Israel Aircraft Industries manufactured more than fifty of Mirage 5, within the Israele Defence Force/Air Force were known as Nesher; after an outstanding performance in the Yom Kippur War, most were sold to Argentina in the late 70s.
By the beginning of that decade, the Argentina Air Force was in the process of modernizing its fleet of combat aircraft. While that stage had begun some years earlier with the introduction of the first batch of Douglas A-4P Skyhawks, it began with the incorporation BAC Canberra bombers (intended to replace veteran Avro Lincoln and Lancaster phased out in 1967) and the signing of the contract for Argentin’s first supersonic jet the Mirage III.
This contract would mean the starting point for a long tradition in the operation of the delta winged fighter designed by Avions Marcel Dassault Delta - Breguet Aviation (AMD-BA).
In parallel, by then was culminating its career an emblematic machine, which marked the elite of the fighter pilots, the Gloster Meteor F.Mk.4. The logical frontline replacement of combat aircraft contemplated the withdrawal of North American F-86F Sabre by 1976 and its replacement by another jet that could perform the tasks of fighter-bomber and secondary functions of air defense.
This decision began to become a priority given the rapid deterioration of relations with Chile due to border issues, and was expected to trigger an armed conflict in the short term.
On the other hand, contacts for an additional batch of Skyhawk to the United States began, which was finalized successfully. However, in this case could not be contracted the complete overhaul of the airframes (as had happened with the A-4P - called by the FAA as A-4B) whereby 25 A-4C Skyhawks were received in condition “as is, where is” and put into service by the area Material Rio Cuarto in a long and difficult task, giving the first operational aircraft to his unit in 1976.
To further complicate the picture, the fall of the constitutional regime in 1976, motivated by anarchy and disarray in the country, which had initially been supported by the United States, led to this country imposing shortly afterwards an arms embargo by pressure from the international community.
Thus, the implementation of Presidential Directive 13, known as the Humphrey-Kennedy Amendment, signed by James Carter in 1977 and prohibiting the sale of advanced weapons, technology and training to governments with human rights problems, locked all negotiations for the acquisition new material, so the Air Force undertook the task of acquiring combat aircraft via alternative routes, but this search became extremely complicated by the pressure exerted on their usual combat equipment providers.
Initial contacts with France for a number of Mirage 5, the simplified version of the
Mirage III and optimized for fighter-bomber missions were quickly discarded because the factory argued that it could not meet the deadlines that required the FAA. While this was an important limitation, the reality was that the French firm did not make much effort to pressure from international organizations to blockade the sale. At that time, in Israel the production of a machine that would be the aim of the FAA for many years and could never materialize: the IAI Kfir.
Developed as a much improved evolution of Mirage 5 airframe, this product of Israel Aircraft Industries represented a marked increase on the performances of the French Mirage, largely due to the adoption of canard foreplanes and a more powerful American-made engine, the General Electric J79 of 8,119 kg of thrust, similar to that used by the F-4E Phantom.
However, the source of that power plant would be an insurmountable obstacle that would scuttle with Argentine aspirations. However, IAI countered with an offer that at first seemed unbeatable under the established political situation.
With the addition of the Kfir, the Hey’l Ha Avir (Israel Defense Force/Air Force - IDF/ AF) was about to begin the process of withdrawal its IAI Nesher, a transition variante developed from Mirage 5 with some modifications.
These jets were available virtually immediately and the factory also offered a further development to take the Nesher to a standard similar to the Kfir, but retaining the French Snecma Atar engine.
The offer included a first batch of 24 single-seaters Nesher and two twin seaters Nesher Ts with an inspection of 600 hours and changing different items according to Argentine requirements.
The machines had on average about 600 flight hours, representing 85% of their remaining useful life and were built between 1971 and 1974.
In June 1978 a group of officers and NCOs of the VIII Brigada Aérea (home of the Mirage IIIEAs) with a high degree of confidentiality, left for Israel to contact the Air Force and the Israeli Defense Ministry in order to verify the status of the Neshers offered. This commission was headed by Commodoro Luis Barreira, plus Vicecomodoros Juan C. Luscher and Manuel Mir and and NCOs Carlos Ambros and Ferraras. Viccomodoro Mir also had the task of evaluating the operational capabilities of the aircraft, its particular conditions and limits of the flight envelope. In view of the positive analysis subsequently carried out by this committee and the similarity between the Nesher and the Mirage IIIEA, finally it was decided to purchase these jets.
The Dagger purchase
It materialized on 10 Augus 1978 with the signing of the contract DAG/I for a total amount of US $ 109.192.000 and contemplated the incorporation of 24 single-seaters at a cost of U$ 3.958.000 and two twin-seaters at a cost of U$ 7.100.000 each.
