Mirage pilot, Part 1: Mirage versus Phantom

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Now a crack aerobatic pilot, Gonzalo O’Kelly was once one of the best fighter pilots in the Spanish air force. During his time in the Ejército del Aire he flew the Mirage III, a formidable and beautiful fighter of French origin. In the first of our five part Mirage special he recounts dogfights training against the massive F-4 Phantom II. 

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“Let’s start with the big and comfortable Phantom F-4C. I did a lot of dissimilar training with them, usually two-on-two. It had a couple of characteristics in common with the Mirage III: if you meet one with an experienced pilot driving, it was a very hard adversary- and it needed a lot of finesse with the controls at low speed. They had to turn by using their feet whenever they had their nose very high! We preferred high altitude to have room enough to manoeuvre while they always wanted to take us down below 20,000 feet.

Their main advantage lay in the systems. The Phantom had a powerful radar, four eyes looking around, long range missiles two fantastic engines, but no guns, so they always tried not to get closer than 1.5 or 2 miles from us. We denied them that possibility because is easier to close than to fly apart if you have an aircraft which accelerates like hell as soon as you put down your nose. Avoiding a Sidewinder is not so difficult if you are near the firing aircraft, and with speed to brake.

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It was very easy to spot Phantoms from  6 or 7 miles because that huge black smoke trail that their engines left behind (except in afterburner) and because it was a big bird. We always had a lot of fun in dissimilars with the Spanish Phantoms,  the post briefings were real hard battles, and everyone learned a lot about dogfighting, mutual support and extracting the best from our Mirages.

Scissoring with a Phantom was something you remember forever. Only two crosses were allowed.. but what exciting crosses! Sometimes the first engagement ended before beginning — if both pairs crossed, we pulled hard up and they dived down so both lost visual contact of each other.

It was so much fun with the USAF Phantoms. The last mission I flew before leaving 11th Wing was a week long detachment in Torrejón AB to train our American fellows in tactics against the Mirage III.

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They flew the F-4D, a bit better than C, but still no guns. To begin with, their briefings were 2 hours long! Rules of Engagement took 45 minutes.

I remember after finishing the first one, the Major leading the flight asked me, “How long you need from you arrive in the aircraft and be ready to start engines?” I said five minutes. He raised his eyebrows and said “Five minutes? We need 30 minutes at least”. My God! 

As we were there to do what they needed from us, we flew as required two manoeuvres and then knocked it off, and repeat and repeat. After two days we were able to have some fun and they got a couple of surprises, and hopefully some lessons.” 

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4 comments

  1. foronaval

    Both the F-4C and D with un slatted wings were very tricky to fly up and close, specially at low speed/high AoA; the Spanish AF lost several Phantoms due to uncontrollable departures at low altitudes. Even an aircraft with relatively low power like the Mirage IIIEE could exploit these disadvantages and pound the Phantom in close combat if not flown by experienced crews

  2. Irfan Masum

    Mirage was never built for dog fight. The delta wing made slow speed manoevouring very difficult and scissoring with a non delta wing opponent almost impossible without loosing out. On the other hand the delta wing made it possible to quickly runaway from a loosing situation. You dive the Mirage and go to zero g, you can accelerate away to supersonic speed in no time.
    Speed is what Mirage thrives on. Come into air battle at high speed, take an opportunity missile shot followed by a gun attack and exit out of the battle maintains high speed.
    Loved flying the Mirage V
    Irfan Masum
    Ex Pakistan Air Force Fighter Pilot

      • Irfan Masum

        Dear Hushkit,

        Yes you can talk to me on email. I have flown the Mirage V and Chinese MiG 19 extensively. But I am an old time fighter pilot of the era which was dominated with the concept of dog fights (no BVR stuff)

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