Aircraft, Pilot or Politics – MiG-21 Veteran Pilot Decodes Why India’s Russian Origin Fighters Keep Crashing

Two fundamental arguments are emerging from the Indian Air Force (IAF) community in defense of the MiG-21 fighters, the absence of new fighter squadrons, which force them to fly older jets, and ‘obsolescence’ and ‘flying’. Distinguish between ‘capacity’. airplane.

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This old Type 96 version of the MiG-21 was involved in the accident last week in Barmer, Rajasthan, but was probably still flying as it was a twin-seat trainer after completing his basic and advanced jet training. Used to prepare young pilots posted in the squadron.

Wing Commander M. Rana (38) and Flight Lieutenant Aditiya Bal (26) died in the accident.

An Indian Air Force MiG-21 in flight

Firstly, the former Air Chief, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa touched upon both the aspects in an interview with India Today. Saying that he “would like to retire (MiG-21) early,” he could not because the Air Force did not have the aircraft as the procurement program was mired in bureaucratic hurdles.

Against an ideally required strength of 42 Squadron (with 18 jets in a squadron) to thwart dual Pakistan and China, the IAF is operating with 33 Squadron.

Second, aircraft that have passed their lifetime are still flyable if they are assessed to be “serviceable”. This indicates that years of wear and tear can still be reduced by aircraft with repairable and replaceable parts.

Once unusable, aircraft are also phased out, such as the Type 96 of the MiG-21, which was retired in 2019. This was not the ‘Bison’ – or the MiG-21bis – was not an improved version of the MiG-21 that was built by Wing Commander Abhinandan. Varthaman used against the Pakistan Air Force (PAF).

There have been at least six MiG-21 crashes since January last year, killing five pilots. And of the 872 involved since 1960, nearly 400 have been lost in accidents since 1971-72, more than 200 pilots and 50 civilians have been killed.

MiG-21: obsolete does not mean unusable

Neither serviceable aircraft have been spared, as even before the latest accident, the Indian Air Force had planned to phase out around 70 MiG-21Bisons. This included ’51 Sword Arms Squadron’ based in Srinagar and three other squadrons at Uttarlai, Suratgarh and Nal in Rajasthan.

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Air Chief Marshal PV Naik (Retd), speaking to the Eurasian Times, cited inexperience with the new delta-wing designs that IAF pilots were not used to in the 1970s, such as the Toofan, Mysteres and Hawker Hunter. Like flying a jet.

“For one, the MiG-21 has a rare nose intake design, whereas the Hunter had intakes on the wings. The delta-wing configuration lent the aircraft different flight characteristics, the initial batch of pilots were not used. This generates induced drag at low speeds. Besides, the engine response is also slow at low speeds,” Naik said. Out of his 3,000 hours of flight, Naik spent 2,000 hours on the MiG-21.

Rapid urbanization and construction activity around airports invited bird hits or dust/particulate matter (foreign object damage or FOD) into the jet’s vast air intakes, contributing to some accidents.

With no replacement for decades, Nike disagrees, blaming the service for not retiring the aircraft. Like Dhanoa, Naik also differentiated between obsolescence and unusability, saying that “flying an old aircraft means it has been found to be serviceable and airworthy.”

“When the two pilots signed the logbook, and the jet taxed the runway, it meant it would have been deemed fit to fly,” Dhanoa said.

Material failures after the aircraft’s own lifetime are otherwise unpredictable, yet should not be surprising. Even before entering serial production, the manufacturer (in this case Mikoyan Design Bureau or Mikoyan Gurevich) performs thousands of hours of work known as ‘non-destructive testing’.

Typically, the life of each part and component until the aircraft begins to show wear and tear is predicted and becomes a part of the technical manual handed out to users.

Dhanoa, who flew a twin-seater MiG-21 with Varthaman on September 2, 2019, about 15-20 days before his retirement, has become the longest-serving and largest fleet of jets in the Indian Air Force by combining pointed to the illusion created. Which naturally makes them the most accident-prone.

Otherwise, the rate of accidents per 100,000 hours of flight is still low, claims Dhanoa.

