Russias grounding of the bulk of its MiG 29 fighters due to structural defects has brought back memories of similar problems with the aircraft in the Indian inventory that resulted in the grounding of IAFs fleet over a decade ago.
It came to light earlier this week that Russia had grounded over 90 MiG 29s since last month. The move was triggered after two crashes in Siberia late last year. Investigators found that the fighters had lost their tail fins in flight,leading to the disintegration of the aircraft.
Indian officers recalled that the IAF had grounded its own fleet after an identical accident near the Lohegaon air base in Pune in February 1994,when a MiG 29 crashed after its tail fin collapsed during a mild mid-air manoeuvre. The pilot ejected,and suffered serious injuries. Very few pilots are known to have survived a tail breakage,which results in the aircraft spinning completely out of control.
Soviet specialists were called in to investigate the Lohegaon crash. But they could not come to a conclusion on the reason for the tail-break,Indian air safety experts recall. The incident brought to surface the Russian tendency to blame crashes on human error,and the strong reluctance to believe that their fighters might be defective. At one point,an expert recalled,the Russians even suggested that a small meteorite might have hit the tail fin,causing it to disintegrate.
The investigation ultimately remained inconclusive,with the Russians blaming the pilot for the tail-break,and the IAF insisting that the problem lay with the tail fin of the fighter. The fighters were grounded for several months,and flew only after strengthening manoeuvres were carried out on the tail.
Indias 62 MiG 29s are currently being upgraded under a $ 1-billion contract with Russia. The fighters,which were inducted in the mid 1980s,have had some problems of late,with five of them having crashed since 2006. In all,India has lost 13 of the fighters to accidents since induction.