The Mirage IV was France's first strategic nuclear bomber. (Image supplied by YAM)
The Allied Air Forces Memorial & Yorkshire Air Museum (YAM) at Elvington in North Yorkshire has completed negotiations to acquire a Dassault Mirage lVA strategic nuclear bomber from the French government. BILL READ, FRAeS, reports.
“This is the first time that France has gifted directly such an aircraft to an independent museum of a different nation and reflects the reputation of the museum and its close connections with the French Air Force,” explains YAM museum director Ian Reed. Elvington is the former location of the only two French heavy bomber squadrons of WWll where over 2,300 French airmen were based.
Cold War origins
A total of 62 Mirage IVs served in the French Air Force from 1963 to 2005. (Image supplied by YAM)
The origins of the Mirage IV date back to the 1950s when France decided to own strategic nuclear deterrent. Development of the bomber began in 1957 with the aim of creating a platform capable of flying up to Mach 2.2 and delivering a nuclear weapon to cities in western Russia. The Mirage IV 01 made its maiden flight on 17 June 1959 at Melun-Villaroche piloted by Roland Glavany. The bomber entered operational service in 1963 and, by 1966, there were 62 Mirage IVs in operation.
The Mirage IV was designed as a sized-up version of the Dassault Mirage III fighter, measuring 23.5m (77') long and 11.85m (39') wide, and powered by two SNECMA Atar 9 turbojets. However, limited fuel capacity restricted its range to only 600miles which meant that air refuelling using the French Air Force’s fleet of 12 KC-135s was an important part of operational sorties.
Because the Mirage IV was smaller than other nuclear bombers, such as the B-58, its payload was restricted to a single 60kt AN22 Glider nuclear bomb partly-recessed under the fuselage. In the 1980s, a total of 18 of the 62 Mirage IVs were upgraded to carry an ASMP (air-sol moyenne portee) medium-range air-to-surface ramjet-powered cruise missile with a 300kt warhead. These aircraft were originally named Mirage IVNs (Nucleaire) but were later redesignated to Mirage IVPs (Penetration). Although the bomber was equipped with defensive jammers, chaff and flares, it was not fitted with any guns or missiles.
In 1996 the Mirage IV was replaced as a nuclear platform by the Mirage 2000N, although some Mirage IVs continued in service as reconnaissance aircraft until 2005, seeing service in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
From France with love
The Mirage IV in the Citée des Sciences Museum in Paris. (Image supplied by YAM)
The Mirage IVA which has been gifted to Elvington (EA BR N0.45) was on display at the Citée des Sciences Museum in Paris. The opportunity for YAM to acquire the Mirage IVA arose when the Citée des Sciences Museum wanted to replace it with the latest Rafale. “We didn't request it,” explains Ian Reed. “It was initially suggested by one of the French veterans direct to the French Government and then offered by the French Government to us as part of the closer ties with the UK and its historic connection with Elvington.”
On 17 August, after negotiations lasting a total of nine years, the French Minister of Defence, M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, signed the transfer agreement for EA BR N0.45. “I assume that the reason it took so long was due to the international treaties covering defence, practical technicalities and the rarity of transferrence to another sovereign nation,” said Ian Reed. “Initially it was thought that the aircraft might have to be transferred to UK direct to the UK Government or the RAF and then loaned to the Museum but as the reputation of YAM has grown following the significant Anglo/French events we have organised and supported, both in France and UK, and, now that the EU has confirmed that the Allied Air Forces Memorial is at Elvington, the French Government felt confident in transferring it directly to us. The Museum is nationally accredited under the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and is ostensibly part of the National Collection with strict rules regarding care and conservation.”
The aircraft is currently in protective storage at an air force base near Paris and is to be shipped over to the UK to be re-constructed at Elvington where it will the only Mirage IV on display in Britain. “The Museum is paying all the costs and transport has already been arranged by our French supporters,” says Ian Reed. “One UAE company, three French companies and one UK charitable trust have helped fund the project.”
The Mirage IV is to be restored to its original condition. (Jato Ochey)
Once the Mirage IV arrives at the YAM, it will be displayed inside the Canadian Memorial Hangar. The bomber is in complete condition and YAM’s aircraft engineering team, together with their associates from France and the Armée de l'Air, will be considering how far to bring it back to original condition.
“We did hope that the Mirage IV might be at Elvington in time for The Allied Air Forces Memorial Day on 4 September, as there will be several veterans receiving the Legion d'Honneur by the French government but these timescales are likely to slip,” admits Reed. “However, we do expect it this year.”
The Yorkshire Air Museum has released a video showing the Mirage IV in flight and being refuelled which can be found on http://yorkshireairmuseum.org/latest-news/mirage-iv-jet/