TYPE: Upgraded multirole fighter
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: South Africa and France
POWERPLANT: EZ - One 42.0kN (9435lb) dry and 60.8kN (13,670lb) with afterburning SNECMA Atar 9C turbojet. Some two seaters and R2Z recce aircraft are powered by a 49.0kN (11,025lb) dry and 70.6kN (15,875lb) with afterburning Atar 9K-50.
PERFORMANCE: EZ - Max speed 2338km/h (1262kt), max cruising speed 956km/h (516kt). Range and payload radius figures unpublished.
DIMENSIONS: EZ - Wing span 8.22m (27ft Oin), length including nose probe 15.65m (51ft 4in), height 4.55m (14ft 11 in). Wing area 34.8m2 (374.6sq ft).
ACCOMMODATION: Pilot only in EZs and RZs, two in DZ trainers.
ARMAMENT: Fixed armament comprises two 30mm DEFA cannons. Disposable stores carried on four underwing and three underfuselage stations including indigenously developed Armscor V3B Kukri and V3C Darter air-to-air missiles, AS20 air-to-ground missiles, bombs, cluster bombs and rockets, plus AIM-9 Sidewinder and Matra R550 air-to-air missiles.
OPERATORS: South Africa
HISTORY: The Atlas Cheetah is one of the most comprehensive upgrades of the venerable Mirage III yet, with significant changes and improvements to the airframe, avionics and, in the case of two seaters, powerplant.
Like a number of South African developed weapon systems, the Cheetah was born out of necessity. A 1977 United Nations arms embargo has prevented South Africa from buying military equipment from the rest of the world, thus preventing any South African Air Force plans for a replacement of its ageing fleet of 1960s vintage Mirage Ills coming to fruition. Instead, South Africa instigated its own mid life update program, reportedly with assistance from IAI in Israel.
The Cheetah upgrade was first publicly announced in 1986 when Atlas unveiled an upgraded Mirage two seater, the Cheetah D (or DZ). Main aerodynamic features of the Cheetah upgrade include structural modifications to extend fatigue life, canards, a stretched nose to house new avionics, dog tooth leading edge extensions, small strakes on the nose and small fences on the wing replacing leading edge slats. The two seaters also feature strakes along the lower fuselage below the cockpit. Internally the Cheetah features new avionics, believed to be of Israeli origin and including a MIL-STD 1553B databus, a Head-Up Display, HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick) controls and a new nav/attack system with inertial navigation. The extended nose houses avionics plus an Elta EL/M-2001B radar.
Single seat Cheetahs are known as Cheetah Es or EZs, and retain the original SNECMA Atar 9C turbojet. Some of the two seaters have been fitted with the more powerful Atar 9K-50 turbojet as on the Mirage F1, for which Atlas has a manufacturing licence. Reconnaissance Cheetah R2s are already powered by the 9K-50.
A prototype Cheetah ACW with an advanced combat wing flew for the first time in 1992, while 12 EZs will be fitted with the Israeli Elta EL/M-2035 fire control radar, and the Atar 9K-50.
Photos Atlas Cheetah