Mirage Twin: High Planes 1/72 Mirage IIID
By Mike Burton
Mirage. Per my dictionary, something illusory, insubstantial. My thesaurus indicates "a strongly held but false belief, a delusion, a hallucination, phantasm, misconception." However you say or interpret it, this is not the case when you're referring to what in my book is France's finest postwar hour.
Marcel Bloch, the founder of the Bloch firm which produced many aircraft for the French Air Force in World War II, made it clear almost immediately upon his release from the concentration camp at Buchenwald that he was far from done designing aircraft. Changing his name to Marcel Dassault, by 1946 he was at the helm of new aircraft maker Avions Marcel Dassault S.A. In the next 11 years, the Ouragon, Mystere, and Super Mystere jets provided evidence of Dassault's genius in the employment of the new turbojet as a fighter powerplant. In real terms, no company outside America and the former Soviet Union has had more jets in combat than Dassault.
The Korean War provided the lessons that led to Lockheed's development of the F-104 Starfighter, and they were not lost on Dassault. The Mirages I and II did see flight, but it wasn't until Marcel was ready did the Armee de l’Air get their hands on the triumphant Mirage III. While the first two Mirages were twin-engined, the Mirage III was powered by a single afterburning SNECMA Atar 9B engine, then the most powerful French jet available. The design took advantage of the new 'area rule' concept in the fuselage design, and it was given the ability to fly from semi-prepared dispersed airstrips in event of a massive nuclear attack. Air-intercept radar untethered it from 'ground control' unlike its contemporaries in the Soviet Union.
Only nine months from the cancellation of the Mirage II, the III flew and nine weeks later showed off Mach 1.52 performance at 39,000 feet under measured and calibrated conditions in level flight. The plane’s ceiling was 65,000 feet, and it could achieve Mach 1.6 without boost and Mach 1.9 with rocket boost.
By 1960, the French had the Mirage III-A, the two-seat III-B and the definitive III-C in front line service. Mach 2 performance was reached by the III-C, and with the Mirage III-E in 1961; Dassault laid the foundation for his delta’s export successes that continue today. The Mirage III-E was also the basis for what evolved into Israeli Aircraft Factory's Kfir. Israeli employment of their original French III-Cs in engagements dates back to 1963 and became legendary in the 1967 Six Day War. The 1973 Sinai Conflict brought further glory to the Mirage and even the Argentineans in the 1980s employed them over the Falklands. The Royal Australian Air Force has long been loyal to the Mirage III family, having selected it as replacement for the CAC Sabre over the EE Lightning, Saab Draken, F-105 Thunderchief and, in the final round of evaluation, the then very competitive F-104 Starfighter.
It was in service with the Aussies into the late 1980s. After its selection, license built examples were constructed in Australia. One RAAF pilot with over 1800 hours in the Mirage III said that "Flying the Mirage was a memorable experience in my Air Force career, and although the F/A-18 Hornet is a world apart operationally, the Frenchy delta will remain engraved in my memory forever. It was a real fighter pilot's aeroplane, very responsive, and almost immune to turbulence thanks to its aerodynamic finesse-but it did have its defects!"
I doubt Marcel Dassault would have disagreed with that, but instead would have smiled at hearing a fighter pilot confirm that he had achieved his goals.
Today, another Australian provides a further compliment to this design's longevity and appreciation by its customers in the form of High Planes kit #72019.
Delta winged craft have always held a certain fascination for me. Domestically, the Convair family gained my modeling appreciation, but Marcel Dassault's airborne illusions hold just as powerful sway. The Mirage combat aircrews currently serve around the world, show the design's strength has not diminished by the passage of over 40 years since it first took to the air! It is likely it will surpass the MiG-21 (a lesser delta) for honors as the longest serving front-line fighter airplane.
A very satisfied customer is Australia, from where the excellent short run kit maker High Planes Models hails. Their Dassault Mirage III-D makes this Yank a very satisfied customer. The offering itself actually includes markings for a Mirage III-BE of the French Air Force, an III-BD from Belgium, and a III-D for the RAAF, but the box can accommodate only so big a title...!
The Mirage kit is joy upon opening. You'll be greeted by well-molded in plastic parts in aquamarine styrene, with a tree of fine white metal bits, one vacuform canopy of very good quality, a separately molded exhaust tube in white styrene and great little decals. Where the parts must be removed from the sprue, the mold designer demonstrates concern for the modeler. Wherever possible, the sprue gates 'land' atop an inside surface, so the lovely surface details or carefully molded part profiles are preserved. Having plenty of experience repairing parts once they're off the sprue of kits by other major and short-run manufacturers who were not so thoughtful, I appreciate High Planes all the more.
As suggested by the instructions, I began with the cockpit floor/wall assembly. I assembled the basic parts and glued them to one cockpit half, saving the seats and other details for later. Only a small amount of flash cleanup is needed for the nose gear bay to be ready to be matched to the cockpit assembly.
I weighted the nose and carefully glued it together with the exception of the lower rear section to allow me to fit the exhaust cone later. When the fuselage was assembled, the proper final fitting of cockpit/nose gear bay was more precise. The rear bulkhead required a reduction in size (length and radius) to fit once the floor was positioned and glued into the fuselage. The instructions suggest assembling all items of the cockpit prior to installation into fuselage, but after going this far I decided against it.
The cockpit splitter bulkhead was next, and here I found confirmation that my method was working out. The bulkhead dryfitted fine, but the same part was too wide for the cockpit when it was mounted in the fuselage. I trimmed and fit it into place.
