Accident-prone MiG-21 to be flown only by experienced pilots: IAF


New Delhi : The Indian Air Force (IAF) said Thursday only its experienced pilots will fly the accident-prone MiG-21 supersonic fighter planes from December.

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The decision has come in view of a large number of crashes involving the Soviet-era origin fighter aircraft in which IAF has lost several of its pilots.

The IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal Norman Anil Kumar Browne, told reporters on the sidelines of a Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) event here that the trainee pilots presently undergoing flying training, will be the last batch of young pilots who will fly the MiG-21s.

“Their (trainee pilots) course finishes in December next year and thereafter, only experienced pilots would be flying the MiG-21s,” he said when asked about steps taken to reduce accident rate in the wake of two recent MiG-21 crashes that killed two IAF pilots.

Browne said the IAF had to take the decision to only let experienced pilots fly MiG-21s due to lack of enough aircraft for training in the previous years.

He said had the Hawk advanced jet trainers been procured earlier than it was done, the IAF could have completely done away with rookie pilots flying MiG-21s.

“We have to do this (fly MiG-21s) because there is no other aircraft available (for training). If the Hawk had come two years before, as planned, the MiG-21s would have been kept for experienced pilots only,” he said.

IAF did not have a trainer aircraft between the HJT-16 Kirans and MiG-21s that rookie pilots could fly before they graduated to more sophisticated aircraft. That gap was filled with India buying the Hawk in 2004, with deliveries begining in early 2008.

The MiG-21s, which India bought in 1961 and has operated over 400 of them in its fleet for over 40 years, earned the sobriquet ‘flying coffins’ after IAF lost over 100 of these planes in crashes between 1993 and 2002.

India plans to retire the over 100 MiG-21s presently in its fleet by 2017.

The IAF chief was confident that the combat pilot training will get better once it gets the new basic trainers for which a contract is likely to be signed before October to begin induction of these planes from 2013.

“Training is a big concern for us. At the moment, we don’t have a basic trainer aircraft and the case is with the government.

“We hope to get it cleared so that at least we can sign the contract by October, and we get the new trainers by 2013 when we start the new (flying training) course,” he said.