IAI Kfir (Early production), Birth of the lion cub

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Kfir Early title

Introduction

The IAI Kfir was an Israeli modification of the French Dassault Mirage 5 centered around the idea of transplanting the airframe with the American General Electric J-79 engine which was more powerful and reliable than the original SNECMA Atar 9C and presented part commonality with the IAF’s fleet of F-4E Phantom IIs. The Kfir is one of the IAF’s most iconic aircraft and a hallmark of the Israeli aviation industry, and while it is far more well known in it’s later more ambitious iterations it’s worth discussing about it’s earliest variant which saw fewer departures from the Mirage 5 in terms of external modifications.

Disclaimer

  • The name IAI Kfir “Early production” isn’t really an official name as this aircraft was simply called “Kfir” in service much like the Nesher was simply called “Nesher”, however, since later versions of the Kfir all kept the Kfir prefix I felt it was necessary to add the “Early production” title to avoid confusion and specify that this suggestion deals with the very earliest production model of the Kfir.

Development history

As with the IAI Nesher project the story of the Kfir’s development is tied closely to the French arms embargo on the Israeli state that began in 1968. The embargo, despite leading to a period of major arms purchases from the USA, was largely seen as a wakeup call to the Israeli state that solutions had to be found to keep French airframes operational despite the growing lack of available parts and that local production of fighter aircraft was a necessary goal to pursue. As a result the IAI company (previously known as Bedek Aviation) was tasked with the development of a fighter aircraft based on the Mirage 5 that was jointly worked on with Dassault prior to the French embargo. This resulted in the Ra’am program which was essentially the cover up name for what would later be developed into both the Nesher and Kfir aircraft.

Raam B
In the photo is Ra’am B, one of the first prototypes of what would later become the Kfir. It was essentially nothing more than a Nesher with the necessary modifications to accommodate and operate the transplanted J-79 engine. Note how the intake on the vertical stabilizer is distinctly narrower than the one that would end up being present on the Kfir.

The Ra’am project was split into two parts, the first being Ra’am A which was being developed into the Nesher - a close copy of the Mirage 5 with minimal avionics differences and the Atar 9C engine, and the second being Ra’am B which sought to replace the engine of the Mirage with the American J-79 engine. Ra’am A began development much earlier as the idea for installing a J-79 engine in a Mirage airframe was first attempted on a test demonstration Mirage IIIBJ called the Technolog in 1970 which later also continued to be used to test weaponry, avionics and airframe changes that would be implemented into the Kfir series.

The Ra’am B project, following the success of the engine transplant on the Technolog aircraft, began development in late 1971 using Nesher number 88 as the base for the aircraft prototype. The aircraft was successfully modified redesigning the rear section to accommodate the shorter J-79 engine, reinforcing it to handle the higher temperature requirements and adding additional small air intakes along the rear fuselage and attached to the vertical stabilizer to cool the engine coating.

The Ra’am B prototype successfully flew on the 4th of June 1973 and began showing remarkable performance characteristics during it’s subsequent tests. unfortunately in one of the tests conducted in the later years of development on the 25th of May 1975 the Ra’am B prototype crashed into the sea after entering a spin while testing maneuvering at a high angle of attack.

Kfir Early proto
In the photo is the second prototype of the Kfir number 712 (previously it was Nesher number 512). While it already featured a structure that was generally much closer to that of the production model it notably still possessed a Nesher’s nose cone and still lacked the Elta EL/M-2001B radar.

Following the development of the second Kfir prototype numbered 712, IAI’s Lahav division began preparations to convert their production line to produce the new Kfir fighters based on aircraft 712’s design. The production model featured a few differences from the prototypes including the implementation of a new nose cone and new avionics such as the newly developed Elta EL/M-2001B radar, an improved bombing computer and other smaller changes. The first production airframe numbered 724 was delivered in an official ceremony during Israel’s 27th independence day celebrations on the 14th of April 1975, entering service with the 101st First Fighter squadron. It’s worth noting that by the time of this delivery IAI already pursued working prototypes of what would later become the Kfir C.2.

Kfir Early production
In the photo is the Kfir production line at IAI’s Lahav division during the production period of the early variant of the aircraft.

