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  • Denel (Atlas) Cheetah Strike Fighter Aircraft

    When introduced in 1986, the South African Atlas-Denel Cheetah represented the most comprehensive upgrade of the earlier French Mirage III series fighters.

     Updated: 5/16/2016; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ¬©www.MilitaryFactory.com

    The Denel (formally Atlas) Cheetah came about from a South African Air Force requirement to update or replace its series of aging frontline fighters as its bordering neighbors were receiving updated Soviet Bloc aircraft at the time. Unfortunately for South Africa, a blanket Western arms embargo limited the options available and, as such, the decision was made to modify existing SAAF Mirage III series aircraft (of French design) to a new modern standard. The end result would be what many experts have considered the "definitive" evolution of the Mirage III family as a whole - the South African initiative producing the Atlas (now Denel) "Cheetah C" fighter. For all intents and purposes, the Cheetah C is regarded as a comparative to the McDonnell Douglas / Boeing F-15 Eagle air superiority fighter.

    It is widely believed that the South African Atlas concern received some level of assistance (at least initially) from IAI of Israel for two distinct reasons - 1) South Africa and Israel enjoyed a particularly close relationship during this time and 2) Israel had already garnered intimate experience in upgrading their own French Mirages through the indigenous Israeli "Kfir" fighter endeavor. This participation no doubt supplied a strong understanding when bringing about the new standard for the South African Mirage III. As such, the SAAF aircraft sports various proven Israeli elements as advanced avionics, all-digital systems and quality physical design changes to the airframe (the forward canards for example).

    Though retaining roughly 50 percent of the existing Mirage III airframe, the Cheetah basically evolved into an "all-new" aircraft and appeared in a few variants made distinguishable by the identified single-seat or twin-seat derivatives. A fixed in-flight refueling probe was also added to the design for essentially unlimited operational ranges as was the inclusion of additional underfuselage hardpoints (wingtip hardpoints were trialled successfully for the Mirage IIIR2Z which would have become the "Cheetah R" dedicated reconnaissance platform but these never put into production). Higher rated engines were also added to the mix.

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    Denel Cheetah C Technical Specifications

    Service Year: 1986
    Type: Strike Fighter Aircraft
    National Origin: South Africa
    Manufacturer(s): Denel Aviation (Atlas Aviation) - South Africa
    Production Total: 38

    Structural (Crew Space, Dimensions and Weights)

    Operating Crew: 1
    Length: 50.85 feet (15.5 meters)
    Width: 26.97 feet (8.22 meters)
    Height: 14.76 feet (4.50 meters)

    Weight (Empty): 14,551 lb (6,600 kg)
    Weight (MTOW): 30,203 lb (13,700 kg)

    Installed Power and Standard Day Performance

    Engine(s): 1 x SNECMA Atar 9K50C-11 turbojet engine developing 16,000 lb thrust with afterburner.

    Maximum Speed: 1,460 mph (2,350 kph; 1,269 knots)
    Maximum Range: 808 miles (1,300 km)
    Service Ceiling: 55,774 feet (17,000 meters; 10.56 miles)
    Rate-of-Climb: 46,000 feet-per-minute (14,021 m/min)

    Armament / Mission Payload

    2 x 30mm DEFA 552 cannons

    Mission-specific optional ordnance can include any of the following:

    Python 3 air-to-air missiles
    Armscor V3B Kukri air-to-air missiles
    V3C Darter air-to-air missiles
    V4 R-Darter air-to-air missiles
    U-Darter air-to-air missiles
    Air-to-Surface Missiles
    Conventional Drop Bombs (Iron, Cluster)
    Matra Rocket Pods (68mm SNEB Rockets)
    Laser-Guided Bombs
    GPS-Guided Bombs
    Reconnaissance Pods

    Global Operators / Customers

    Chile; Ecuador; South Africa

    Model Variants (Including Prototypes)

    Cheetah - Base Series Designation

    Cheetah C - Definitive Cheetah Fighter Variant fitted with contemporary avionics and weapons systems; Atar 9K-50 turbojet engine.

    Cheetah D - Two-Seat Attack Variant based on the Mirage IIIDZ; canards; static inflight refueling probe.

    Cheetah E (EZ) - Single-Seat Fighter; avionics and airframe improvements ; retains base Mirage III SNECMA Atar 9C powerplant.

    Mirage IIIR2Z - Prototype Mirage III with wingtip air-to-air missile mounts; never put into production.

    Cheetah R - Proposed Dedicated Reconnaissance Model based on the Mirage IIIR2Z testbed; sans cannons and inflight refueling probe.