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IAI Kfir

United States Navy F-21A Kfir Adversary
Role Fighter-bomber
National origin Israel
Manufacturer Israel Aircraft Industries
First flight June 1973
Introduction 1976
Retired 1996 (Israeli Air Force)
Status Active
Primary users Israeli Air Force (historical)
United States Navy (historical)
Colombian Air Force
Sri Lanka Air Force
Number built 220+
Unit cost
US$4.5 million
Developed from IAI Nesher
Variants IAI Nammer

The Israel Aircraft Industries Kfir (Hebrew: כְּפִיר, "Lion Cub") is an Israeli-built all-weather, multirole combat aircraft based on a modified French Dassault Mirage 5 airframe, with Israeli avionics and an Israeli-built version of the General Electric J79 turbojet engine.


  • Development 1
    • Background 1.1
    • Design 1.2
  • Operational history 2
    • The Kfir in foreign service 2.1
      • United States 2.1.1
      • Colombia 2.1.2
      • Ecuador 2.1.3
      • Sri Lanka 2.1.4
    • Potential users 2.2
  • Variants 3
  • Operators 4
    • Current 4.1
    • Former 4.2
  • Specifications (Kfir C.2) 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
    • Further reading 7.1
  • External links 8



The project that would ultimately give birth to the Kfir can be traced back to Israel's need for adapting the Dassault Mirage IIIC to the specific requirements of the Israeli Air Force (IAF).

The all-weather, delta-winged Mirage IIICJ was the first Mach 2 aircraft acquired by Israel from then close ally France, and constituted the backbone of the IAF during most of the 1960s, until the arrival of the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk and, most importantly, the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, by the end of the decade. While the Mirage IIICJ proved to be extremely effective in the air-superiority role, its relatively short range of action imposed some limitations on its usefulness as a ground-attack aircraft.

Thus, in the mid-1960s, at the request of Israel, Dassault Aviation began developing the Mirage 5, a fair-weather, ground-attack version of the Mirage III. Following the suggestions made by the Israelis, advanced avionics located behind the cockpit were removed, allowing the aircraft to increase its fuel-carrying capacity while reducing maintenance costs.

By 1968, Dassault had finished production of the 50 Mirage 5Js paid for by Israel, but an arms embargo imposed upon Israel by the French government in 1967 prevented deliveries from taking place. The Israelis replied by producing an unlicensed copy of the Mirage 5, the Nesher, with technical specifications for both the airframe and the engine obtained by Israeli spies.[1] Some sources claim Israel received 50 Mirage 5s in crates from French Air Force (AdA), while the AdA took over the 50 aircraft originally intended for Israel.[2][3][4]


An F-21A Kfir of VF-43 preparing for takeoff at NAS Fallon, Nevada, USA
Ecuadorian Air Force Kfir CE (C.10). Note the refuelling probe and the characteristic longer nose of this variant.

The Kfir programme originated in the quest to develop a more capable version of the IAI Nesher, which was already in series production. After General De Gaulle embargoed the sale of arms to Israel, the IAF feared that it might not have an upper hand over its adversaries in the future, which were receiving increasingly advanced Soviet aircraft. The bulk of the Israeli Air Force had been locked into the Mirage but was quickly facing problems because Mirage numbers were somewhat depleted after the Six-Day War. Domestic production would avoid the problem of the embargo completely; efforts to reverse engineer and reproduce components of the Mirage were aided by Israeli espionage efforts to obtain technical assistance and blueprints from third party Mirage operators.[5]

Two powerplants were initially selected for trials, the General Electric J79 turbojet and the Rolls-Royce Spey turbofan. In the end, the J79 was selected, not least because it was the same engine used on the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, which the Israelis began to acquire from the United States in 1969, along with a license to produce the J79 themselves. The J79 was clearly superior to the original French Atar 09, providing a dry thrust of 49 kN (11,000 lbf) and an afterburning thrust of 83.4 kN (18,750 lbf).

