Super secret French vertical takeoff fighter

During the 1950s, the French Military Aviation was searching for new ways to increase the combat capabilities of tactical fighters.

The most interesting and promising development is seen as the creation of short or vertical takeoff and landing aircraft. The Dassault Balzac V experimental fighter is the first example.

Sustainability issues

In the event of a full-scale armed conflict outbreak, airfields become a priority target for a potential enemy attack and their destruction leads to the withdrawal of most of the air force from the war. This led to the need to disperse tactical aviation and ensure their technical status.

In the late 1950s, the idea of ​​a vertical take-off fighter emerged and gained support. Such a plane can handle all major missions, but does not require long runways. The vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) plane concept was developed by Dassault with the participation of several other organizations.

Dassault came up with two options, one of which was based on a British concept and proposed using a jet turbine engine to maintain lift with special nozzles for vertical and horizontal thrust. The second diagram uses a separate main jet turbine engine for horizontal, take-off and landing using a small lift engine.

Research and tests have shown that both variants of the propulsion system, with similar thrust characteristics, will have similar masses. The single engine scheme promises fuel savings of up to 30%.

At the same time, the separate jet engines kept it away from the need for complicated and unreliable rotating hoses, while also simplifying the aircraft layout. In addition, failure of one or more auxiliary lift motors does not result in an immediate accident.

For extra performance, a program has been adopted with separate lifting and maintaining motors. Using those ideas, they decided to modify the existing Dassault Mirage III fighter, the new project receiving the designation “III V” (Verticale). This project started in 1960.

Pilot projects

On the Mirage III V, it was proposed to use one SNECMA main engine with 9,000 kgf thrust and eight Rolls-Royce lifting engines 2,500 kgf each. However, the test engine was not ready until 1964, and Dassault had to revise his plans.

In order not to lose time, Dassault decided to develop a test VTOL aircraft of a new plan using existing engines. The thrust of the new engine did not exceed 1,000 kgf, which is why the size and weight of the experimental aircraft was limited. To save costs, a new VTOL aircraft is planned to be built on the prototype of the Mirage III-001.

Subsequently, the project adopted the proper name Mirage Balzac V. The letter “V” is transferred from the main project, and the name “Balzac” has a curious origin. The test plane numbering “001” reminds someone of the phone number of a famous advertising agency in Paris – BALZAC 001.

Several organizations that were involved in work on Balzac V. Dassault provided the overall coordination of the project, they also developed wings and some systems in general. The fuselage is based on the Mirage III developed by Sud Aviation and the air jet control system created at SNECMA. Bristol Siddeley and Rolls-Royce are a supplier of two types of engines.

Practically from the very beginning of the design, various tests were carried out on a regular basis. It is thus possible to promptly identify all the features of the aircraft, as well as eliminate some problems. In the future, this is supposed to simplify testing of an experienced VTOL aircraft and further develop the Mirage III V.


The Mirage Balzac V is a tailless low-wing aircraft similar in appearance to the other fighters in its family. To install the lifting engines, the fuselage had to be rearranged and its cross section increased in the center part. The triangle wing is borrowed from an existing project with minimal modifications. 

In the rear of the plane was a Bristol Siddeley B.Or. 3 Orpheus with a thrust of 2,200 kgf. Eight Rolls-Royce RB108-1A 1,000 kgf engines each were paired on either side of the spoiler and the main engine. Their inlets are located on top of the fuselage and are covered with movable flaps. Closed tap windows are provided at the bottom. The auxiliary propulsion motors are installed with a slight inclination outward and backward.

To control in cross-flight, they retained the standard cabling and hard wiring from the Mirage-3. In travel mode, the air steering wheel is used in all three channels, using compressed air from the lift engine’s compressor. Nozzles are placed on the wings and on the body.

The plane retains its three-point retractable landing gear, but it is enhanced taking into account the payload of vertical landing. In the early stages of testing, non-standard chassis was used without possibility of retrieval.

The length of the Balzac V is 13.1 m, wingspan 7.3 m, height 4.6 m, empty weight exceeding 6.1 tons, maximum takeoff weight 7 tons, maximum speed Mach 2; in tests, it can reach only 1,100 km / h. The fuel tank capacity of 1,500 liters is enough for a flight that lasts only 15 minutes.

To perform take-off, pilots must turn on the main engine, then the lift engines are started with compressed air. By increasing the thrust of the lifting device, the aircraft will rise to a height of at least 30 m, after which it is allowed to accelerate horizontally. At 300 km / h, the pilot will pick up the gear and turn off the lift engine.

Vertical landing is performed in reverse order. When cruising at 300-320 km / h, the lift engine covers have to be opened, leading to their self-movement and start-up. It is then possible to begin to slow sideways and switch to hovering then landing.

Mirage Balzac V during test
Mirage Balzac V during test

Test flight

Project Mirage Balzac V was ready by the end of 1961, and by January 1962, assembly of an experienced VTOL aircraft began at the Dassault plant. The plane was ready in May and the first ground test was carried out in July. Preparations for the test flights were completed ahead of schedule with the support of a large number of studies and preliminary test.

On 12/10/1962, the first takeoff took place at Milan-Villaros airport. Test pilot Rene Bigand lifted the plane just a few meters and checked the performance of the main systems, after which he landed.

On October 18, the second flight took place, this time with no waiting times. Then, they flew a few more flights and showed the plane to the press. Then, in mid-November, the aircraft was sent for repair – it was planned to install standard frames, parachutes and other parts.

The flights continued in March 1963. This time the horizontal takeoffs and landings were carried out. On March 18, the first vertical takeoff was carried out, followed by a transition to horizontal flight and regular landing.

The trials continue to be successful and offer many types of data collection. In addition, in the same year, “Balzac-V” was on display at the air show in Le Bourget.

On 10/1/1964, pilot Jacques Pignet made another flight, the purpose was to test the air rudders. When hovering at an altitude of 100 meters, the VTOL aircraft lost stability and traction, then began to decline uncontrollably. At low altitude, it capsized and fell, killing the pilot.

Recovering the damaged plane took about a year. On 2/2/1965, test flights resumed. Over the following months, another 65 tests were carried out with vertical and horizontal takeoffs, in transient mode. In general, it is possible to undertake a comprehensive study of the design and capabilities, as well as master the pilot training procedures.

On October 8, 1965, another test flight took place, in the cockpit was US Air Force pilot Philip Neal. While traveling at an altitude of approximately 50 m, the aircraft suddenly lost control and began to fall. The pilot attempted to launch, but was not high enough to deploy. The pilot was killed and the aircraft was severely damaged beyond repair.


Despite two crashes and loss of prototypes, the Mirage Balzac V project is still recognized as a success. With the help of prototypes and a prototype, it is possible to perform all the necessary studies on different models and come up with a proposed concept of a separate lift and maintenance motor. special.

Using the development of Balzac V, the final version of the Mirage III V project. Construction of the first aircraft of its kind was completed in early 1965, and the first flight took place on 12 / 2.

The Mirage fighter with its vertical takeoff and landing capabilities was not put into service, but two promising projects have left a remarkable mark in the history of the French aircraft industry.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *