Kalaikunda Airbase (West Bengal): As the iconic MiG-21 FL flied into the annals of Indian Air Force (IAF) history, fighter pilots recount their 50-year romance with fighter jet. The MiG-21 FL was in the service of the IAF for over 50 years and conducted its last sortie on Wednesday at the Kalaikunda Airbase in West Bengal.
Their phasing out is the first part of the IAF's initiative to phase out all MiG-21 fighters. The first variants, the iconic delta-wing Type 77 combat aircraft, were airborne one last time and flew a box formation as their last sortie over Kalaikunda which also signalled the end of an era in India's military aviation history.
The iconic fighter designed in erstwhile USSR was inducted in the IAF in 1963. From its pivotal role in the 1971 war against Pakistan to Kargil three decades later, the MiG-21 has formed the bedrock for most of the IAF's operations over the last five decades. For MiG pilots Wednesday was an emotional day.
"This is the first fighter which I had flown. This is like obviously my mother," said IAF fighter pilot Nagarajan L.
"It is a mixed feeling, very proud moment for me as well as very nostalgic. I have been a part of squadron, commanding a squadron which has flown this aeroplane last and is phasing it out," said VP Singh, Commanding Officer, OCU, Kalaikunda Airbase.
Yet over the years frequent crashes leading to deaths of pilots and civilians alike earned the aircraft the nicknames such as the 'flying coffin' and the 'widow maker'. Not all, however, agree to that tag.
This aircraft especially, it was a pure manual aircraft. You can feel each and every happening, whatever is happening in the instruments or on the airframe, you can feel it on your body. You fly it with feel. So that feeling, you are getting detached from that feeling that is why people are feeling sad," said Fighter Pilot and Instructor Manav Kumaria.
The iconic aircraft would surely retain a special place in the hearts of the men and women in blue. But it is perhaps also true that mothballing the MiG-21 type 77 could bring closure to those grieving hearts of this country who lost their dear ones in these derogatorily termed 'flying coffins'.
Unfortunately due to repeated accidents, the MiGs are only remembered for their controversies, but former Air Vice Marshal K Khanna said the fighter must be saluted for serving the nation for over five decades. He said that MiG-21 FL was the fastest aircraft in its time and deserved Bharat Ratna.