Mirage III photographic recconnaissance aircraft of the Israeli Air Force

by Sariel Stiller
Shahak 799 with Universal nose

As part of the original agreement to purchase the Mirage III from France, two dedicated reconnaissance variants were included, as the high speed and ceiling of the aircraft demonstrated its enormous potential as a reconnaissance platform. In order to distinguish them from the remainder of the aircraft, they were given the consecutive tail numbers 98 & 99, and for that reason the two aircraft had been wildly known in the IAF by the nickname “The Teesh’eemeem” (Hebrew for the “90”s). The two aircraft had arrived together, in a very famous ferry flight from France, flown by Danny Shapira and Ran Pecker. The flight almost ended in a disaster, when the pilots had to successfully perform a last minute landing, with very little fuel remaining onboard, in very severe weather conditions at the interim French airbase in Corsica. The next leg of the flight to Israel was uneventful, and the aircraft landed safely at Tel-Nof airbase, home of the “Bat” sqn, on the 10 March 1964 to be welcomed by a special ceremony.

The “Bat” squadron was dedicated as the Mirage reconnaissance squadron, and after the squadron eventually received the F-4Es, it transferred its Mirage to the 101 Sqn., in which they served until the end of 1982. These aircraft were eventually sold to Argentine, not before flying alongside the new reconnaissance Kfir aircraft with 101 sqn. The original reconnaissance aircraft were modified to carry the HYCON HR-231 camera inside a specially developed “Tashbetz” (Hebrew for puzzle) forward nose. In order to increase the penetration range, a 300 litre fuel tank was installed instead of the 30 mm gun pack. Of interest is the fact that while not flying reconnaissance missions, a dedicated Mirage IIIC nose section & radom, housing a specially design ballast, for stability & weight control, was installed on the aircraft. Photos exist of these aircraft, during maintenance at IAI, carrying the standard Mirage IIIC nose section.

During the service period of the Mirage with the IAF, more airframes were converted from fighters to reconnaissance variants, and from data gathered so far, it appears that seven airframes served as reconnaissance aircraft with the IAF, as follows:

Sha’hak #53

Delays in the design and manufacturing of the original nose resulted in a decision to install an RMK 15/23 camera inside the Mirage IIIC nose, consequently, 253 was the first reconnaissance Mirage of the IAF, and it performed two reconnaissance missions behind enemy lines.

During its second mission, on 11 November 1963, it suffered an engine failure, while on approach back to its base at Hatzor. The pilot, Ran Pecker, successfully crash landed it, safely jettisoning the aircraft at very low level, making sure it landed away from nearby houses. The crash resulted in minor damage to aircraft, but more important, no damage to the nose at all, allowing the valuable camera & film to be safely extracted from the aircraft.

The aircraft was refurbished over five years and returned into operational service, in 1968, albeit not as a reconnaissance aircraft. Later on, the aircraft was transferred to the “First Jet” sqn. The aircraft terminated its operational service, as #153, with the “Negev” sqn, operating out of Aitam airbase (close to the abandoned city of Yameet, now Egyptian territory), painted in the grey air superiority scheme, and proudly wearing five kill markings. During its short service as a reconnaissance aircraft, it had been finished in aluminum metal.

Sha’hak #58
Sha'hak 458 with tsnee'ut nose

Before it was converted into a reconnaissance platform, the aircraft was one of the best combat Mirage fighters of the IAF, achieving a total of 13 kills. The major external modifications were a new black radom fairing, ahead of the forward landing gear, housing a new radar altimeter. A new Mirage V shape, internal fuel tank, had been installed under the rear fuselage, replacing the existing ventral fin.

For the reconnaissance missions, the cannons were removed and AIM-9D missiles were carried under the external wing pylons for self defense. The aircraft was flown by 101 sqn., and terminated its combat service as #458. It had also received the engine upgrade of the ATAR 9C variant (as 458) and was painted in the standard IAF Mirage camouflage.

