I was lucky enough to speak with an ex Mirage and Hornet pilot this last week. Though he now flies for an airline, he has some very fond memories of his time in the military. Here’s what he had to say:
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The Mirage IIIO was my first operational aircraft, and she certainly has a special place in my heart. She is beautiful to look at, and is an aerodynamic masterpiece. She has a narrow waist for supersonic flight and notches that connect the leading edges of the wings to the fuselage. When asked what the notches were for, a Frenchman once responded: ’Who knows? It looks sexy!’ - the jet’s nickname of “The French Lady” was fitting.
On one flight from Singapore to Malaysia I decided to find out exactly what she could do. In full afterburner I was in a shallow climb at 500 knots. I reached 52,000 feet and was still flying at Mach 2.1 (more than two times the speed of sound!). Even then, she was still climbing and accelerating! Sadly, I had to commence descent.
The Hornet wasn’t quite that quick, but it was still a very capable aircraft. One of my more memorable flights in the Hornet was firing a real AIM 7M Sparrow semi active radar guided missile. A Range Safety Officer was in another Hornet, as were several Squadron Mates. I locked onto the Target (which was being towed by a drone), received clearance to fire, and squeezed the trigger. With an almighty roar and a cloud of smoke the Sparrow launched, made an immediate ‘bat’ turn (high rate, small radius turn) and at very high speed struck the target and exploded!
I am often asked whether I prefer the Mirage or Hornet. My answer is if I were going for a blast on a Sunday afternoon I'd be very happy in a Mirage, but if I'm off to War - give me a Hornet.
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This Mirage sticker available here.