An Indian Air Force (IAF) MiG-21 crashed near the Gwalior Air Force Base, in India’s Madhya Pradesh region on Wednesday. Indian media reports revealed that the aircraft crashed during a routine training mission, and both the pilots aboard the MiG, a group captain and a squadron leader, ejected safely before the crash.
The MiG-21 trainer aircraft belonged to the Indian Air Force (IAF) Tactics and Air Combat Development Establishment (TACDE) training school. The crash occurred around 10 am, near the IAF’s Gwalior Air Force Base.
12th IAF Crash in 2019
Speaking to the Press Trust of India, Rudolf Alvares, Bhind Superintendent of Police said, “The two pilots ejected safely, according to the information passed to us from the village head from the spot, some 60 km from the district headquarters.”
A report by Indian media outlet NDTV reveals that this is the 12th IAF crash this year alone, and the Indian Air Force authorities have ordered an inquiry into the crash in order to determine the cause of the accident.
The MiG-21 was first acquired by the IAF during the 1960s, shortly after the Sino-Indian War, and in 2006, it was upgraded to the MiG-21 Bison version.
Earlier in March, a MiG-21 of the IAF had crashed in Indian Rajasthan’s Bikaner area, and the pilot had managed to successfully eject the aircraft before the crash. Indian media reports revealed that the crash had occurred during a routine mission in the afternoon when the engine began experiencing technical issues.
It is interesting to note that the fighter aircraft flown by the captured Indian Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, shot down by the Pakistan Air Force in the aerial dogfight that ensued on 27th February, was also part of the MiG-21 Bison fleet that is well past its retirement age, and has been maintained by the Indian Air Force with service life extensions, and recurrent upgrades.
MiG-21: Widow Maker
The MiG-21 is a Soviet-era single-engine multirole fighter attack airforce, and it forms the foundation of the fleet maintained by the Indian Air Force. The MiG-21 was first acquired by the IAF during the 1960s, shortly after the Sino-Indian War, and in 2006, it was upgraded to the MiG-21 Bison version.
An Indian media report reveals that the MiG-21 is the most accident-prone fighter aircraft in IAF’s possession, and around 14 MiG-21s have crashed during the period 2010 to 2013 alone. Its reputation for experiencing drastic technical issues and outdated systems has earned it the titles of “widow maker” or the “flying coffin”.
The report by News18 stated, “Nearly an average of 12 accidents per year took place between 1971 and 2012. These aircrafts were to retire by mid-1980s but were upgraded to Bison standard, a modern fighter jet with a powerful multi-mode radar, better avionics and communications systems.”
Experts reveal that as an aircraft continues to age and is discarded by the technological innovators of the aircraft industry, old systems and their components begin to fail drastically. However, system components tend to have a longer life potential that the life of a certified fighter aircraft itself, therefore, authorities undertake service life extension programmes to reap maximum advantage from the aircraft.
The report sheds light on IAF aircraft incidents, stating, “Around 14 MiG-21s have crashed between 2010 and 2013. During 2015-2018 there were a total of 24 IAF aircraft accidents leading to the death toll of 39.”