These machines, renamed Dagger and designated by the FAA as “Mirage 5” would be subject to further inspection on the premises of Israel Aircraft Industries at Ben Gurion Airport (Tel Aviv), to where they were taken in flight from its home at Eiram air base in the Sinai peninsula.
The contract included the guidelines to develop an upgrade of these jets with modern avionics was established, although the priority of the FAA was to have the aircraft as soon as possible, requessting to that effect that IAI undertake a “P” inpsection (periodic) and updating some equipment to assure at least 200 flight hours by aicraft before the first necessary inspection to be held in Argentina.
Immediately the study began to select pilots that would fly the new aircraft. This task was carried out by Commodo Nelsis Rodoni, a IIIEA Mirage experienced pilot, who was head of the Department of Training in the Air Operations Command (COA). His task was extremely important because the selection of students and instructors should be very rigorous because it was required the pilots were operating with Dagger as soon as possible. In the case of students, the selection included officers with experience in high performance jets (F-86F Sabre and A-4B Skyhawk) and had reached Phase III (suitable for combat) in their respective weapons systems, counting with at least 250 hours in single-seater fighters. While for flying the M-III were required at least 500 hours, this time it was decided to reduce this requirement, in order to incorporate more pilots to the new weapons system. In the case of instructors, he searched among officers with proven qualification with the M-III.
The formal birth of the then Dagger Escuadrón crystallized soon after the 28 August 1978, with sending the subpoenas to pilots assigned to the three main fighter units of (IV, V and VIII Brigadas Aéreas) and the Military Aviaction School to show up at the VIII Brigada Aérea premises at the Dr. Mariano Moreno airfield, near the town of José C. Paz, west of the city of Buenos Aires.
The Squadron, commanded by Mayor Mario E. Roman, Mirage III pioneer pilot in the FAA, would be subordinate to the Head of Operations Grupo VIII (this unit operating since 1972 the Mirage IIIEA/DA)s led by Comodoro Edgardo Cáceres, part of the VIII Brigada Aérea commanded by Comodoro Jorge A. Van Thienen. This denomination of units corresponding to the restructuring of the Air Force implemented years ago and did have a short application.
Leading the technical committee in charge of receiving the Daggers was the then Chief of the Technical Group VIII Brigada Aérea, Comodoro Barreira who would be in charge with a group of NCOs (Federico Bohm, Lucio Beraldi, Jorge Corando, Enrique Hlaczik and Jesús Robles) were responsible of the official reception and inspection of the machines from Israel. The process was completed with acceptance test flights conducted by Mayor Juan Carlos Sapolsky traveling to Israel whenever batches of jets were technically approved, except for the first batch of six aircraft.
The most important changes included the replacement of the UHF communication with Collins VHF, incorporating a Collins VOR and changes in the instruments, however the old Cossor ADF was retained.
Regarding the 600 hours airframe and engine “P” inspection cell and engine, an Inspection “P” of 600 hours, some special ítems were added: stripping of the original camouflage scheme (later it was verified not to have been completed) and repainting with the requested FAA scheme. Furthermore, new braking parachutes were fitted or at least with 80% of their available life and new brake discs.
In September 1978 a commission left for Israel to complete the mantenance course, this group was formed by Vicecomodoro Antonio Rizzo Corallo, Tenientes Roberto Mammana and William Posadas and thirty NCOs.
This course, lasting three months and included weapons (DEFA 552 cannon and Shafrir II), structure, avionics and engine, was held in the premises of IAI in Ben Gurion and on several occasions cadets moved to Eitam in a twin-engine IDF/AF IAI Arava Light transport to observe maintenance operations on the frontline.
The first pilots are trained
For flight adaptation a programme was devised through which future pilots received tra Dagger training at different places in order to accelerate this stage.
A group led by Vicecomodoro Manuel Mir was posted to Israel and was formed by twelve pilots, Mayor Sapolsky, Captains Alberto Kajihara, Hector Pergolini, Carlos Martinez, Luis Puga and Guillermo Donadille and 1st Lieutenants Carlos Arnau, Horacio Mir Gonzalez, Eduardo Almoño, Roberto Janett, Carlos Musso, and Ruben Dimeglio.
Four of these officers, Sapolsky, Pergolini, Arnau and Mir González, with previous experience in Mirage III, left for Israel in mid-October 1978, accompanied by Vicecomodor, for the air´to-aire combat and instructor courses. This course, the first one given to foreign crews would continue later in Argentina.
The remaining eight pilotoswent to Israel on 1 November1978, aboard an Aerolineas Argentinas flight destination Frankfurt, and from there boarded an El-Al Boeing 727 for the flight to Tel Aviv. Prior to their departure, they received a brief familiarization in the Mirage IIIDA two-seaters, but without flying solos. They also conducted an intensive English course, because during during the whole training stages were to be held in that language.
