Disclaimer: In my article I mention certain aftermarket products which I used in this build. I have no connection with the makers, other than to have purchased their product. My remarks reflect my unbiased opinions.

Matterhorn Circle, a small group of Swiss IPMS members, released a beautiful 1/32 scale aftermarket kit of the exhaust and afterburner of the Atar 9C engine in mid-2006 As soon as I saw reviews of it, I ordered one. It arrived promptly from Europe, crushed by the mail-gorillas. I took a couple digital snaps of the wreckage and emailed them back to M-C. Within days a new set arrived intact, along with a proof set of M-C decals for Swiss Mirage IIIRS aircraft. I mention the incident only to indicate what a pleasure it is to do business with Matterhorn Circle. These guys are good.
I began building the exhaust right away. If the clear, copiously illustrated directions are followed an exquisite Atar 9C exhaust results. The only thing is, one needs an airplane to put it in, and not many of the world's aircraft used the Atar 9C. The only possibility I knew of in injection-molded 1/32 scale is the old Revell Mirage IIIE kit. High Planes Models of Australia had some "re-released" Mirages packaged with Australian decals, so I got one of those. When I opened the box, I learned that Revell had renewed the copyright on the plans. The plastic in the kit is probably spare sprues from the original mid-'70's production run, however.
Before I embark on the obligatory whine about the quality of the materials and the blood, sweat and tears expended on improving the kit, some concessions are needed. First, the Revell 1/32 kits of this era are pretty good representations of the general (and I emphasize general) shapes of their subjects.
Second, the market forces of the day did not warrant (or support economically) the intensive research that goes into today's first-line kits. Third, the mid-'70's injection molding technology could not reproduce the fine-grain detail we now take for granted. I had the only 1/32 Mirage kit there is, and I was grateful. At least it was a place to start. In the months that followed, I improved the representation of the Mirage offered in this kit, but I made mistakes and reached compromises of my own. I did the best I could, and I like the result. I also know that it's still flawed, and that I produced many of those imperfections.
I like to ease into a project, so I often start by building a military aircraft's external stores. The Revell kit includes a pair of large subsonic drop tanks, a pair of smaller high-speed external tanks, each of which was rigged with provisions to carry four GP bombs in the 250 Kg range, the bombs themselves, and two old Sidewinders. The big tanks resembled nothing in my Swiss references. The small tanks with their crude bomb brackets were way off in shape. So off with the brackets, out with the file, and hope for enough plastic to create a more acceptable form. There was. Just barely. The mounting pylons, also incorrect, were molded onto the tanks. Snip, snip; fill, fill; scratch, scratch. The bombs and Sidewinders were discarded. I substituted a pair of unused modern 'Winders from the big Academy Hornet kit and made AIM-9J front fins from .010" styrene. I then shortened some spare launch rails to the dimensions of the Swiss equipment and voila! I had appropriate stores.
This experience set the tone for the rest of the build. I had to modify everything in the kit, mostly for shape; sometimes for structural integrity. The wings offer an example of the latter.. All four panels were warped, making assembly an adventure. The resulting wings were so flimsy (and wavy) that I inserted pieces of .040" styrene as cores. The inserts both stiffened the wings and helped maintain the cross-sectional shape. Leading and trailing edges required filing to scale thickness.. The gaps for the navigation lights at the wing tips were too large and the leading-edge dog-teeth were too broad. I used bits of .010" sheet to resize them. Although the vertical fin was not warped, its shortcomings were otherwise like those of the wings. I thinned everything out, reinforced the core, and separated the rudder.
The fuselage halves did not fit together cleanly (warps) and the wings did not mate properly with the halves of the fuselage. I decided things might work out if I mated the wings to their respective fuselage halves and built the kit as two half-airframes.
After I had filled the chasms between wing-roots and fuselage halves, I removed the roofs of the too-shallow main wheel wells and installed deeper walls and roofs to create a more realistic impression. Since I had decided to display the model as having just taken off, with the gear coming up, I knew these details would be a focus of attention requiring improved depiction. My decision also meant that I would have to rebuild the landing gear itself from scratch. More on that later.
Many fuselage details had to be reworked. The Mirage intakes, for example, are delicate structures with thin splitter plates and translating shock cones separated by ramps and support rods from the fuselage's boundary layer. I replaced the splitter plates with pieces of .005" brass and thinned the intake lips. I then ground the ramp blobs and rod blobs off the fuselage halves and replaced them with .010" card and .020" brass rod where appropriate. The parachute container above the exhaust was misshapen and required replacement. The nose pieces for the Mirage IIIRS version puzzled me. The camera ports were fictional and the windows supplied (like all the clear parts) were unusable. I rebuilt the nose, replacing most of the camera port area with .040" clear styrene sheet cut from small plastic boxes. I then masked the correct camera ports when I painted the aircraft.

The canopy parts were short-shots. I made resin male molds, using what was in the kit as a guide, then built the cockpit enclosure. I ended up fitting four separate thermoformed clear sections into an .040" vacu-formed white styrene frame. I do not recommend this technique. It was a last resort.
Building the airframe as two halves allowed me to create a sturdy internal support for the hefty Atar 9C aftermarket unit. The rudimentary Atar 9C engine that Revell provides has an afterburner segment exactly the length of the M-C resin/brass replacement. I mounted the engine sans afterburner securely in one half of the fuselage using additional internal bracing and checking alignment with the already-completed M-C replacement. I could then install the afterburner after painting by simply plugging it into its socket.

