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MiG-21: A brief look at the history of the IAF's most widely used aircraft

As India was getting ready to scale up its military capabilities after losing to China in the 1962 Sino-India war and facing rising pressures from Pakistan, MiG-21 was acquired by the country in 1963

Topics
Indian Air Force | plane crash | MiG fighter jets

BS Web Team  |  New Delhi 



Mig-21, IAF

Two (IAF) pilots, wing commander M Rana and flight lieutenant Adivitya Bal were killed on July 28 when a MiG-21 Bison aircraft crashed in Barmer, . The pilots were flying a sortie when the accident took place. MiG-21s in India have had a shaky track record.

The first procured the MiG-21 in 1963. In the last 60 years, over 400 MiG-21s have crashed, killing over 170 pilots, according to data from the Ministry of Defence. It has earned the aircraft grim epithets like 'flying coffin' and 'widowmaker'.

A history of MiG-21 in India

The Mikoyan-Gurevich 21 (MiG-21) was developed by the Soviet Union and took its first flight on June 16, 1955. As India was getting ready to scale up its military capabilities after losing to China in the 1962 Sino-India war and facing rising pressures from Pakistan, MiG-21 was acquired by the country in 1963.

Also Read | MiG-21 set to retire: A dive into the aircraft's long date with accidents

Over the next 25 years, inducted 874 MiG-21s. 657 of these were built by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). HAL made several variants of the aircraft, including MiG-21FL, MiG-21M, and MiG-21bis. Despite the induction of more advanced aircraft like the Dassault Mirage 2000, Su-3 MKI and Dassault Rafale, Mig-21s continued to be the mainstay for the .

MiG-21FL was inducted into the IAF in the early 1960s. They were later phased out in 2013. A more upgraded version of MiG-21FL, MiG-21bis, was inducted in 1976 and continues to be a part of the IAF.

In 2001, India received its first MiG-21 Bison, a more advanced version of MiG-21bis. The latest Mig-21 Bison was given to IAF in 2008.

It was a MiG-21 Bison that was flown by flying officer Avani Chaturvedi, who became the first women pilot in the IAF to complete a solo flight in June 2016.

It was also a MiG-21 Bison that was being flown by wing commander (now group captain) Abhinandan Varthman when he shot down an F-16 of the Pakistan Air Force on February 27, 2019. Varthman's aircraft later crashed and he was taken into custody by Pakistan. He returned to India on March 1, 2019.

Currently, IAF has four squadrons of MiG-21 Bison aircraft, each comprising 16-18 aircraft. This takes the total strength of these jets to 64-72.

Last week, the government of India decided to retire the MiG-21 from the IAF by 2025.


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First Published: Mon, August 01 2022. 12:34 IST

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