Service history

The earliest version of the Kfir, despite being a monumental achievement for the Israeli aviation industry, led a pretty short service life before being replaced by improved subsequent variants. Aircraft of the early production variant served in two of the IAF’s squadrons, those being the 101st First Fighter squadron (starting 14th of April 1975) and the 113th Hornet squadron (starting in February of 1976). An exact figure for the amount of Kfirs produced in this variant is generally not available by any source I could find but there were at the very least 25 airframes of this variant produced (likely more) with some figures suggesting it was over 30 airframes.


A line of early production Kfirs used by the 101st squadron

The early production Kfirs in service were presented for a very short while as one of the air forces main frontline fighter aircraft as it along with the F-4E boasted the most impressive performance among the IAF’s arsenal, however this was quickly overshadowed by the arrival of the first F-15A Baz fighters in 1976 which greatly outmatched anything in the IAF’s inventory at the time. This fact wasn’t helped by the many complaints of pilots who flew the aircraft regarding it’s poor maneuverability, both of these facts ended up in the general relegation of most Kfir aircraft both back then and later in the future to strike aircraft roles instead of fighter roles.

Speaking of the pilots’ complaints it’s worth noting that by that point in time pilots of the 101st and 113th squadrons were used to flying the nimble Mirage IIICJ Shahak and Nesher fighters which boasted very good maneuverability. Meanwhile the early production Kfirs, while having much better engines, did not account for the shift in the nominal center of gravity due to the engine swap and the increase in drag due to the additional intakes. This resulted in a fighter that turned worse than the original Mirage and lost more energy in a turn, resulting in it earning the nickname “balata” (brick) among pilots who flew it. These issues were corrected in later variants via the installation of nose cone strakes, canard surfaces and a dogtoothed leading edge for the wings.

Kfir Early 101st
In this photo are a pair of early production Kfirs from the 101st squadron in flight. Notably in this photo we can see the early production model of the Kfir lacked the countermeasure blocks found in later models and also generally featured a slightly different under-fuselage spine shape.

By mid 1977 the 101st squadron began replacing their early production Kfirs with the much improved Kfir C.2, with the 113th squadron following suit sometime in 1978. The early production Kfirs were sent to IAI to be refurbished to a variant that would later be known as the Kfir Canard (or Kfir Gderot) which aimed to bring the early production Kfirs as closely as possible to the performance level of the C.2 variant, taking into account the limitations of airframes that weren’t produced with canard surfaces in mind. They were then delivered to the 109th Valley squadron in that modification which broadly signaled the end of those Kfir airframes in their original specifications.

Kfir Early 113th
A pair of early production Kfirs from the 113th squadron in flight equipped with drop tanks.

It is likely the early production Kfirs saw combat action before being upgraded to the Kfir Canard as the first combat sortie Kfirs participated in was in November of 1977 under the 113th squadron which still operated them at that point, but there’s no solid confirmation on the specific variants that took part. One important mission that was well recorded to have been conducted by an Early Kfir was the Escorting of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat on his visit to Jerusalem in November of 1977 where his Boeing 707 was escorted by Kfir number 705 of the 113th squadron.

It is also worth noting that the Early production Kfirs continued to serve after their refurbishment into the Kfir Canard well into the 80’s and were even leased by the US Navy and Marines later in their career.


In the photo is Kfir number 705 of the 113th squadron carrying AIM-9D Sidewinders as photographed from Anwar Sadat’s Boeing 707 on his visit to Jerusalem in November of 1977.

Potential in War Thunder

As I’m writing this suggestion there are a total of 3 Kfir variants in War Thunder, however only one of them, the C.7, is available as a researchable option, while the Canard is a premium aircraft and the C.2 is an event reward. I personally believe an additional Kfir variant for the researchable line could make for a good addition as it could perhaps slightly bridge the gap between the Mirage IIICJ Shahak and the Kfir C.7 and allow more players to experience this iconic aircraft series. I realize some people might be against the idea as this Kfir variant lacked countermeasures, however I believe there’s still merit to it and a lack of countermeasures at this BR range, while not widespread, isn’t really uncommon.

Kfir Early armaments
The early production Kfir with all of it’s available weapon options.

