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Atlas Aviation Cheetah

The Atlas Cheetah came about through a need by the South African Air Force to update / replace its series of aging fighters while its bordering neighbors were receiving updated Soviet Bloc aircraft. Embargos limited the options available and the decision was made to modify existing SAAF Mirage III's to a new standard.

It is believed that Atlas received some level of assistance from IAI of Israel. This brought the South African Mirage III to a new standard, implementing various proven Israeli avionics and computer systems and to the airframe, canards.

Though retaining roughly 50 percent of the existing Mirage III airframe, the Cheetah was basically an all-new aircraft. The aircraft would appear in a few variants including single-seat and twin-seat derivatives. A static inflight refueling probe was added and additional underfuselage hardpoints (wingtip hardpoints were trialed successfully for the Mirage IIIR2Z which would have become the "Cheetah R" dedicated reconnaissance platform but these never put into production). More powerful engines were also added.

Armament was centered around twin 30mm DEFA cannons and air-to-air and air-to-surface munitions of various types. The definitive Cheetah would become the single seat "Cheetah C".

The first Cheetah conversion was revealed in July 1986, and resembles the IAI Kfir in appearance, although Atlas denies any overseas assistance with the programme. Intake mounted canards and dog-tooth leading edges are among a number of structural modifications which, together with upgraded flight systems, significantly improve the aircraft’s manceuv-ring performance.

Mirage 3/5/50, some having been upgraded to Cheetah standard. There are about 16 Cheetah-E conversions (all out of service); 38 Cheetah-C conversions; 16 Cheetah-D conversions; and one Cheetah-R conversion.

The Cheetah is set to be replaced in the South African Air Force beginning with the arrival of the Saab JAS J39 Gripen, of which an initial batch were ordered in 1999.

Atlas Cheetah EZ
Engine: 1 x SNECMA Atar 9C turbojet, 13,670lbs thrust with afterburner.
Length: 50.85ft (15.5m)
Wingspan: 26.97ft (8.22m)
Height: 14.76ft (4.50m)
Empty Weight: 14,568lbs (6,608kg)
Maximum Take-Off Weight: 30,203lbs (13,700kg)
Maximum Speed: 1,453mph (2,338kmh; 1,262kts)
Maximum Range: 746miles (1,200km)
Rate-of-Climb: 8,666ft/min (2,641m/min)
Service Ceiling: 55,774ft (17,000m)
Armament: 2 x 30mm DEFA 552 cannons
Hardpoints: 7
Crew: 1


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