With the bulkheads, walls and floor in place, dryfitting the metal components showed more work of the same sort ahead, so I shifted to other areas to maintain building momentum. The instructions state that to fit the wings, removal of plastic atop the wheel wells and corresponding points on the upper wings is required. It's actually possible to simply 'flatten' the wheel well tops, which are part of the one-piece lower wing molding, and when done, clean up the edges of the lower and upper wings. For my Mirage, a strip of styrene scrap was glued in along the spine inside of the fuselage as a precaution, as there are no mechanisms like locator pins in this kit, and I wanted to prevent joints from cracking later while I was sanding. This is something I have often experienced with other short run kits and especially vacuforms.
I began to assemble the wings by using the fuselage as a jig, taping the lower wing more or less into place and then matching each upper wing to it, all the while checking for fit. Gaps were present no matter what I did at some points, and I saw that the wings would be high at the fuselage on the topside, but I went ahead and glued the wings together carefully. Then, trying out the exhaust cone again, I confirmed that leaving the rear of the fuselage un-glued was wise. When the wings were glued to the fuselage, they left a fair amount of open space at the nose wheel bay and cheek intakes area but a near perfect join at the rear under fuselage.
Slipping in the exhaust cone took some 'eyeballing' as the actual placement is not provided nor confirmed by instructions or the drawings. My recommendation is that you insert this part up to the 'feather ring' juncture inside the fuselage, not slightly outside like mine is. The vertical fin is a one-piece molding, thin but with a good airfoil cross-section and inscribed details. However, again it provides no methods of mating it to the fuselage, so I drilled two holes and put in sprue pins, then drilled corresponding holes in the exhaust tube in fuselage along the 'gapped' spine. With these pins, fitting and gluing this part to fuselage was very easy. Blending it in required only a bead of superglue on each side and a little sanding.
The rocket motor housing, which fits under the tail and runs along the bottom of the fuselage, was next. This required some amount of dry fitting and trimming to shape as it has to mate both to the fuselage and the wing moldings, and it doesn't match up with either on the first try.
Up at the other end of this wing and fuselage join were plenty of gaps that required the use of scrap styrene to blend the intake cones and intakes. These moldings are tricky, and fit on and over one another. For one side, my end result was small gap at the bottom of the intake. On the other side the entire arc of the intake lip had to be replaced. Along the top edge of intakes, the intake cone wall forms the edge and these seams were blended in quickly.
Now, it became time to face the finishing up of the cockpit interiors, and that called for vacuform canopy cutting and initial fit. The metal seats are well detailed and with careful painting come out really nice without any further additions. However, like the instrument panels, they required a lot of cutting and filing to get them into the cockpit bays. The seats were especially finicky, and when they looked right they were still too high to allow the canopy to fit! Someone more clever than me might have simply cut the canopy and posed it open, but that wasn’t what I wanted, so away went the offending metal!
Fitting the canopy was the bane of existence. Superglue will frost the insides of vacuform canopies but it holds well and can be sanded. I like to secure thin canopies like this with bead of watch crystal cement, and then seal this up with a layer of acrylic floor wax or Humbrol Clear Fix. Only then do I apply super glue, which then can only frost the outside of the canopy, which gets scuffed by sanding anyway and will be polished later.
Implanting the metal nose pitot boom involved drilling a hole in the nose fairing and gluing, filling, sanding. The landing gears for this model are all white metal, and the nose gear is one piece including the wheel and tire while the mains have the wheel and tires separate. I mounted my metal landing gear struts unpainted, leaving off only the gear doors. The drop tanks are optional on Mirages, but after looking at it awhile, putting them on seemed the better idea. High Planes’ moldings here are a bit less artful than in the rest of this kit, but slowly gluing them a little at a time while keeping one end taped together kept them aligned. The pylons are part of the tank moldings but since they are so slender, not very deep and quite thin, it really is easy to mistake them for a misaligned joint or mere flash. Again, microdrilling and fitting sprue pins helped mount these tanks to the bottom of the wings before painting.
Another component that proved to be best glued in slow increments were the undernose cable ducts, again partly because they aren’t really demarcated for mounting and are small, thin parts.
Deciding on the paint scheme for the model was easy. Although the Mirage is a distinctly French product, this was after all an Australian model company's carefully rendered labor of love, and the camouflage scheme is plenty attractive with its special markings, so my model became Mirage III-D (dual) # A3-102 of No. 2 OCU (Operational Conversion Unit), used in the 1980s in a variety of manners. If you so desire, making this aircraft in natural metal with its attractive trim colors is possible with these same decals and some 'opposite color codes' (since the camo ones are white and you need black). I used acrylics for the NATO-style green and gray topsides, with enamel for the light gray underside. Painting went smoothly for the most part. I left the black nose cone left for last.
Here is why vacuform canopies are the bane of my existence. Leaving the canopy masked to finish the nose, I was trying to avoid handling the freshly painted body and held the aircraft by the canopy. Unfortunately I squeezed too hard and felt the canopy give. When I removed the masking, my suspicions were confirmed: the squeeze had made the canopy flex along the joint that I had so carefully spent so long blending in, and a large flake of sanded superglue had come off. This was deeply disappointing, and at this point there was no way I was redoing the entire finish.
Instead, I began a slow and careful filling of this awful divot with water-soluble clear glue until it nearly reached the height of original line and then painted it to hide it to casual viewers. It wouldn't stand up to a judge's eye, but it's not intended to.
I used all kit decals, and they went on without any problems. A semi-matte final overspray was all that was required to blend them all in.
In the end, it's very attractive in its camouflage with the lovely canary yellow and black wedge on tail and the "roundel ’roos" in all the right places.
I would say you really ought to give High Planes’ Mirage Family a chance to become more than a figment of your scale imagination. Many thanks to High Planes for providing my chance to get one built.