Farewell to a Warrior
Guilherme Bystronski prepares to say goodbye to the Mirage IIIBR from the Brazilian Air Force
After thirty-one years of valorous service with the Força Aérea Brasileira, or FAB (Brazilian Air Force), one of the most distinguishable silhouettes over the nation's capital, the Mirage IIIBR, is approaching the end of its life. A truly graceful airplane with its sleek lines and large delta wing, the Mirage IIIBRs (or F-103s, as they are called in the FAB) are due to be replaced by the end of 2005 with the winner of the current US$3 billion F-X BR fighter competition. In the first phase of this acquisition program a total sum of US$700 million has been allocated for an initial purchase of twelve world-class fighters, which will be selected among the four finalists chosen by the evaluation committee: the Sukhoi Su-35 Super Flanker, the Mirage 2000-5BR, the BAe/SAAB JAS-39 Gripen and the Lockheed Martin F-16C Fighting Falcon.
The winning competitor, however, will be hard-pressed to replace the Mirage IIIBR, which history with the FAB started way back in the 60s when, after a selection process which also involved the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom and the English Electric Lightning, it was chosen to complement and replace the Gloster F8 Meteors and Lockheed F-80s then in service. With a powerful Snecma Atar 9C7/038 engine of 13,230lb of thrust and a top speed of Mach 2.2, it was considered perfect to fulfill Brazil's need for a modern fighter. A contract for the purchase of twelve Mirage IIIEBRs (F-103E) and four Mirage IIIDBRs (F-103D) was signed on 12 May 1970, and a new airbase was built at Anápolis, near Brasília (Brazil's capital), to house the FAB's first supersonic fighters.
The first Mirage IIIBR performed its maiden flight at Bordeaux, France on 6 March 1972. It was later ferried to Anápolis inside a Lockheed C-130E Hercules, reassembled, and flown for the first time in Brazil on 27 March 1973. By the year's end all sixteen aircraft were already in service with the FAB, under the administrative control of the 1ª ALADA (1st Air Defense Wing). This situation was altered in 1979 when the 1ª ALADA was disbanded, and the newly-created 1º GDA (1st Air Defense Group) took its place in charge of all Mirage IIIBRs operations in Brazil. The 1º GDA pilots are proudly known as 'The Jaguars', and a badge depicting the carnivorous mammal is carried on the tip of the fin of each Mirage.
Due to operational attrition, some airframes were lost during these thirty-one years, which demanded the purchase of additional airplanes from France. In total thirty-one Mirages were bought (mostly single-seaters), and many are still in service today. In the early 90s a modernization program was implemented in Brazil under which, among other changes, canards were fitted to the Mirage IIIBRs. 1995 marked the year they started performing air-to-ground missions beside their intercepting duties, a role for which they are well-suited due to their internal 30mm cannons and ability to carry a wide variety of weapons under the wings.
During all these years of active duty, the Mirage IIIBRs have been on the front pages of Brazil's leading newspapers many times. In 1989, for example, the great Brazilian F1 driver Ayrton Senna broke Mach 1 aboard one of the two-seaters. And, in both 1994 and 2002, Mirages were scrambled to escort the national football team on their way back to Brazil after capturing the World Championship in the FIFA Football World Cup. During the last World Cup in 2002 one of the Mirages, FAB 4922, sported a striking commemorative scheme, which was created to mark thirty years of Mirage operations in Brazil. Like the national team, the Mirage IIIBRs have served their nation well, and in return became loved by everyone involved with them. They may be gone after 2005, replaced by more modern fighters, but no 'Jaguar' will ever forget the supersonic delta-shaped beast with its high landing speed and amazing performance in the sky.
Special thanks must be extended to the Anápolis base commander, Cel. Ceccatto, for making this report possible, and to Ten. Edimar, Ten. Glauco, S/O Langunno and Sgt. Johnson, for their kindness and attention during my time on the base.