MIG-21 FL, IAF'S FIRST SUPERSONIC JET NOW IN AVIATION FOLKLORE
On Wednesday, December 11, 2013, the Indian Air Force (IAF) airbase in Kalaikunda, West Bengal is where the last deafening roars of four Mikoyan-Gurevich Mig-21 FL afterburners were heard for the last time. The iconic delta-wing fighter aircraft that heralded the 'supersonic era' in IAF is now part of military aviation history.
The iconic jets were flown by nearly 80 percent of the serving fighter aircrew in the IAF. Since its induction in 1963, nearly 90 percent of the IAF fighter pilots have also flown one or the other MiG variants at some point of time in their flying careers. The aircraft will go down in history as one of the finest IAF combat aircraft.
For the records, the last sorties were flown by Smirnoff Leader, Wg Cdr M Kumaria and his members comprising Wg Cdr D Maitra, Wg Cdr VR Rakesh and Wg Cdr AA Kanvinde, all pilots from the Operational Conversion Unit (OCU), the last abode of these venerable jets.
Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne who has also flown all Mig-21 variants in his illustrious career reviewed the parade commanded by OCU Commanding Officer, Group Captain VP Singh.
Three Mig-27 ML fighters from the airbase flew twice in formations in reverence to the legend of a fighter jet that was the most widely exploited platform in IAF history that has also seen action in the Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971.
Being limited in numbers, the Mig-21s played a restricted role in the 1965 war. They, however, played a crucial role in the 1971 war giving IAF the air superiority over vital points and areas in the western theatre.
In the first ever supersonic air combat that ensued over the sub-continent in 1971, an Indian Mig-21 FL claimed a PAF F-104 Starfighter with its internal twin-barrelled guns alone.
By end of the hostilities the IAF Mig-21s had claimed four Pakistani F-104s, two F-6s, one F-86 Sabre and a Lockheed C-130 Hercules.
The pin-point accurate attack on the Governor's House at Dhaka by IAF pilots flying the Mig-21s proved to be a turning point in the war forcing the adversary to negotiate an eventual surrender.
The Mig-21 was also fielded in the Kargil war. It was often the first choice of commanders as it provided unmatched flexibility due its unique attributes of high agility, fast acceleration and quick turn-around.
The Air Chief described the (phasing-out) event as a watershed moment in IAF history. The induction of first batch of six MiG-21s way back in March-April 1963, heralded the arrival of IAF in the ‘Supersonic era’, he said.
"Its unprecedented combat versatility afforded IAF great amount of operational flexibility. Over the years, this delta wing marvel slowly evolved into the combat backbone of the IAF and close to 1000 fighters (which include all variants) have served in the IAF till date. In 1980-90s the MiG-21s constituted nearly 60 percent of our combat fleet strength," the Air Chief also said.
Ironically, it was Flight Lieutenant L Nagarajan, the youngest OCU pilot whop handed over the Form-700 of one of the retiring Mig-21 FL to the Air Chief, symbolically drawing curtains on one of the most enduring saga in IAF's aviation history.
The versatility of all the Mig-21 variants immensely shaped the IAF operational philosophy for decades. The pilots, engineers and technicians who flew and maintained the Mig-21 were strong proponents of its exceptional combat worthiness.
Besides accomplishing major operational feats, the Mig-21 also ushered a revolutionary enhancement in the technological and manufacturing capabilities of our indigenous aerospace industry.
With the phasing out of the Mig-21 FL, an era of relentless performance, precision deliverance and intimidating performance has also ended.
By Gr Capt T K Singha