“I would put it in just one word: intoxicating.” That was Wing Commander Vijay Joshi (retd) recalling his time inside a MiG-27.
In 1984, he was the first test pilot to fly the Russian-origin aircraft at the handing-over ceremony that December. On Friday, Joshi was at the IAF station in Jodhpur to mark the end of the aircraft’s journey.
The 76-year-old was among the several serving and retired officers who watched the “swing-wing” aircraft they had once flown get decommissioned from service.
“It is the end of an era… The shift from MiG-21 to MiG-27 was a huge move forward and now, it is time to move on. I felt sad seeing the MiG-27 get retired but that was the only way,” says Joshi.
Commissioned in 1963 as a fighter pilot, Joshi has flown the Sukhoi-7 and Mig-21, too, among other jets. And after retirement, he flew civilian and corporate aircraft. But there’s something about the MiG-27 that continues to tug at his heart.
“The technology of swing-wing was really something,” he says, referring to the additional capability that allowed the aircraft to change the sweep of its wings according to operational requirements. But subsequent developments in aerodynamics meant that the MiG-27 was the last swing-wing aircraft in the IAF.
Among the other memories of the aircraft that Joshi treasures is a watercolour painting by Russian pilot “Major Maximenkov, who had come to Ojhar in Maharashatra’s Nashik to help prepare Indian pilots”.
“Her targets met
Her promises kept
And all her duties done,
On she goes
All haloed and pretty
Into the setting sun.”
Indian Air Force salutes the mighty MiG 27 for its yeoman service to the Nation. pic.twitter.com/ptP3cMEXKs
— Indian Air Force (@IAF_MCC) December 27, 2019
In just under two hours, says Joshi, Maximenkov painted a MiG-27 taking off — a detailed work including the hills in the background. “My interaction with the Russian pilot was very friendly as I was fluent in Russian and could follow his instructions,” says Joshi.
Speaking about his experience as a fighter pilot, Joshi says modern jet fighters are “not just some high-speed toys as some people think”. “Like any state-of-art equipment, they have to be handled with great skill. And this, I think, is what I enjoyed most as a pilot. The bond between plane and pilot is very deep and difficult to fathom unless you are in the cockpit,” he says.
Friday’s event at the Air Force Station in Jodhpur was marked by a final farewell flight of ‘Scorpios’ from the Number 29 squadron — the only IAF unit that operated the upgraded MiG-27s — in a five-jet arrowhead formation flanked by Sukhoi-30 MKI aircraft.
According to a defence spokesperson, the MiG-27 has been the mainstay of the air force’s ground attack capability since 1985, while the upgraded variant “has been the pride of the strike fleet since 2006”.
(With ENS in Jaipur)