In order to accommodate the new powerplant on the Mirage III's airframe, and to deliver the added cooling required by the J79, the aircraft's rear fuselage was slightly shortened and widened, its air intakes were enlarged, and a large air inlet was installed at the base of the vertical stabilizer, so as to supply the extra cooling needed for the afterburner. The engine itself was encased in a titanium heatshield.

A two-seat Mirage IIIBJ fitted with the GE J79 made its first flight in September 1970, and was soon followed by a re-engined Nesher, which flew in September 1971.

An improved prototype of the aircraft, with the name Ra'am B ("Thunder") the Ra'am A was the Nesher,[6] made its first flight in June 1973. It had an extensively revised cockpit, a strengthened landing gear, and a considerable amount of Israeli-built avionics. The internal fuel tanks were slightly rearranged, their total capacity being increased to 713 US gal (2,700 l).

There were unconfirmed reports that a number of the original Mirage IIICs, re-engined with the J79 and given the name Barak ("Lightning"), took part in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, but some sources point out that there is no evidence that these aircraft ever existed.[7]

Operational history

IAI Kfir C.1 at the entrance to Ovda Israeli Air Force Base

The Kfir entered service with the IAF in 1975, the first units being assigned to the 101st "First Fighter" Squadron. Over the following years, several other squadrons were also equipped with the new aircraft. The role of the Kfir as the IAF's primary air superiority asset was short-lived, as the first F-15 Eagle fighters from the United States were delivered to Israel in 1976.

The Kfir's first recorded combat action took place on November 9, 1977, during an Israeli air strike on a training camp at Tel Azia, in Lebanon. The only air victory claimed by a Kfir during its service with the IAF occurred on June 27, 1979 when a Kfir C.2 shot down a Syrian MiG-21.

By the time of the Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon in 1982 (Operation Peace for Galilee) the IAF was able to use both its F-15s and F-16s for air superiority roles, leaving the Kfirs to carry out unescorted strike missions. Shortly afterwards, all IAF C.2s began to be upgraded to the C.7 version, with enhanced weight performance, making the Kfir more suitable to its new fighter-bomber role. During the second half of the 1990s, the Kfirs were withdrawn from active duty in the IAF, after almost twenty years of continuous service.

Israel Aerospace Industries announced in August 2013 it will offer pre-owned Kfir fighter jets to foreign customers, with a 40-year guarantee. Unit price is reported to be $20 million. A few Eastern European and Latin American countries have expressed interest, Israel’s Globes business daily reported.[8] By October 2013, Israel Aerospace Industries was in "very advanced negotiations" with at least two air forces interested in the Kfir Block 60. An aircraft can be delivered within one year, with two squadrons to be sold in two to three years. The Block 60 is offered with the Elta EL/M-2032 AESA radar with open architecture avionics to allow a customer to install other systems. The sensor provides an all-aspect, look-down/shoot-down performance in air-to-air and air-to-ground missions, with the capability to simultaneously track up to 64 targets. The J79 has been overhauled to zero flight hours, and would need replacement after 1,600 hours.[9]

The Kfir in foreign service

Since the J79 turbojet engine is a U.S design, although made in Israel, all export sales of the Kfir are subject to prior approval from the U.S. State Department, a fact that has limited the sale of the Kfir to foreign nations.

As of 2006, the IAI KFIR has been exported to Colombia, Ecuador, and Sri Lanka.

United States

Twenty-five modified Kfir C.1s were leased to the United States Navy and the United States Marine Corps from 1985 to 1989, to act as adversary aircraft in dissimilar air combat training (DACT). These aircraft, designated F-21A Kfir, had narrow-span canard foreplanes and a single small rectangular strake on either side of the nose which considerably improved the aircraft's maneuverability and handling at low speeds.

