With multiple crashes involving its vintage Russian combat aircraft fleet MiG-21 flighter jets, reports arrived that the Indian Air Force is now going to retire one more squadron of the MiG-21 Bison aircraft by 30 September.

Earlier on Thursday evening, two pilots were killed on when an Indian Air Force MiG-21 Type 69 Trainer aircraft crashed during a training sortie in Rajasthan’s Barmer, killing both the pilots including a youngster Flight Lieutenant A Bal and Wing Commander Rana.

About MIG 21

  • The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 21  is a supersonic jet fighter and interceptor aircraft, designed by the Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau in the Soviet Union.
  • MiG is a product of Soviet Union which entered in to the service in 1959.
  • Its nicknames include: “balalaika”, because its planform resembles the stringed musical instrument 
  • Approximately 60 countries on four continents have flown the MiG-21, and it still serves many nations six decades after its maiden flight.
  • It made aviation records, becoming the most-produced supersonic jet aircraft in aviation history, the most-produced combat aircraft since the Korean War and previously the longest production run of a combat aircraft (now exceeded by both the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle and General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon).
  • India inducted the MiG-21 in 1963 and got full technology transfer and rights to license-build the aircraft in the country.
  • Russia stopped producing the aircraft in 1985, while India continued operating the upgraded variants.

What is MiG 21 Bison?

The MiG-21 Bison, one of India’s six fighter jets, is of Russian origin. It is a single engine, single seater multirole fighter aircraft. It has a maximum speed of 2,230 km/hr and carries one 23mm twin-barrel cannon with four R-60 close combat missiles. It is described as the “back-bone” of the IAF.

MiG 21 “Bison” is a single engine combat capable fighter jet specially upgraded for Indian Air Force. It is exclusive to Indian Air Force as it is customized according to Indian needs. It is equipped with state of the art avionics like helmet-mounted sights and multifunctional display screens.

This version of the MiG 21 — the last in a series of at least 15 variants — was flown for the first time in 1976. The MiG-21 Bison is described as an all-weather, multi-role fighter. It was inducted in the Indian Air Force in the early 1980s. India reportedly has 100 odd aircraft in its fleet.

MiG21 variants have been flown by nearly 40 countries. The former USSR began manufacturing these aircraft in the last 1950s. It still has a reputation as the world’s best fighter jet, with some 11,000 aircraft produced. Each has a life of up to 30 years.

Incidentally, a year ago, flying officer Avani Chaturvedi created history by becoming the first Indian woman pilot of the IAF to complete a solo flight in a MiG-21 Bison. Chaturvedi was from the first batch of three women officers who were commissioned as fighter pilots in the IAF in June 2016.

The Flying Coffin:

It is observed that the plane has been plagued with serious maintenance problems. From 1970 to 2013 at least 14 MiG’s have been crashed. These crashes are not only due to engine problem but also due to weather conditions.

The Indian Air Force due to lack of budgetary cuts is not able to purchase newer aircraft and has to make do with refitting new technology in an older machine. Due to these crashes, the plane has earned the name ‘Flying Coffin’ and ‘widowmaker’.

More than 400 MiG-21s have been involved in accidents that have claimed the lives of more than 200 pilots during the last six decades, earning the fighters ominous epithets such as “Flying Coffin” and “Widow Maker”.

Experts have said that more MiG-21s have crashed than any other fighter because they formed the bulk of the fighter aircraft in the IAF’s inventory for a long time.

IAF had to keep its MiG-21 fleet flying longer than it would have liked because of delays in the induction of new fighters.

The MiG 21 Bison crash today is the 5th this year involving the fighter. MiG-21 conducted the first flight on 14 February, 1955. It’s in service with the IAF since 1963. Current MiG-21 Bisons were upgraded first just twenty years ago , but those platforms are from early 80s. It has served well, but please, no more..

MIG 21 Design:

The aircraft has a delta wing which permits it to take turns without any rapid loss of speed. It has an operational range of 1210 Km, Flying speed of Mach 2 (2175 Km/h) and a surface ceiling of 17.8 Kms which makes it one of the best aircraft in its 3rd generation league.

India – Pakistan 2019 Skirmish:

After the Pulwama attack, the Indian govt has scaled up its military activity and adopted its “Offensive Defence” strategy. In retaliation to 26 Feb attack of the Indian Air Force where they conducting air strikes at Balakot, the Pakistan Air Force on 27 Feb planned to attack Indian Military bases with USA’s F-16 Aircraft. The Indian Air Force was ready with its interceptors and shot down one of the F-16s. Though the Indian MiG-21 piloted by Wing Cdr Abhinandan was also shot down but the global reaction was majorly focused on the fact that how did the Indian Pilot achieve this feat let’s look at the specification of the two aircrafts:

MiG 21 Aircraft vs F-16 Aircraft:

SpecificationMig-21 BisonF-16
Nick NameFish BedFighting Falcon
Generation3rd Generation4th Generation
Range1210 Km4220 km
MissilesR-73, R-77AIM-7, AIM 120 AMRAAM
Speed2175 Km/h2400 Km/h
Combat Radius370 Km547 Km

MIG 21 Aircraft Upgrades:

The MiG 21 also went under significant up gradation in 2006 with Multi-mode Radar, Better avionics & communication systems to give an edge over other aircraft. It was then renamed ‘MiG -21 Bison’. It was also fitted with R-73 Archer short range and R-77 medium-range anti-aircraft missile. It was also equipped with Helmet mounted displays which assisted the pilot while engaging in a dogfight.

Although these aircraft are more than 50 years old, even today an upgraded MiG 21 aircraft can compete with any modern aircraft in the sky. The fighting capability of these MiG series aircraft is intact even today and it is infallible but the record of this aircraft is not very good in terms of safety.

By 2012, nearly half of India’s fleet of 872 MiGs had crashed. 38 MiG-21 aircraft crashed in 10 years between 2003 and 2013. While in the last 10 years, 20 MiG-21 planes have been involved in accidents. 

Here are the five reasons believed to be behind the crashing of MiG series planes: (Source: According to ZeeNews)

  1. The strength of the MiG series aircraft is their biggest weakness. In the sky, these aircraft can fly at a speed of 2500 kilometers per hour, which makes them one of the fastest fighter jets. Experts believe that due to its high speed it becomes very difficult to operate this aircraft and the chances of accidents increase.
  2. Another reason is the design of the aircraft of this series– experts say that the canopy of this aircraft is very small in size. It is said that due to the small size of the canopy, many times the pilot does not see the runway and as the speed of the aircraft is very high, this probably leads to accidents.
  3. The third reason is the longevity of these aircraft– India got the first MiG series aircraft in the year 1963, but even after several decades, these aircraft are still serving in the Indian Air Force. Although there are many MiG aircraft, which have been retired and are adorning museums and dhabas today. One such MiG-21 aircraft is parked outside a dhaba in Rohtak, Haryana.
  4. Russia, which makes MiG planes, has not been manufacturing them since 1990. Therefore, to maintain these planes in service, India has to take its spare parts from Israel and other countries, and using spare parts from other companies also increases the chances of accidents.
  5. And the last reason is that the MiG series aircraft are single-engine fighter aircraft, so when the engine fails during flight, there is no second engine in the aircraft to support it and hence it is difficult to prevent accidents.