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‘In the 1971 war,as Flying Officer I flew MiG-21 in 31 missions’

The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) had already raided Halwara and Pathankot.

Written by Pranav Kulkarni | Pune | Published: December 12, 2013 4:40 am

On Wednesday,four MiG-21 FL aircraft flown by pilots from the Operational Conversion Unit (OCU),flew in a box formation as Chief of the Air Staff N A K Browne took salute at the ceremonial parade at Kalaikunda. After 50 years of service since their induction in 1963,the MiG- 21 FLs (type 77),the first supersonic aircraft of the IAF,took the last flight into history on Wednesday.

It was in December,1971,that the aircraft first proved its mettle against Pakistan’s F- 104s. Air Marshal (retd) Subhash Bhojwani was a young flying officer then. On December 3,1971,he was on the Operational Readiness Platform of the Adampur Air Force Station. Just 15 minutes before the sunset,he was given the “scramble” order.

The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) had already raided Halwara and Pathankot. “I flew the first sortie in the 1971 operations in MiG-21 FL,the type 77,and flew 31 missions in those 14 days of war. On December 17,the ceasefire was announced at 4 pm,and at 3.30 pm,I was providing Air Defence (AD) to Sukhoi- 7s,which were to strike Lahore,” Bhojwani said about his early association with the supersonic jet,which was to become the backbone of the IAF.

Acquired by India to counter PAF’s US-made F- 104 aircraft after being denied the same by the US,MiG- 21 proved to be a better platform than the F- 104s. “While the F- 104s were phased out within 30 years of their induction,the MiG- 21 platforms continue to serve the IAF even till date since their induction in 1963,” said Bhojwani. The MiG-21 type 74 was inducted in 1963 followed by type 76 in 1964-65. But Bhojwani said it is type- 77 that provided the strong platform for future variants . He said the Russians had designed the aircraft to be a “high-altitude spot interceptor”. “But we used it for all roles besides the specified roles,from normal air defence to Combat Air Patrol (CAP) to high-level ground attack”.

There is yet another unique role the MiG-21 FL played in the 1971 war. “We used the type 77 as high-altitude relay aircraft. I remember having done 4-5 sorties of this aircraft in this role. Due to poor visibility and lack of navigational aid when the bomber aircraft (Su- 7 and MiG-21s) returned after having struck 100 miles inside Pakistan’s territory,they found it difficult to land back home. They would fly low,so the radars would find it difficult to locate them. The radio range was insufficient. So our role as MiG-21 FL was to fly high at an altitude of 9 km and relay the signals to the returning fighter pilots. We would use code language and I was a ‘sparrow’. The Pakistanis who intercepted our conversation never imagined that it was MiG-21 FL flying at high altitude and instead thought the Russians secretly gave Indians their Airborne Early Warning Aircraft,the Moss,” Bhojwani said.

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