Sha’hak #59

This aircraft was another combat champion, having achieved 13 kills (like its brother #58). It had been converted with a small radom fairing, ahead of the forward landing gear, although much smaller than that of #58, and it retained the original IIIC ventral fin. For the reconnaissance missions, the cannons were removed and AIM-9D missiles were carried under the external wing pylons, for self defense. The aircraft was flown by 101 sqn., having terminated its combat service as #459. It had received the engine upgrade of the ATAR 9C variant (as 459), and was painted in the standard IAF Mirage camouflage pattern.

Sha’hak #41

Unconfirmed data state that this aircraft served with the “Bat” sqn, and was damaged during a reconnaissance mission. It was eventually refurbished, and returned to operational service as a regular fighter A/C. During its short service as a reconnaissance aircraft, I presume it was finished in aluminum metal.

Sha’hak #98

This was the first of the two dedicated reconnaissance Mirage purchased by the IAF from France. Externally distinguishable by the Mirage 5 type ventral fuel tank and by two external Mirage IIIB stabilizing fences and electrical ducts on both sides of the lower forward fuselage. These ducts contained electrical wiring dedicated for the operation of the camera inside the forward radom. Later on, a new black radom fairing was fitted, ahead of the forward landing gear, housing a new radar altimeter, similar to that of #58. Dedicated panels, for camera control, film capacity, camera warning, overlap percentage, etc, may have been installed inside the cockpit.

This aircraft carried the two original, American designed and manufactured, reconnaissance noses. These new noses were installed onto the aircraft by Dassault in France. Later on, during the late 70’s, the aircraft served as the test airframe for the new Israeli designed “Tznee’ut” (Hebrew for Modesty) long range oblique photography (LOROP) nose. The aircraft was flown by 101 sqn. and terminated its combat service as #498. The aircraft arrived in Israel, finished in aluminum metal. Later it was repainted like the entire fleet in the standard IAF Mirage camouflage pattern. The aircraft received the engine upgrade of the ATAR 9C variant (as 498), at the same time its tail number was changed to (7)98 and later to (4)98.

Sha’hak #99

The second of the original reconnaissance platforms, and carried the 30 mm cannons and unlike #98, no external modifications were done on it. Later on, during the early 70s, it was converted for carrying the special “Universal” nose. This aircraft, #499, was hit during a reconnaissance mission over Syrian territory on 8 May.74. The pilot, Eitan Carmy, was able to fly it back to northern Israel, but was forced to eject, culminating with the aircraft crashing near the city of Acre. The aircraft arrived in Israel, finished in aluminum metal. Later it was repainted like the entire fleet in the standard IAF Mirage camouflage pattern. The aircraft received the engine upgrade of the ATAR 9C variant (as 499) and by this time its tail number had been changed to (7)99 and later to (4)99.

Sha’hak #85

This aircraft was one of the first Mirage IIIC converted by the IAF. It is known to have been flying reconnaissance missions since the beginning of 1964. It was the first Mirage to perform a high level combat reconnaissance mission, at over 55,000 feet. It was the second aircraft modified to carry the special Israeli designed “Universal” nose and later served in 101 sqn, unfortunately no further details are known.

Special Israeli Mirage reconnaissance noses

At least six different reconnaissance noses have been carried by the IAF Mirage III aircraft as follows:

a. “Tarmil” (Hebrew for bag) vertical photography nose.

Tarmill nose









One of the two American designed and manufactured noses. Based on the geometry of the original “Cyrano” radar nose of the Mirage IIIC, a single 26 x 26 cm glass window was installed on its bottom side. The nose carried a Zeiss RMK-15/23 camera for vertical photography. The nose contained the special rectangular base, familiar with this family of cameras. A water level was installed on the camera base for the camera alignment during the installation. This specific nose was manufactured by the French company of S.E.C.A.M, in 10.62 (according to the original nameplate, still attached to the frame).

One of these noses is currently on exhibition at the IAF museum, although due to negligence, the glass window is shattered. The nose was painted black, similar to the radar nose of the Mirage IIIC, for disguise during operational service. This nose was given the serial number 01.

b. “Shfoferet” (Hebrew for tube) panoramic photography nose.