The arrival of the contingent was surrounded by a host of security measures organized by the Mossad (the famous Israeli intelligence service) in order to cover up the operation. As part of discretion mentioned, all Argentine personnel wore civilian clothes, and only the pilots Dresde with their flight overalls inmediatly before each flights As part of the cover-up, Israeli intelligence told them that before any question about their origin and activities should indicate that they belonged to a country called “Oswald” and were conducting the IAI Arava course, which was the airplane in which were shuttling to Eitam, and thus do not arouse greater suspicion.
The course was conducted by two experienced IAF instructors. One was Yoram Geva, a pilot that between 1972 and 1973 shot down six aircraft (four Syrians and two Egyptian), and the other was Shlomo Erez, also with active participation in the Yom Kippur war where he gota n Egyotian MiG-21 kill. The latter used to surprise with his skill each student on his first flight by a particular maneuver was to take off and stabilize the aircraft at low altitude over the runway and then over the desert to Mach 0.9 with AB (afterburner) engaged, then perform a 90º climb to reach zero speed and then fall on its tail preventing entring into a spin and recovering the the jet.
For the flight activity, only the aircraft acquired by the FAA were used, who continued to wear Israeli camouflage and insignias. The flying course was noticeably different from that taught by the French and after a brief adaptation stage in the two seaters (no more than four or five sorties), the first solo flight was carried out.
The Israeli school of thought contemplated the use of the aircraft to the limit of its capabilities on the basis of experiences gained in combat while French style operated the jet always within the limits set by the flight manual in a more conservative style.
The flying activities revealed as extremely demanding because communications were in English, without instrumental precision navigation and flying in the middle of the desert, with few visual references and in very small sectors whose limits should not be exceeded because the west Egypt and east were the Israelis who did not hesitate to shoot the aircraft that entered its aispace without identification or authorization.
The experience was extremely important, living the Argentine pilots in a permanent state of alert due to the tense relationship between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
In this way and completed the adaptation, it was completed the first “solo” of an Argentine pilot on a Dagger on 8 November 1978. That honor went to the senior officer, Mayor Sapolsky, while Capitán Pergolini and 1º Tenientes Mir Gonzalez and Arnau did the same on 13 November.
Upon completion of the course, these pilots immediately returned to the country, to make the reception and transfer of Dagger who were close to arrive to the Port of Buenos Aires.
On 27 November Captains Donadille, Kajihara, Puga and Martinez recorded their fist solo flights and on 28 November the 1º Tenientes Almoño, Dimeglio, Janett and Musso. After the qualification, each pilot made a total of six to eight flights until the end of the course. The contingent quickly returned to the country on 20 December 1978 at a time when military actions with Chile seemed imminent.
Moreover, training other pilots assigned to the new material, was carried out with the Fuerza Aérea del Perú, at Chiclayo AB and with VIII Brigada Aérea in Argentina.
1º Tenientes Higinio Robles, Jorge Gatti, Jorge Ratti, Roberto Benavente, Jorge Senn and Daniel Herlein began the course in the Mirage IIIEA/DA, performing solo flights on 31 October 1978 with the pilots who would make up the group travelling to Peru. However Gatti and Benavente handed down their “wings” soon after their solo flight.
The group of pilots sent to Peru conducted training at Cap Quiñones González Air Force Base of the Peruvian Air Force (FAP) within the 611 Escuadrón de Caza equipped with Mirage 5P/DP. This group was formed by 1º Tenientes Amílcar Cimatti, Raul Diaz, Carlos Maffeis, Alberto Dorado, Jorge Dellepiane and Carlos Rohde.
On 1 October 1978, aboard an Aerolineas Argentinas flight, this group of pilots arrived to Lima in civilian clothes, because as with the contingent sent to Israel, it was desired to keep the maximum reserve on the operation. Two days later, a a FAP transport flew them to Chiclayo, on the north coast of Peru.
They stayed at the Officers Mess of the unit and not in the city as not to raise any suspicion, starting immediately with advanced academic courses on Mirage 5 materials, equipment and operations.
On its completion, the flying stage started with the dual controls. Each pilot made seven thirty to forty minutes long sorties in which several subjects were fulfilled: air-to-air combat, safety margins anda ir-to-ground tactics, among others.
During such training an emergency was recorded with a lucky end. When the 1º Teniente Diaz was making his second flight in two-seater, shortly after takeoff, the aircraft suffered a bird ingestion. Feeling the blow and subsequent vibrations in the engine, the instructor declared an emergency and since the aircraft was in the vicinity of the base, landed without consequences.
On 18 October, the pilots made a single flight and then by concluded the course. They immediately moved to Lima to return and join the Escuadrón Dagger in early November.
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