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India’s Legendary MiG-21 Prepares To Say Goodbye To The Sky

According to the Eurasian Times, an Indian Air Force MiG-21 fighter jet crashed near Suratgarh during a routine training exercise on the morning of May 8.

As India’s first supersonic fighter, a formidable opponent in the air battles with Pakistani fighters, the legendary Mig-21 is about to retire after more than 60 years of service in the Indian Air Force (IAF).

According to the Eurasian Times, an Indian Air Force MiG-21 fighter jet crashed near Suratgarh during a routine training exercise on the morning of May 8. The pilot ejected safely, however, three civilians on the ground were killed. Now every IAF MiG-21 crash generates controversy and anger in the country; and retention of the aging aircraft has been blamed for fatalities.

The MiG-21 was the world’s first supersonic fighter, born in the late 1950s and was an outstanding aircraft of its time. Also known as the Fishbed, the Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-21 is the longest-serving fighters in the Indian Air Force.

The fighter proved to be a valuable asset to India in a number of battles, from the moment it entered service in 1963. The Indian Mig-21Bis has been continuously upgraded with modern weapons and avionics on an airframe that is still decades old, and now it looks like it will soon be retired.

India is the largest operator of MiG-21s. In 1961, the Indian Air Force opted to purchase the MiG-21 over several other Western competitors. As part of the deal, the Soviet Union offered India full transfer of technology and rights for local assembly. Since 1963, India has introduced more than 1,200 MiG fighters into its air force.

The MiG-21 is extremely prone to accidents. According to indiatoday, More than 400 Indian Air Force MiG-21s have crashed in the last 60 years, claiming the lives of over 200 pilots and 60 civilians. Hundreds of crashes over the years have fueled debate over the safety of the aircraft and has earned it the infamous ‘flying coffin’ moniker.

Currently, only the MiG-21 Bison, which is the most upgraded version of the aircraft, is operational in the air force’s fleet. All other variants have been phased out. The Bison has been retrofitted with fourth-generation avionics.

The lightweight fighter jet was designed to achieve Mach II, despite its low afterburning turbojet engine. However, the MiG-21 is largely devoid of fly-by-wire technology, which lets onboard computers handle several components of the aircraft, aiding the pilot in several ways, especially in adverse situations.

In the Indian Air Force the MiG-21 is used in a variety of roles ranging from high-speed interceptions to low-level dogfighting and close support role. Indian MiG-21 was switched to a close support role from the 1980s.

It must be noted that the MiG-21 already has a higher landing and take-off speed compared to most other aircrafts in the IAF fleet. Its take-off speed is almost double compared to that of other aircrafts. In the event of any fault, the pilot has less reaction time in a MiG-21 as compared to the situation in other aircraft.

Bird strikes are also prevalent in India, which is particularly troubling for single-engine aircraft. In double-engine aircrafts, if one engine is lost in the event of a bird strike, the other engine can hold the plane stable until the affected engine is restarted.

Newer single-engine aircrafts like the Mirage 2000 have a set of static-guide panes which reduces the vulnerability to a bird strike. The Mirage also has two air intakes, while the MiG-21 has just one.

Despite being a durable design, the Mig-21 is too outdated compared to the new designs. Indian MiG-21 Bison has served well, and it is expected to be retired in 2025.