The 12 F-21 aircraft leased to the U.S. Navy, painted in a three-tone blue-gray "ghost" scheme, were operated by Fighter Squadron 43 (VF-43), based at NAS Oceana, Virginia. In 1988, they were returned and replaced by the F-16N. The 13 aircraft leased to the U.S. Marine Corps were operated by Marine Fighter Training Squadron 401 (VMFT-401), a 4th Marine Aircraft Wing/Marine Corps Reserve squadron at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona. In addition to the blue-gray painted aircraft, the USMC also had some F-21s painted in Israeli colors and desert "flogger" schemes (named because they were to represent the schemes often worn by Warsaw Pact MiG-23 "Floggers"). The Kfir was utilized because they both shared the common characteristic of being very fast (Mach 2+) and fast-accelerating aircraft with relatively poor maneuverability. The MiG-23 was targeted as the "enemy" aircraft because at this time the MiG-23 was being introduced in very large numbers, and was a very capable aircraft compared to earlier Soviet types. These USMC F-21 aircraft were replaced by F-5E aircraft when the F-21s were returned in 1989 (although this left the training units without any aircraft capable of accurately simulating the Mach 2+ and fast-accelerating MiG-23).

Six Kfirs are also used by the US firm Airborne Tactical Advantage Company, also known as ATAC, a civilian defense contractor that provides tactical adversary aircraft services to the US military.[10] ATAC provides airborne tactical training, threat simulation, and research & development. ATAC's corporate headquarters and primary operating location is located at Patrick Henry International Airport in Newport News, VA, with additional permanent operating locations at US Naval Air Stations and Marine Corps Air Stations in California, Nevada, Hawaii and Japan. ATAC also operates the Saab 35 Draken, the McDonnell Douglas A-4 Skyhawk and the Hawker Hunter F58.[11] On March 6, 2012, an ATAC Kfir, FAA registration N404AX, crashed while landing at NAS Fallon, Nevada after a flight supporting the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center. The pilot, retired USN Captain Carroll "Lex" LeFon, was fatally injured.[12]


As a result of a trade agreement between Colombia and Israel in 1989 the Colombian government bought a batch of 12 ex-IAF Kfir C.2s and one TC.2, which were delivered to the Colombian Air Force (FAC) in 1989–1990. Since then, all the C.2s have been upgraded to the C.7 variant. The FAC Kfirs have been widely used in ground-attack missions during counter-insurgency operations against Colombian terrorists. Colombian Kfirs are armed with Python 3 IR-homing AAMs. As of 2004 two aircraft had been lost in accidents.

In February 2008, Colombia signed a deal with the Israeli government for an additional 24 ex-IAF Kfir aircraft. It was estimated that these aircraft will most probably be upgraded by Israel Aerospace Industries to C.10 standard.[13][14]

In June 2009, IAI delivered the first batch of upgraded Kfirs to the Colombian Air Force in a ceremony held at IAI's facilities in Israel. In attendance at the ceremony was Juan Hurtado Cano, the Colombian Ambassador to Israel, high-ranking officers from the Colombian Air Force, and executives from the Israeli Ministry of Defense (IMOD-SIBAT). This was a part of a multi-year contract awarded in late 2007 and worth over $150 million to upgrade the existing Colombian Air Force Kfirs, and to supply additional jets. The additional Kfir jets, models C.10-C.12, have been upgraded and improved to include IAI's latest technologies and products.[15]

On July 20, 2009, a Kfir crashed near the city of Cartagena. The Israeli pilots operating the plane were unharmed in the incident, but the jet itself was destroyed. Israel Aerospace Industries said in a statement that the plane was flying a refresher flight, and that the aircraft didn't come to a stop on the landing strip, landing outside it. The director of the Israel Aerospace Industries announced that an investigation into the incident had already begun and that a panel to probe the crash had been appointed.[16][17]

On July 22, 2009, Israel Aerospace Industries informed the Colombian Air Force that the accident was caused by an unspecified human error. As a result, Israel Aerospace Industries will replace the unit lost with another one and it will resume delivery to the Colombian Air Force.[18]

On November 1, 2013, two Colombian Air Force IAI Kfirs intercepted Russian Air Force Tu-160s that had entered Colombian airspace. The Russian aircraft had taken off from Simón Bolívar International Airport Venezuela.[19][20][21][22][23]


Ecuadorian Air Force IAI Kfir CE

In 1981, Ecuador and Israel signed a sales agreement for ten refurbished ex-IAF Kfir C.2s and two TC.2s, which were delivered to the Ecuadorian Air Force (FAE) in 1982–1983. The Kfirs formed the 2113rd Squadron (Lions) of the FAE's 21st Fighter Wing, based at Taura AFB, on the Ecuadorian western lowlands.