Shfoferet nose










The second of the two American designed and manufactured noses. Based on the geometry of the original “Cyrano” radar nose of the Mirage IIIC, a three faceted, one vertical and two side facing, 12.6” (32 c”m) long, glass window was installed on its bottom side. On its upper surface, opening upwards, large access panel were added to the structure. This panel allowed for easy access for the film magazine of the camera. This nose is also on exhibition at the IAF museum. Similar to its twin nose, it was painted black, similar to the radar nose of the Mirage IIIC, for disguise during operational service. This nose was given the serial number 02.

c. “Tashbetz” (Hebrew for puzzle) oblique photography nose.

Tashbetz nose









The original nose for the two dedicated reconnaissance aircraft. This special, 215 cm long, nose was designed on the base of the original (albeit shorter) Mirage IIIB nose. It had an internal set of rotating mirrors, mounted on a special sprocket wheel mechanism. The nose contained a set of five glass faceted window, with a single vertical and two double faceted sideway looking windows, allowing for unobstructed horizon-to-horizon photography. The nose retains the forward inlet duct of the IIIB nose, plus a new outlet on the upper surface. Numerous access panels were added to this nose. Inside its aft portion, a large electronics box was installed, adjacent to a large access panel. In its early days, during the period while the Mirage fleet was finished in aluminum, the nose was painted black. Upon painting the fleet with the standard camouflage pattern, the nose was painted in sand color, FS33531.

d. “Moshel” (Hebrew for governor) low altitude panoramic photography nose.

Moshel nose











Moshel nose on trolly at the IAF Museum

Based on the geometry of the original Mirage V nose, this nose contains a three faceted, one vertical and two side looking, 11.3” (23 c”m) long glass window. The nose contains many access panels, as well as two small 5.5 c”m circular windows, presumably for camera control during night missions. This nose was also known in the IAF as the “Nesher” (Israeli version of the Mirage V) nose. This nose was painted in sand color, FS33531.



e. “Tsnee’ut” (Hebrew for modesty) long range oblique photography nose.

Tsnee'ut nose









This specially designed and manufactured Israeli nose was developed for the installation of an existing U-2 camera, inside the small size nose shape of the Mirage III. The result is an addition of a 147.5 c”m long barrel shape plug, together with an forward radom, 169 cm long, housing a set of 4 windows, two vertically and two side looking, 14.5” (37 cm) long. The barrel plug hosed the camera body, air-conditioning ducts, electrical wiring, and nitrogen bottles. It also contained many access panels for maintenance purposes. This nose was painted in sand color, FS33531

f. “Universal” nose.

Universal nose









As the name implies, the nose was a genuine Israeli idea, of an IAF officer by the name of Abraham Keflawy and incorporated the RF-4C reconnaissance nose concept within the confined geometry and shape of the nose section of the Mirage IIIC. Designed by the Design Branch of the Israeli AF during 1968-1969, and manufactured by Israel Aircraft Industries, two noses were manufactured.

The nose had several camera stations, same as the RF-4, as follows:

  • Station 1: fwd looking camera.
  • Station 2: panoramic camera.
  • Station 3: right hand, left hand and vertical, tri-mat triple camera installation, similar to the installation concept of the KS-87 cameras inside the RF-4 nose.

All these combinations resulted in a tailored design of the installation under the severe volume constrains, unfortunately resulting in a very difficult maintenance activities. This nose was painted in sand color, FS33531. As mentioned, one nose was destroyed in the crash of #499, the whereabouts of the second nose is a mystery.

Aircraft & reconnaissance noses combinations

From existing data and photos, the following combinations had been operated:

  1. #53: “Tarmil” nose.
  2. #58: “Tarmil”, “Shfoferet” & “Tsnee’ut” noses.
  3. #59: “Moshel” nose.
  4. #98: “Tarmil”, “Shfoferet”,,“Tashbetz” & “Tsnee’ut” noses.
  5. #99: “Tarmil”, “Shfoferet”,,“Tashbetz” & “Universal” noses.
  6. #41: no data available, presumably either the “Tarmil” & “Shfoferet” noses.
  7. #85: “Tarmil”, “Shfoferet” & “Universal” noses.