It was an emotional moment as people watched,amidst firing Zon guns,three MiG-27 aircraft perform the Trishul Break manoeuvre at the Kalaikunda airbase in West Midnapore Wednesday as a salute to a MiG-21 type 77 (FL) aircraft that was towed to the hangar for the last time.
The operational conversion unit here bade a final farewell to its oldest workhorse after five decades of service as the fleet of MiG-21 FL fighters was officially phased out.
For years,the IAF has depended on MiG aircraft,which also took part in the 1971 war.
The retirement of the MiG 21 FL or ‘Type 77’ variant is another sign that the end of an era is close. The squadron at the Operational Conversion Unit in Kaliakunda – which will now be used as gate guardians and models for educational institutions – consisted of the oldest MiG 21’s in service.
However,the MiG 21 era for the air force is far from over. As many as 10 squadrons of more modern variants of the fighter – M,Bis and Bison – are still in service. This fleet of over 200 fighters is still the biggest in the air force but will soon be dwarfed with the Su 30 MKI’s progressively getting into service.
Over the next 1-4 years,the four squadrons of the M and Bis variant of the fighter will also be retired as age catches up. However,the six squadrons of the modernised Bison variant are scheduled to remain in service till 2022.
The workhorse of the air force,the MiG 21’s were introduced in service in 1963 and proved their mettle in 1971.
Before Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne received form 700,the document log of the aircraft,he delivered a speech wherein he said that the end of nearly five decades of remarkable operational service by the iconic fighter was a watershed moment in the history of the Indian Air Force.
No wonder,five generations of combat pilots,including myself,who have cut teeth on this veritable fighter swear by its unmatched prowess. Around 80 per cent of the serving fighter IAF aircrew have flown the T-77 and 90 per cent one of the MiG variants, Browne said,adding that the T-77 may have completed its last sortie today but its imprint on the operational DNA of the IAF will continue for a long time. Gradually,the other variants of MiG-21 will also retire.
Group Captain T K Singha said the 15 MiG-21s that the fleet had were used for combat and training fighter pilots.
Now,these would serve as decorative pieces or gate guardians. Some of those would also be sent to aeronautical and engineering institutes for students to study and understand the physics of the mean machines while the trainer aircraft would be sent to the Bison squadron, he said. Singha added that the replacement was yet to be decided.