The FAE Kfirs went into action during the 1995 Cenepa War between Ecuador and Peru. Relying on its fleet of subsonic A-37Bs for low-level ground-attack missions on Peruvian positions, the Ecuadorian Air Force held back its Mirage F.1s and Kfir C.2s for use as escorts and interceptors. On February 10, 1995, a Kfir C.2 shot down a Peruvian Air Force Cessna A-37B with a Shafrir 2 IR-homing AAM.

In 1996, with tensions still running high between Ecuador and Peru, the Ecuadorians acquired four additional Kfirs (three C.2 and one TC.2) after securing approval from the U.S. State Department.

In 1998, with its aging squadron of SEPECAT Jaguar fighter-bombers about to be withdrawn from active duty, Ecuador began talks with Israel for the sale of a new batch of eight Kfirs. Fearing an escalation of the arms race in South America (Peru had recently acquired 18 MiG-29s and 18 Su-25s from Belarus), the United States blocked the deal. As an alternative, Ecuador and Israel signed an agreement in 1999 for the delivery of two Kfir C.10s and for the conversion of an undisclosed number of the FAE's original C.2s to the C.10 version, referred to in Ecuador as Kfir CE, featuring a Helmet Mounted Display System, and armed with Python 3 and Python 4 IR-homing AAMs.

By 2005, Ecuador had lost four Kfirs, including one TC.2, due to accidents since the aircraft entered service in 1982.

Sri Lanka

A IAI Kfir of Sri Lanka Air Force

The Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) acquired six Kfir C.2s and a single TC.2 from Israel in 1995–1996. A further nine aircraft had been added to the inventory by 2005, including four C.2s and four C.7s acquired in 2000. Currently the SLAF operates two TC.2s, two C.7s and six C.2s by the No. 10 "Fighter" Squadron. The SLAF used their Kfirs to carry out attacks against LTTE rebels during the Sri Lankan Civil War in Sri Lanka.[24] Two Kfir C.7s were destroyed on the ground in an LTTE attack on SLAF Katunayake air base, part of Bandaranaike International Airport, on 24 July 2001. Three others were lost in non-combat related accidents during the Civil War period. None were lost in aerial combat.[25] In March 2011, two Kfirs collided in mid-air during an airshow practice sortie.[26]

Potential users

In the early 1990s, IAI was looking to export 40 Kfir-C fighters to Taiwan in a deal estimated to have been worth US$400 million to $1 billion; the deal fell through.[27]

In 2013, the Argentine Air Force commenced negotiations with Israel for 18 Kfir Block 60 fighters as an alternative to another deal for 16 ex-Spanish Mirage F1 fighters.[28][29] Industry sources claim IAI will "soon" receive an order for the Argentine Air Force for Kfir Block 60s after their purchase of surplus Spanish Mirage F1s failed.[30]


