After mastering the Lightning and Tornado, the RAF’s Ian Black volunteered to fly France’s hottest fighter, the superb Mirage 2000. Black explains what is was like to fly the ultimate Mirage, and how it fared in dogfights against the most formidable fighters of the 1980s.
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How did you end up flying Mirage 2000s?
“I’d flown Air Defence for around 12 years and converted from back to front seat. I’d reached a point in my career where I had to expand my horizons. I could go down the staff Officer route, apply to the Red Arrows, Test Pilot School or try for an exchange posting. I opted for the exchange option as i wanted to fly an aircraft the RAF didn’t have as well as the opportunity to learn a foreign language appealed. At the time the RAF had exchange postings for Air Defence pilots on the F-15C/ F-16/ F-18 F-4F and Mirage 2000 – I wanted the French Exchange because it was based in Provence and the Mirage is a unique airframe.”
“I flew the Mirage 2000C – RDI – at the time the FAF had the Mirage 2000C RDM ( pulse radar ) and the RDI Pulse doppler radar. They also operated the Mirage 2000D and 2000N – Eventually a Tornado GR1 pilot flew the Mirage 2000D, but the N’s Nuclear role meant no foreign pilots were allowed to operate it.”
“I managed to put a Mirage 2000 into the vertical whilst being chased and held the manoeuvre a few seconds too long – when I looked into my HUD I was in the pure vertical at 60 knots and decelerating”
What were your first impressions of the cockpit?
“Slightly disappointing at first – I’d come from the Tornado F3 which was painted grey – then blacked out for NVG work – and was very spacious and well laid out. The Mirage 2000 is more like a fighter from the 70s with a lot of analogue displays. The rear view was not as good as an F-16 and it was pretty cramped. On the plus side it was not overly complex.”
Is it easy to fly?
“Yes and no. It’s easy to fly once you get the hang of it but the delta wing takes a unique approach to flying – it’s not like a conventional wing. It generates huge amounts of lift but also an enormous amount of drag – great for a ‘Bat Turn’ but you always end low on energy afterwards. Landing is pretty straightforward. The view is good. Air-to-air refuelling is easy. It has very well balanced controls and gives you great seat of the pants type senses – I’d almost say it was the perfect blend of old and new – great feedback to the pilot using its early fly-by-wire controls without feeling like a computer game.”
What is the hardest thing about flying the Mirage 2000- any quirks?
“As mentioned, the delta wing could catch you out, it would give you 9G+ performance but at a penalty; flying in the circuit could be a challenge, turning finals required quite a lot of pulling on the stick -which loaded the wing up as the drag built. Once you rolled wings level it was imperative to take the power off or you would accelerate quickly.”
How does the acceleration and climb compare to a Lightning?
“The Lightning had two massive Rolls Royce Avon engines – the Mirage 2000 had one – but it was still pretty potent.”
Did you fly dissimilar air combat training (DACT) flights on the Mirage 2000? If so, against which types and what did you learn from each type?
“An interesting question – I must have flown against the F-14, F-15, F-16, F-18, Tornado F3, F-8 Crusader and the F-104 Starfighter in combat. The older generation didn’t stand a chance, but the F-16 block 50 was very good. One of the drawbacks of the Mirage 2000 being unique was that as we did a lot of 1vs 1 and 2vs 2 Mirage vs Mirage combat – you developed tactics and handling skills to fight Mirage vs Mirage. This actually was counter productive as these tactics -and the way you handled the aircraft – didn’t cross over to fighting other types. I got beaten by an F-16 by fighting him like a Mirage and learnt a painful lesson.”
“DACT was interesting in the M2000 – if your opponent was new to fighting a delta it could make his eyes water! At the merge the initial 9G+ turn was eye-watering, despite having a single engine it could still reach heights other fighters like the F-16 couldn’t. It also possessed, in my opinion, a far more sophisticated fly-by-wire system – it was in effect limitless. I managed to put a Mirage 2000 into the vertical whilst being chased and held the manoeuvre a few seconds too long – when I looked into my HUD I was in the pure vertical at 60 knots and decelerating ! As we hit Zero the aircraft began to slide backwards and the ‘burner blew out. My heart-rate increased. As the aircraft went beyond its design envelope, the nose simply flopped over pointing earthwards – with a few small turns the airspeed picked up. As I hit 200 knots I simply flew the aircraft back to straight and level. I admit that my opponent did shoot me down, but he did say it looked spectacular. This sort of carefree handling gave pilots huge confidence in the aircraft”
What was the most challenging fighter you faced while flying the Mirage?
“Probably the F-15C as AMRAAM was just coming into service which totally outclassed us – They had amazing SA and the way they operated was impressive.”
How would you rate the M2000 in the following:
Instantaneous turn rates (at low/medium and high altitudes)
“Stunning – at all altitudes – with its big wing even at 50,000 feet using the leading edge slats it could still turn well.”
Sustained turn rates (at low/medium and high altitudes)
“Sustained turn was still good, especially at low level where you had sufficient energy to maintain speed.”
“The Mirage 2000 was legendary at its low speed high Alpha Passes -120 knots was pretty easy to fly.”
“As a weapons system the Mirage 2000 is a great ‘package’ with a good radar , onboard electronic countermeasures and radar warning receiver. It also packs a good array of weapons – with air-to-air refuelling its a formidable fighter. “
Which three words best describe the M2000?
“Vive La France ! It’s Sexy. It’s French – Dassault make fine aircraft and apart from the ejector seat it pretty much is 100%. Future-Proofed – The M2000 first flew in 1978 and it’s still in service in 2016 – despite its sleek frame it’s built like a tank and can pull 9G all day long.”
How would you compare the aircraft to an F-16?
“I’d say the F-16 has the edge – whilst the M2000 evolved from the RDM – RDi to RDY versions they were pretty small upgrades in terms of airframe performance – The latest Block F16s are a world apart from the original F-16As. Part of the Mirage 2000’s problem was the arrival of Rafale, which pretty much stopped any further development.”
How does it compare to the other aircraft you have flown?
“The Mirage 2000 is a fourth generation fighter – and extremely capable in both air-to-air and air-to-ground roles – as well as being highly manoeuvrable even when loaded up. The Tornado was extremely competent at the role of interceptor, but lacked the agility of Dassault’s masterpiece.”
What was your most notable flight on the Mirage 2000?
“When you fly a Mach 2.0+ 9 G fighter trust me they are pretty notable. A few stick out: night missions with air-to-air refuelling over Bosnia or live missions protecting High Value assets over Iraq were pretty noteworthy. Flying in another Air Forces aircraft is a real honour – the trust they have on you is humbling. “
Ian flew the Mirage from 1993-97. Even after flying the mighty Lightning, the Mirage 2000 remains Ian’s favourite aeroplane.
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