The Long Goodbye


The end of the Dassault Mirage F1 is nigh, but fortunately the French Air Force doesn’t believe in quick farewells.
The distinctive single-engine fighter was an export success for Dassault Aviation, the company’s engineers and designers breaking away from their traditional delta wing design in order to deliver a low-cost Mach 2 capable fighter with low landing speeds and the ability to use rudimentary runways, something simply not possible in the Mirage IIIs in service at the time.
Since the maiden flight of the first prototype back in 1966, more than 700 Mirage F1s have been produced with more than 470 exported across the world to Africa, the Middle East and Latin America as well as in Europe. Today however, the Mirage F1 is a dying breed. Budget cuts in Spain forced the air force there to retire the type earlier than planned in June last year leaving just France, Morocco, Libya and Iran as the last bastions of the aircraft.

On April 10, the French Air Force allowed a few hundred Mirage F1 fans onto hallowed ground at Mont-de-Marsan AB, Aquitaine -- the last French Mirage F1 base -- to see the remaining handful in service with the ER2/33 “Savoie” squadron taking part in Recce Meet 2014.

The exercise, run from April 7-11, tests the tactical reconnaissance skills of French and other European countries, and dates back to the late 1950s. But the 2014 edition represents the last in which the Mirage F1 will take part.

The French Air Force has around 20 active Mirage F1s left, made up of four F-1B two-seaters and around 16 Mirage F1CRs equipped to carry the Thales ASTAC reconnaissance pod, as well as being fitted with cameras in the nose.

The type isn’t going quietly. Last year it was deployed to support the Baltic Air Policing mission in Lithuania and was also involved during Operation Serval, the French-led operation against extremists in Mali.

But time is now running out, with the squadron planning their final farewells during an airshow at Mont-de-Marsan in June followed by the appearance of four Mirage F1s in the Bastille Day flypast over Paris on July 14. Its understood that the last few active aircraft will be retired shortly after, a fine way of celebrating one of France’s most successful fighters.

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