  • Kfir C.1 : Basic production variant.
    • F-21A Kfir : 25 upgraded Kfir C.1 aircraft were leased to the USN and USMC for an aggressor role and were designated F-21A. These aircraft had been modified and included canards on the air intakes. These canards greatly improved the aircraft maneuverability and slow speed control, and were adopted on later variants.
  • Kfir C.2 : An improved C.1 that featured a lot of aerodynamic improvements. Changes included "dogtoothed" leading edges on the wings, small strakes under the nose and a larger sweep angle of the canards.
  • Kfir TC.2 : A two-seat training variant developed from the C.2. It has a longer and lowered nose to improve the pilot's view.
  • Kfir C.7 : Vastly modified variant. Most if not all C.2 aircraft were modified to this variant. It included an improved J79-GEJ1E engine that offered more 1,000 lbs of thrust at full afterburner (and as a result increasing the Maximum Take-off Weight by 3,395 lbs), 2 more hardpoints under the air intakes, better avionics such as the Elta EL/M-2021B radar, HOTAS configured cockpit and inflight refueling capability.
  • Kfir TC.7 : A two-seat training variant developed from the C.7.
  • Kfir C.9: Proposal for Argentina powered by Atar 9K50. Cancelled. Later developed as South Africa's Atlas Cheetah
  • Kfir C.10 : A variant developed especially for export. The most important change is the adaptation of the Elta EL/M-2032 radar. Other changes include HMD capability and two 127×177mm MFDs. This variant is also known as Kfir CE ( Ecuadorean version ) and Kfir COA (Colombian version).
  • Kfir TC.10 : Upgraded version of the TC.7 for the Colombian Air Force.
  • Kfir C.12 : Upgraded version of the C.7 for the Colombian Air Force, a C-10 without the Elta EL/M-2032 radar.
  • Kfir Tzniut : Reconnaissance version of the C.2.
  • Kfir Block 60 : Upgraded version of the C.10, The main feature of this variant is the use of AESA radar, proposed to the Bulgarian Air Force[31][32] and Colombian Air Force. As of January 2014 Argentina is reported to be interested in a US$500m deal for eighteen Block 60 to replace its planned acquisition of second-hand Mirage F1M from Spain.[33]


IAI Kfir Operators 2010


 Sri Lanka


 United States
  • Was used as adversary fighter aircraft in the U.S. Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor (SFTI) program, popularly called TOPGUN. Retired from U.S. Navy service in 1988 and U.S. Marine Corps service in 1989.

Kfirs also doubled as Migs in the 1985 Tristar Pictures movie Iron Eagle.

Specifications (Kfir C.2)

Orthographically projected diagram of the IAI Kfir
An IAI Kfir with its typical weapon loadout as displayed at the Israeli Air Force Museum, Hatzerim Airbase

Data from Jane's All The World's Aircraft 1982–83.[34]

General characteristics


  • Maximum speed: 2,440 km/h (2 Mach, 1,317 knots, 1,516 mph) above 11,000 m (36,000 ft)
  • Combat radius: 768 km (415 nmi, 477 mi) (ground attack, hi-lo-hi profile, seven 500 lb bombs, two AAMs, two 1,300 L drop tanks)
  • Service ceiling: 17,680 m (58,000 ft)
  • Rate of climb: 233 m/s (45,950 ft/min)

See also

Related development
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
Related lists


