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Denel (Atlas) Cheetah

South Africa (1986)
Picture of 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.


Detailing the development and operational history of the Denel (Atlas) Cheetah Strike Fighter Aircraft.  Entry last updated on 12/14/2017. 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.
The resulting Mirage design was an impressive combination of speed and performance. Armament was centered around the modern multi-role theory from the start with standard twin 30mm DEFA 552 series internal cannons for close-in work and capability for air-to-air (Python/Darter) and air-to-surface missiles of various types. Other munition options included rocket pods (SNEB 68mm) and gun pods as well as conventional drop ordnance and guided bombs (GPS/laser). Two hardpoints were plumbed for jettisonable fuel drop tanks.

Externally, the Cheetah series managed an appearance not unlike the Mirage IIIs it mimicked. The aircraft retained many of its design lines and physical feaures including its long pointed nose cone, forward-set cockpit, side-mounted intakes, single engine installation, low-set delta wings, tricycle undercarriage and single vertical tail fin. Power was via a SNECMA Atar 9K50C-11 series afterburning turbojet engine developing up to 16,000lbs of thrust allowing for a top speed of Mach 2.2 at altitude. Maximum take-off weight was 30,200lbs.

The initial Cheetah would become the single seat "Cheetah C" that featured modernized equipment throughout and is widely considered as the ultimate product of the Mirage III family series. 38 of this type were delivered. There have been 16 "Cheetah D" (twin-seat trainer with secondary attack capability) and 16 "Cheetah E" airframes also delivered for a total inventory of 70 aircraft systems. The Cheetah D was the two-seat trainer with secondary-line attack functionality retained. The Cheetah E were airframes utilized as interim jets until the Cheetah Cs attained operation numbers. The proposed "Cheetah R" was never produced, the SAAF electing instead to outfit its existing strike Cheetah Cs with reconnaissance pods. Introduction of the Atlas Cheetah line as a whole occurred in 1986.

The Cheetah series has since been replaced in the South African Air Force with the arrival of the Swedish Saab JAS J39 Gripen next generation fighter, of which an initial batch were ordered in 1999. As such, the Cheetah family was retired from frontline service with the SAAF in 2008. Some ex-SAAF Cheetahs saw extended service lives in the inventories of Ecuador and Chile. Ecuador purchased 10 Cheetah C models and a pair of Cheetah D models after 2009 with deliveries commencing in 2011. Chile has managed at least five Cheetah E airframes since 2003. Both nations were operators of older model French Mirages.

December 2017 - Draken International, in the business of supplying air forces with "adversary services", has purchased as many as twelve ex-South African Cheetah fighters. The stock involves nine single-seat forms and three-twin-seat forms.






Our Data Modules allow for quick visual reference when comparing a single entry against contemporary designs. Areas covered include general ratings, speed assessments, and relative ranges based on distances between major cities.

Image of collection of graph types

Relative Maximum Speed Rating
Hi: 1500mph
Lo: 750mph
    This entry's maximum listed speed (1,460mph).

    Graph average of 1125 miles-per-hour.
City-to-City Ranges
NYC
 
  LON
LON
 
  PAR
PAR
 
  BER
BER
 
  MOS
MOS
 
  TOK
TOK
 
  SYD
SYD
 
  LAX
LAX
 
  NYC
Graph showcases the Denel Cheetah C's operational range (on internal fuel) when compared to distances between major cities.
Aviation Era
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Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Useful in showcasing the era cross-over of particular aircraft/aerospace designs.
Unit Production Comparison
Comm. Market HI*: 44,000 units
Military Market HI**: 36,183 units
38
38


  * Commercial Market High belongs to Cessna 172.

  ** Military Market High belongs to Ilyushin Il-2.


Altitude Visualization
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Origin: South Africa
Year: 1986
Type: Strike Fighter Aircraft
Manufacturer(s): Denel Aviation (Atlas Aviation) - South Africa
Production: 38
Status: Retired, Out-of-Service
Global Operators:
Chile; Ecuador; South Africa
Historical Commitments / Honors:

Military lapel ribbon for Operation Allied Force
Military lapel ribbon for the Arab-Israeli War
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Britain
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Midway
Military lapel ribbon for the Berlin Airlift
Military lapel ribbon for the Chaco War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cold War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cuban Missile Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for the Falklands War
Military lapel ribbon for the French-Indochina War
Military lapel ribbon for the Golden Age of Flight
Military lapel ribbon for the 1991 Gulf War
Military lapel ribbon for the Indo-Pak Wars
Military lapel ribbon for the Iran-Iraq War
Military lapel ribbon for the Korean War
Military lapel ribbon for the 1982 Lebanon War
Military lapel ribbon for the Malayan Emergency
Military lapel ribbon for the attack on Pearl Harbor
Military lapel ribbon for the Six Day War
Military lapel ribbon for the Soviet-Afghan War
Military lapel ribbon for the Spanish Civil War
Military lapel ribbon for the Suez Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for the Vietnam War
Military lapel ribbon for Warsaw Pact of the Cold War-era
Military lapel ribbon for the WASP (WW2)
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 1
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 2
Military lapel ribbon for the Yom Kippur
* Ribbons not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective campaigns/operations.
Measurements and Weights icon
Structural - Crew, Dimensions, and Weights:
Unless otherwise noted the presented statistics below pertain to the Denel Cheetah C model. Common measurements, and their respective conversions, are shown when possible.

Operational
CREW


Personnel
1


Dimension
LENGTH


Feet
50.85 ft


Meters
15.5 m


Dimension
WIDTH


Feet
26.97 ft


Meters
8.22 m


Dimension
HEIGHT


Feet
14.76 ft


Meters
4.5 m


Weight
EMPTY


Pounds
14,551 lb


Kilograms
6,600 kg


Weight
LOADED


Pounds
30,203 lb


Kilograms
13,700 kg

Engine icon
Installed Power - Standard Day Performance:
1 x SNECMA Atar 9K50C-11 turbojet engine developing 16,000 lb thrust with afterburner.

Performance
SPEED


Miles-per-Hour
1,460 mph


Kilometers-per-Hour
2,350 kph


Knots
1,269 kts


Performance
RANGE


Miles
808 mi


Kilometers
1,300 km


Nautical Miles
702 nm


Performance
CEILING


Feet
55,774 ft


Meters
17,000 m


Miles
10.56 mi


Performance
CLIMB RATE


Feet-per-Minute
46,000 ft/min


Meters-per-Minute
14,021 m/min

Supported Weapon Systems:

Graphical image of an air-to-air missile weapon
Graphical image of a short-range air-to-air missile
Graphical image of an aircrat automatic cannon
Graphical image of an aircraft air-to-surface missile
Graphical image of an aircraft rocket pod
Graphical image of an aircraft conventional drop bomb munition
Graphical image of an aircraft guided bomb munition
Armament - Hardpoints (7):

STANDARD:
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
Droptanks
Variants: Series Model Variants
• 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.