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Air Force Chief ACM BS Dhanoa took a flight in a MiG-21 trainer aircraft with Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman at Air Force Station Pathankot. This is the last flight flown by ACM BS Dhanoa in a fighter aircraft before retirement from Indian Air Force, via Twitter handle.

Dhanoa saw only two accidents during his tenure, both ‘Bird Hit Over Range’ at Jamnagar, where he was the Flight Commander of a MiG-21 Squadron. But there were no accidents during his tenure as Squadron Commander at Bathinda or Station Commander at Naliya for two and a half years.

Solid fighter, radical design, ‘unforgiving’ handling

In fact, the MiG-21 has a higher crash rate than other aircraft of the time, such as the Gnat or Hunter jets. But that’s because the fundamentally unique jet is “forgiving” that “requires a lot of skill,” Dhanoa said.

Retired Group Captain TP Srivastava – who himself commissioned out of the MiG-21 – boasts of its versatility as a ground attack, photo-reconnaissance and air defense jet discovered by the Indian Air Force.

The Soviet Union designed the MiG-21 as a supersonic interceptor in the 1960s at the height of the Cold War to take out American bombers.

IAF pilots were not accustomed to delta-wing aerodynamics and initially handled the aircraft incorrectly. Another unusual feature was the landing speed of 366 km/h.

The thin delta-wing resulted in a flight condition known as ‘super-stall’, where the MiG-21 sank at a rapid rate of 100–150 meters per second, losing about 20–30,000 feet within a minute. Used to give

A few fatal accidents have been attributed to the incident, apart from Bird Hit, FOD and Dark Knight Flying – the latest being the last crash by a MiG-21. However, Srivastava and Dhanoa wonder why both the pilots were not ejected.

Another quirky feature in the MiG-21, considered ahead of its time and one of many testament to the ingenuity and invention of Soviet defense aerospace design, was the nose intake.

The Retractable Automatic Moving Cone Control System was a technological marvel that even the United States could not succeed in designing.

“In my more than 30 years of flying, I have never experienced an engine failure,” Srivastava claimed, adding that his only evacuation was due to a fire after a hydraulic pipeline ruptured.

This happened after the aircraft arrived after an overhaul from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), where the heat shield gap around the ‘hot zone’ did not conform to specification. However, the aircraft had one of the best airframes where not a single jet ever broke into the air.

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Unfamiliarity with the engine’s characteristics led to the claim of one such pilot in 1974. The trainee pilot flew a MiG-21 Type 77 in a supersonic profile sortie and had to climb up to 21 km.

At those altitudes, the windmilling RPM of the R11F2S-300 engine is also around 95-99%. Not realizing that the engine had caught fire, the young pilot descended and by the time he came out, his parachute had fallen too short.

The MiG-21’s ability to glide well even without engine power often contributed to the disappearance of young pilots that the engine caught fire.

Image for representation: Ejection from the plane – via Pinterest

no advanced jet trainer

Young IAF fighter pilots did not have an Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) for their Phase-III flight training for several years after flying HJT Kiran and PZL TS-11 Iskra in Phase II.

MiG Operational Flying Training (MOFT) was being conducted directly on the MiG itself.

Thus, a trainee went straight from the Kiran/Iskra cockpit, which had a maximum speed of 240 km/h, to the MiG-21, which had a landing speed of 366 km/h.

The British Aerospace and Engineering (BAE) Hawks, meant for Stage-III Advanced Jet Training, started arriving in India only by November 2007. Srivastava blames the “unaccountable” bureaucracy for the delay.

Peacetime military accidents are a professional hazard and a threat to life and war as a hard reality. Aircraft are complex flying machines, and their operation is in itself a complex overlap of many other organs of government.

It is simply impractical not to expect military mishaps and for an air force like India to continue flying older jets when newer ones are not available.

Obsolete weapons, when modern ones are not available, can be a liability in peace but an asset in war – which usually does not warrant prior notice.

Soviet weapons of the Cold War era are killing both Russian and Ukrainian armies because they still have enough arsenals of that bygone era. Coffins are an attribute of war anyway.

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