  1. ^ According to a number of sources, the Israelis had some covert collaboration from Dassault Aviation itself, going so far as to allow for two disassembled Mirage 5s to be smuggled into Israel in crates (see the IAI Nesher article for details).
  2. ^ "Wing Magazine, Vol. 30/No 4, August 2000, Swiss Federal Court". p. 48. Retrieved 2012-12-25. 
  3. ^ "Wing Magazine, Vol. 30/No 4, August 2000, Swiss Federal Court". p. 48. Retrieved 2012-12-25. 
  4. ^ Rabinovich, Abraham. The Boats of Cherbourg: The Secret Israeli Operation That Revolutionized Naval Warfare Seaver Books, New York ISBN 978-0-8050-0680-3
  5. ^ "Alfred Frauenknecht; Convicted of Selling Jet Secrets to Israel". Los Angeles Times, 17 January 1991.
  6. ^
  7. ^ Aeroflight. World Air Forces. Retrieved March 25, 2006. Archived February 7, 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ "Kfir fighter jets available to new customers from Israeli Aerospace Industries". Retrieved August 23, 2013. 
  9. ^ Two air forces eyeing Block 60 Kfirs, says IAI -, 1 October 2013
  10. ^ "ATAC – The Company". Retrieved 2012-07-25. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ Ranson, Steve (March 6, 2012). "NAS Fallon: Pilot Killed in Jet Crash". Lahontan Valley News. Retrieved March 8, 2012. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ [2]
  15. ^ "Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. - Home page". Retrieved 2012-12-25. 
  16. ^ Melman, Yossi (2009-07-22). "Israeli-made Kfir fighter jet crashes in Colombia on training flight, pilots unhurt - Israel News | Haaretz Daily Newspaper". Retrieved 2012-12-25. 
  17. ^ "Israeli fighter jet crashes in Colombia; Israeli pilots escape unharmed - Israel News, Ynetnews". 1995-06-20. Retrieved 2012-12-25. 
  18. ^ "Israel Aerospace Industries LTD - FUERZA AEREA COLOMBIANA". Retrieved 2012-12-25. 
  19. ^ ABC News. "International News - World News - ABC News". ABC News. Retrieved 6 February 2015. 
  20. ^ Kfir fighter jets intercept Russian Tu-160 strategic bombers
  21. ^ Colombia enviará nota de protesta a Rusia por violar espacio aéreo
  22. ^ Colombia says Russian bombers violated its airspace
  23. ^ Colombia Protests Violation of Airspace by Russian Bombers
  24. ^ "Sri Lanka air force bombs kill two civilians – Tigers". Reuters. February 20, 2007. Archived from the original on February 22, 2007. 
  25. ^ "Sri Lanka, since 1971". 2003-10-29. Retrieved 2008-10-30. 
  26. ^ "One killed in midair collision". 2011-03-01. Retrieved 2012-12-25. 
  27. ^ Kumaraswamy, P.R. (June 2005). "Israel-China relations and the Phalcon controversy".  
  28. ^ Argentina seeks Kfir deal with Israel -, 13 January 2013
  29. ^ "Argentina buying 30-year-old Israeli fighter jets". 23 March 2014. Retrieved 6 February 2015. 
  30. ^ Argentina; FAA Poised to order Kfir B.60 -, 14 April 2014
  31. ^ сп. Криле, бр. 8, 2011 година
  32. ^ сп. Аеро, бр. 7, 2011 година
  33. ^ Guevara, Inigo (2 January 2014). "Argentine Mirage F1 buy reportedly stalls". IHS Jane's Defence Weekly. 
  34. ^ Taylor 1982, pp. 121–123.
  35. ^ "Bombas Guiada SMKB". Revista Asas (in Portuguese) 61: 29. June 2011.  
  • Taylor, John W. R. Jane's All The World's Aircraft 1982–83. London:Jane's Yearbooks, 1982. ISBN 0-7106-0748-2.

Further reading

  • Maquinas de Guerra – Enciclopedia de las Armas del Siglo XX. Planeta-De Agostini, Madrid, 1984. (Aerospace Publishing Ltd., London, 1983). ISBN 84-7551-292-5.
  • Terry Gander, Christopher Chant, Bob Munro, Collins/Jane's Combat Aircraft. Harper Resource, 1995. ISBN 0-00-470846-6.
  • Federation of American Scientists,
  • Air Combat Information Group,
  • Greg Goebel,
  • Mirage. James Follett. Novel describing the clandestine operation by an Israeli civilian to steal the engineering drawings of the Mirage from a Swiss sub-contractor in the late 1960s. ISBN 0-7493-0003-5
  • Breffort, Dominique; Jouineau, Andre (2004). The Mirage III, 5, 50 and derivatives from 1955 to 2000. Planes and Pilots 6. Histoire et Collections, Paris.  
  • Pérez San Emeterio, Carlos (1978). Mirage. Espejismo de la técnica y de la política. Armas 30 (in Spanish). Editorial San Martin, Madrid.  

External links

  • Israel Aircraft Industries F-21A Kfir
  • Walkaround IAI Kfir C.1, I.A.F. Museum, Israel
  • Walkaround IAI F-21A Kfir, I.A.F. Museum, Israel
  • Walkaround IAI Kfir C.2, I.A.F. Museum, Israel
  • Walkaround IAI Kfir C.2, I.A.F. Museum, Israel
  • Walkaround IAI Kfir TC.2, I.A.F. Museum, Israel
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