The two-half approach also helped when I reworked the intake areas. I've already discussed the intakes themselves. In addition I had to open the auxiliary blow-in doors on the sides of the intakes, to refine the openings for the muzzles of the two 30mm cannons in the Mirage III, and to make and mount the canard surfaces. The doors were simple cutting jobs. The other two operations were trickier. I fastened each half of the aircraft in turn to an X-Y table I have installed on my Dremel drill press accessory. For the cannon ports, I drilled out the correct holes. I then lined each one with thin-wall brass tubing and smoothed it with Milliput before filing it to final shape. Using 1/16" brass tube, a small vise, a razor saw and a file, I shaped a couple fairly decent blast-deflectors which I installed with other small details at the end of the build. I also used the drill press with the X-Y table as a milling machine to cut the mounting slots for the canards. The canards themselves are shaped from .080" styrene sheet.
Finally, the two-half approach permitted me to work from both inside and outside in deepening the aforementioned main landing gear wells. I did not detail the wells themselves fully. Yet since the landing gear was bound to be a focus of attention in the display I felt I had to produce a version of the machinery which looked at least plausible. Hence the additional effort.

After I had mated the fuselage halves, I sliced the nose of the model off along the vertical panel line near the mid-cockpit point. I could now work on the recce nose without jeopardizing the aft portions of the model (and vice versa), could test-fit and remove the cockpit and pilot, and could box in the nose wheel well.
Since I wanted to show the aircraft on takeoff, obviously I'd need a pilot. I didn't detail the cockpit, but I did spruce up the gunsight and add some paraphernalia to the canopy bow.. My pilot is the head, torso and legs of an Academy Hornet-driver with arms from a Trumpeter figure. I know of no 1/32 scale Martin-Baker Mk 6 aftermarket seats and I didn't want to scratch build one. So I used a spare Mk 7 seat from Black Box. No, it doesn't look like a MK 6. It does look like an ejection seat, however, and it does fit. I was willing to settle for that compromise. When I was finished with my little guy and his escape equipment, I was content. His oxygen tube is .015" solder wrapped around a piece of .015" copper wire.

The Mirage is famous for the profusion of doo-dads that stick out from the fuselage. These details have to be rendered delicately, lest they appear ridiculous. All blade antennas are filed out of .016" aluminum and include tangs that fit into holes drilled in the surface of the aircraft. Fifteen vents and air scoops dot the fuselage. I replaced the kit items with scoops made from .002" aluminum salvaged from soft-drink containers. The three pitots in the cockpit and camera area are aluminum, hypodermic tubing and steel wire. I also needed to make the modern Swiss ECM suite for the IIIRS-the tail antenna, the two wingtip antennas, and the chaff-flare dispenser beneath the trailing edge of the starboard wing root-from styrene rod and sheet.
The undercarriage and its retraction mechanism are scratchbuilt from brass, aluminum and steel tubing, styrene stock and solder (hydraulic lines). I had to find photos of the unloaded gear, since it would be bearing no weight after takeoff. The Harnisch gallery was a big help here. Since the Revell main wheels look nothing like those on the Mirage, I had to scratchbuild them, too. Rather than cast resin for the purpose, I made two separate wheels and let it go at that. Finally I remade all the landing gear doors.
After the demanding construction phase, painting and decal application were uneventful. I primed with thinned Mr. Surfacer 1000 and used Model Master enamels. The afterburner is done in Alclad II stainless steel, tempered with a little Tamiya Smoke and Clear Blue. The base and the sealer for the decals is Future (Klear), cut 50% with 91% isopropyl alcohol The matte coat is Krylon clear matte spray paint decanted from a rattle can and airbrushed. The decals themselves are a mélange of Matterhorn Circle ALPS decals and homemade items. M-C's decals worked nicely, though the yellow does not look correct (too greenish). I "grayed out" the white areas on the Swiss roundels by overspraying a thin grey enamel wash but otherwise left weathering alone because (a) the aircraft themselves were quite clean and (b) I am not that proud of the rescribing job I did.
To make the base graphics, I drew a plan-view of a typical runway end on plain paper, placed the result on my dining room table, and shot digital pictures from various oblique angles. I enlarged the one I liked best with Photoshop and used the result as a pattern. All this to avoid constructing a two-point perspective! I painted the runway graphics on lightweight matte-black cardboard, fastened it to a blank of 5/8" exterior plywood and bound the edges with red oak.. The plaque for the brass plate is also red oak; the plate itself having been photoetched in .010" brass and clearcoated. To mount the airplane, I bored a 9/32" hole in the back of the bulbous ventral strake, which I had previously filled with Milliput. I lined the hole with brass tube with a 1/4" inner diameter. This socket accepts the brass tube from the base. The aircraft, the base, and the support tube come apart for shipping.
Along the way Ms. Hari has been dropped three times, rescued from corrosive fluids, and patched up frequently enough that she looks just a little shopworn. She has stretched my ingenuity and tested my patience and taught me a good deal. She was a unique adventure. Hope you like her.

Text, photographs and model copyright 2007 by Ralph B. Thompson

(Mirage III walkaround)
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International Air Power Review #12
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