The IAI Nesher Fighter

Israel Aircraft Industries manufactured 51 single and ten two-seater Mirage 5s, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) named them Nesher; after an outstanding performance in the Yom Kippur War, most were sold to Argentina in the late 70s.


This is a very quick sum up of the official story of the Nesher, a story which is actually a myth. A myth that remains persistent even though it was proved to be fake.

Sure, Israel did place an order for 50 Mirage 5 fighters in 1966; then France imposed an embargo and impounded all the aircraft; then the aircraft were taken over by the French Air Force as Mirage 5Fs…but that’s where the reality ends.

The rest of the known story is little else but a myth: many of those with the least clue about this affair love to insist that Israel also paid for these aircraft, but never got them, and that France never returned the payment… Supposedly, Israel then ‘solved the problem through espionage’, and ‘learned’ how to make own Mirages with help of such ‘spies’ like Alfred Frauenknecht (a Swiss engineer working at a company involved in licence production of Mirage in Switzerland) etc., etc., etc…

Firstly, nope: it’s not truth that the French kept the money but never delivered. Yes, the original deal for 50 Mirage 5Js was canceled in 1968, but Paris and Tel Aviv then negotiated the return of the Israeli payments for them. Concluded in February 1972, related talks resulted in France returning FF32 million Israel paid for this batch of aircraft.

Rockwell deal with Dassault for a batch of Mirage 5Js to be delivered to Israel

Secondly, the story about Alfred Frauenknecht delivering ‘blueprints’ for Mirages to Israel was another cover-up: Frauenknecht was working on engine-related issues, for a Swiss company involved in local production of Mirage IIIS – and was out of condition to provide technical specifications for the Mirage 5J.

Actually…. in January 1968, Rockwell International made a deal with Dassault for another batch of Mirage 5Js to be delivered to Israel. To better cover-up the story, fuselages were made by Aerospatiale, wings by Reims-Cessna, while engines were manufactured by SABCA, a Belgian subsidiary of Dassault.

The 51 Mirage 5Js and 10 Mirage 5DDs were then delivered to Israel on board of USAF’s C-141 Starlifter transports, in 1970, and assembled by a team of Rockwell’s engineers in what was meanwhile ‘Israeli Aircraft Industries’.

The story of the Israeli Nesher Fighter, the Mirage 5 Built by Rockwell (and Not by IAI)

Nope, this is no ‘Tom Cooper discovery’: the story of delivery and assembly of French-made Mirages to Israel was published in the US magazine Wings, back in 2001, in an interview with US aircraft designer Gene Salvay.

Salvay was working for North American since WWII, and was involved in coming-into being of types like B-25, F-86, F-100 etc. In mid-1960s (after the cancellation of the XF-108 Rapier interceptor), North American was bought by Rockwell – originally a company specialized in manufacturing car spares, but meanwhile curious to expand, so also to launch car spares production in Israel.

The manufacturer plate of the first Mirage 5J

By 1970, Salvay was one of leading aircraft designers in the USA. Thus, he was sent by Rockwell to Israel to help install the General Electric J-79 engine into the Mirage fuselage. That’s how comes he witnessed the delivery and assembly of Mirage 5Js by US technicians at Israeli Aircraft Industries.

Indeed, that’s how comes Salvay then went on to design the Kfir – with quite some help from Lockheed and Dassault – before returning to the USA where he designed the B-1 bomber (between others).

The rest of the story was unearthed by Albert Grandolini in France, while David Lednicer shot the photo attached below, showing the manufacturer plate of the first Mirage 5J (meanwhile on display at the Israeli Air Force’s Museum in Israel).

Of course, this is all a rather emotional issue for interested Israelis. Unsurprisingly, even the ‘most authoritative researchers’ there are still insisting ‘only’ this – ‘the first Nesher’ – was ‘made in France’.

Actually, the story of Dassault’s involvement with the IAI just went on: in South Africa it’s a ‘public secret’ how many parts of ‘IAI Kfirs’ acquired to make Cheetah fighters in the 1980s and 1990s were also ‘made in France’.

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The story of the Israeli Nesher Fighter, the Mirage 5 Built by Rockwell (and Not by IAI)