Aviation Historian 28
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P.Lewis - Where Falcons Dare
A Dassault Mirage IIIRS “Amir” blasts through the Swiss mountains at low level.
Trailing a heat haze through the cold mountain air, an Amir of the Swiss Air Force’s Fliegerstaffel 10 twists and turns its way through the mountain range at Ebenfluh, between the Oltschiburg and Axalphoren peaks above Meiringen airfield. The unit’s specialised photoreconnaissance Mirage IIIRSs became renowned for their “clover leaf” manoeuvres through the mountains around Axalp at high speed and low level.
To simulate wartime operational conditions, at the end of each sortie, the Amirs would taxy right up to the cavern doors before the pilot shut the Atar engine down. A tug would then take the aircraft deep into the underground complex. In a real-world war situation, with Nato forces potentially sat in shelters owing to poor visibility while Soviet tanks advanced westward, Switzerland would rely on the Amirs to provide a credible front-line reconnaissance capability.
Blasting its way into the morning sky from Buochs in March 2003, Amir R-2117 is seen here in "Floss" configuration - two wing-mounted 500lit (110gal) fuel tanks and a centreline-mounted 1,100lit (242gal) "Runt" tank - for a single-aircraft cross-country navigation exercise into eastern France, which required extra range.
High-speed approaches to the AxaIp were the norm for Fl St 10’s Amirs, which would roar in at low level at just below Mach 1, a traditionally popular part of the Axalp airshow in October, at which a pair of Amirs would open the show with a blistering run through the valley directly over the spectators.
To commemorate the Amir’s retirement in December 2003, "White 16" (R-2016) was repainted with a white top and black undersides (with all-seeing eye motif) to reflect the negative film the type’s Omera cameras used. "Black 10" (R-2010) was also repainted with the colours reversed and both carried the Falcon motif on their fins.
An extremely rare photograph of Amirs in their hangar carved deep into a mountain. The hangars incorporated winching equipment to pick the aircraft up from their parking spots, re-orient them and deposit them at the mouth of the hangar, as seen in operation here, before tugs pulled the Amirs clear of the hangar tunnel.
An Amir displays its distinctive delta planform, revealing the numerous camera ports in the type’s specialist photo-recce nose. Fittingly, the unit’s motto was "Nil non videmus" - we see everything.
With the 7,710ft (2,350m) peak of the Brienzer Rothorn providing a typically picturesque backdrop, Amir “White 16” performs a highspeed pass over the Axalp Range in the Bernese Highlands during one of FISt 10’s final sorties before the type’s retirement in December 2003.
Foreplane canards were fitted to all Swiss Mirages in the 1980s, although they provided very little advantage to the Amirs, increasing drag and reducing potential range. Here Amir R-2106 heads out for a late afternoon sortie from Buochs in March 2003 with a pair of AMD 500lit (110gal) fuel tanks under each wing.
Amir R-2108 leaves a crimson bloom as full reheat is engaged and brakes released on Runway 07L at Buochs during a morning sortie in November 2002. A total of 18 Mirage IIIRSs was built under licence by Eidgenossisches Flugzeugwerke (F + W) at Emmen, near Lucerne.
Amir R-2103 was the first to accrue 3,000 operational flying hours and as a result was adorned with FISt 10’s Falcon motif on the port side of the fin, as seen here in November 2002.
In the Swiss Air Force tradition of naming the last aircraft of a batch, R-2118 became "Mata Hari" in honour of the female Dutch spy, the name being superimposed over an owl (i.e. seeing in all directions) on the nose.
Spies of a feather, flocking together - an FISt 10 Amir escorts an example of its northern neighbour’s equivalent photo-reconnaissance platform, a McDonnell Douglas RF-4E Phantom II of Aufklarungsgruppe (AG) 52, based at Leek, over the dense pine forests of Switzerland in 1977, before Swiss Mirage IIIs were fitted with canards.
Spies of a feather, flocking together - an FISt 10 Amir escorts an example of its northern neighbour’s equivalent photo-reconnaissance platform, a McDonnell Douglas RF-4E Phantom II of Aufklarungsgruppe (AG) 52, based at Leek, over the dense pine forests of Switzerland in 1977, before Swiss Mirage IIIs were fitted with canards.