Kfir Early illu

Specifications

Type: Interceptor and ground attack fighter/bomber

Country of origin: Israel

Wing span: 8.22 meters

Length: 15.65 meters

Height: 4.55 meters

Powerplant: General Electric J79-J1E rated at 5,200 kgf dry and 8150 kgf on full afterburner

Max speed: 1,390 km/h at sea level, Mach 2.3 at max altitude

Max altitude: 17,680 meters

Range: 768 km

Weight: Empty - 7,280 kg, Fully loaded - 14,700 kg

Armaments: 2x30 mm DEFA 552A cannons with 140 rounds per gun (280 total), up to two AIM-9D or G Sidewinders or Shafrir 2 missiles, up to 4,295 kg of ordnance including GAU-4 20mm cannon pods, FFAR and Zuni rockets, Mk.80 series bombs, M117 bombs, an M118 bomb, various French and Israeli made bombs, SUU-25 illumination paraflare pods and up to 3,900 liters of fuel in external fuel tanks.

Additional media

The following video shows footage from the delivery ceremony of the first Kfir fighter jet. It showcases both the first production airframe (number 724) and a flight demonstration of the second Kfir prototype (number 712) identified by the Nesher nose cone.

Sources

Spoiler

From Mirage To Kfir(שכפול)
מהרעם נסק הכפיר
COLORS & MARKINGS of the Israeli Air Force
חיל האויר בקרב - 70 שנות עליונות אוירית 1948-2018 - Page 590
https://www.amazon.com/Air-War-Edge-History-Aircraft/dp/1857800885

3 Likes

+1 from me!
I know any time I’ve mentioned this as an addition, I’ve had others either be confused or get mad at me for suggesting the earliest Kfir variant (lol) due to its worse maneuverability. Either way, I feel like it’d make for a pretty good addition!

Edit: I do have a question, however:
Did the early production Kfirs have a HUD, or did they use the same reflector gunsight as the Mirage V/Nesher?

Edit/further question: Wasn’t it only the Kfir C.7 and onwards that had the J1E, since that was the uprated engine? I remember seeing that the older Kfirs (early production, Canard, C.2, RC.2, TC.2) had the J79-GE-17 instead, which output the original 17,000 or so lbf.

4 Likes

Definite +1 from me! I love the Kfir and I’d love to see more variants of it.

2 Likes

Did the early production Kfirs have a HUD, or did they use the same reflector gunsight as the Mirage V/Nesher?

I couldn’t find any information in regards to potential changes to the cockpit instruments for the original model. I know that when the Early Kfirs were upgraded to the Kfir Canard, bringing them up to the C.2 standard, they did definitely have these upgrades. The presence of the Elta EL/M-2001B radar leads me to believe it’s possible it did in fact have a HUD since the HUD was the instrument used to select targets using this radar IRL as indicated by sources I’ve seen. If I or anyone else who sees this finds any reliable information as to the potential presence of a HUD on this aircraft I’ll update the post accordingly, but at the moment this is an uncertainty based on the info I have available.

further question: Wasn’t it only the Kfir C.7 and onwards that had the J1E, since that was the uprated engine? I remember seeing that the older Kfirs (early production, Canard, C.2, RC.2, TC.2) had the J79-GE-17 instead, which output the original 17,000 or so lbf.

I based my specifications on my sources, not whatever the engine is named in the game. They are all available to read online so you can cross-confirm if you want to. According to the source which I consider to be the most reliable of the ones I provided all Kfir variants have the J79-J1E engine, but starting from the Kfir C.7 the engine was tuned to produce an additional 405 hp of afterburning thrust. I have personally never seen any source indicating that any Kfir had the J79-GE-17 engine and it wouldn’t make much sense regardless since the engine had to be somewhat modified to fit in a Mirage airframe, even if it is based on the original engine used on the Phantoms. If you have counterproof of this it would be greatly appreciated.

2 Likes

Ah, thank you for the answer!
I always kinda got confused about the engine, and never realized it had to be modified to fit the Mirage airframe

+1 to fill in the gap between the Shashak and C.7, maybe the Kfir C.1 (E) could be complemented with the TC.2 variant

2 Likes

I’d love to see more Kfir variants (pocket rocket my beloved)

Looks like it’d fit around 10.3 ish? faster then contemporary French Mirages but lacks missile quantity and CMs, and since the Nesher went down it’s not going to overshadow it into obscurity.

2 Likes