2006 asked the ASTRAC company to upgrade them, with the possibility of firing MICA missiles. 27 examples are concerned. Spain first received 73 examples, then 24 second-hand examples (French and Qatari) in the early 1990s. It upgraded its Mirage F1s to the F-1M standard at the end of the 1990s. They will soon be withdrawn from service.
731 Mirage F1s were built until 1990. It remains in service in several countries, and is still of interest to some air forces. Among them, Argentina, Iraq, and… the United States, who would make an excellent aircraft for their aggressor units. More recently, ex-South African Mirage F1AZs have been integrated into the air forces of Gabon and Congo.
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