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The Mirage F1 emerged from a series of design studies performed by French aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation. Having originally sought to develop a larger swept wing derivative of the Mirage III, which became the Mirage F2, to serve as a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) propulsion testbed akin to the Dassault Mirage IIIV, however, it was soon recognised that the emerging design could function as the basis for a competent fighter as well. Both the Mirage F2 and a smaller derivative, referred to the Mirage F3, received substantial attention from both Dassault and the French Air Force, the latter being interested in its adoption as a long-range fighter bomber as a stopgap measure prior to the adoption of the envisioned Anglo-French Variable Geometry (AFVG) strike aircraft.
Parallel with the Mirage F3 study, which was intended to serve as an interceptor aircraft, Dassault decided to study a single-seat derivative which featured the all-French SNECMA Atar 9K-50 turbojet engine. As a result of the cancellation of two major projects, the company's design team found themselves with a decreased workload. Accordingly, in mid-1964, Dassault decided to commence design work on the smaller aircraft, subsequently designated as the Mirage F1, with the intention of producing a successor to its Mirage III and Mirage 5 fighters; This work was performed under a government contract in anticipation of a potential French Air Force specification for an all-weather interceptor to succeed its fleet of Mirage IIIC aircraft.
The Mirage F1 was of similar size to the delta-winged Mirage III and Mirage 5, and was powered by the same SNECMA Atar engine as had been used on the larger Dassault Mirage IV; however, unlike its predecessors, it shared the layout of a swept wing mounted high on the fuselage and a conventional tail surface as used by the F2. Although it has a smaller wingspan than the Mirage III, the Mirage F1 nevertheless proved to be superior to its predecessor, carrying more fuel while possessing a shorter take-off run and superior maneuverability.
On 23 December 1966, the first prototype conducted its maiden flight. The first flight had been delayed due to a funding shortage affecting the overall programme. During its fourth flight, the prototype was recorded as having attained a top speed in excess of Mach 2. On 18 May 1967, the first prototype was lost in an accident at DGA Essais en vol, Istres; the crash had resulted from a loss of control after encountering flutter, killing its pilot. Despite this misfortune, during late 1966, the Mirage F1 programme was officially adopted by the French Air Force. Following a redesign period, on 20 March 1967, the second prototype performed its first flight.
On 26 May 1967, an order for three Mirage F1 prototypes was placed, while the larger and more expensive Mirage F2 was formally abandoned. These three pre-service aircraft, along with a static structural test airframe, soon joined the test programme. By late 1971, the construction of an initial batch of 85 production standard Mirage F1 had been authorised.
In order to comply with the French Air Force's requirement for an all-weather interceptor, the first production Mirage F1C was equipped with a Thomson-CSF Cyrano IV radar system. The later Cyrano IV-1 version added a limited look-down capability. However, Mirage F1 pilots reported that the radar was prone to overheating, which reduced its efficiency. During May 1973, the first deliveries to the French Air Force took place; the type entered squadron service with EC 2/30 Normandie-Niemen in December of that year.
By October 1971, the Mirage F1 was under production at both Dassault's Bordeaux facility and at SABCA's own plant in Belgium, work at the latter having been performed under an industrial arrangement associated to Belgium's order for 106 Mirage 5 aircraft. The 79 aircraft of the next production run were delivered during the period March 1977 to December 1983. These were of the Mirage F1C-200 version, which featured a fixed refuelling probe, which required an extension of the fuselage by 7 cm.