Kalaikunda (West Bengal), Dec 11, 2013: The iconic MiG-21 FL — a variant in the MiG-21 series of fighter aircraft — that heralded the dawn of the supersonic jet era for the Indian Air Force half a century ago, Wednesday passed into military aviation history at an emotional fly past and parade at an air base here.
Two pairs of MiG-21 FLs took off with a deafening roar from the runway of the Kalaikunda air base at 9.45 a.m. for one last time Wednesday, ending a 50-year-long association with the IAF.
The jet — that has been flown by nearly three out of every four fighter pilots of the IAF since its induction in 1963 and dealt telling blows to the Pakistan Air Force during the 1971 war — made its final pass in a four-aircraft box formation over the tarmac area.
A separate formation by three MiG-27 MLs roared overhead, performing the Trishul Break Manoeuvre in a final salute to the MiG-21s (Type-77).
It was a nostalgic moment for Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne and many other weather-beaten IAF veterans who had flown the jet and experienced the distinct “kick” of its reheat, regarded by aviation experts as quite unlike any other fighter jet’s “reheat” experience.
Browne, who reviewed the parade on the ground, commanded by Group Captain V.P. Singh — commander of the Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) which provides the final phase of training to rookie pilots who have earned their wings — called it a watershed moment in IAF’s history.
“Today’s event marks a watershed moment in IAF’s history as we reach the end of nearly five decades of remarkable operational service rendered by this iconic fighter,” he said.
The curtain came down on an enduring saga in IAF’s aviation history, as an MiG-21 FL bearing tail number C-1125 was towed out of the parade square to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne”, with wing walkers marching alongside.
Flight Lieutenant L. Nagarajan, one of the youngest pilots of the OCU, handed over the Form 700 — the document log of an aircraft — of the MiG -21 to Browne, who released a coffee table book and a commemorative postal stamp to mark the occasion.
The induction of the first batch of six MiG 21s — designed by the Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau in the erstwhile Soviet Union — in March-April 1963, ushered in the arrival of the “supersonic era” in the IAF.
Over the years, it slowly evolved into the combat backbone of the IAF and close to 1,000 fighters – including all variants – have served in the IAF till date.
“It is no wonder, therefore, that five generations of our combat pilots, including myself, who have ‘cut teeth’ on this veritable fighter, swear by its unmatched combat prowess,” Browne said.
“Today, while we operate the Su-30s and are looking forward to inducting the Rafale MMRCA, MiG-21 fighters (all variants) continue to proudly contribute to the IAF’s operational strength.”
He said that while the T-77 may have “flown its last sortie today, its imprint on the ‘Operational DNA’ of the IAF will continue for a long time”.
“Gradually the other variants of the MiG-21 would also retire from service with Bison continuing for more than a decade or so.
“On behalf of all the men and women of the IAF, I salute this veritable fighter and the contributions of all those who made it possible for our young fighter pilots to touch the sky with glory,” he said.