Ageing Mikoyan and Gurevich (MiG) 21 Bison fighter jet took to skies on Tuesday for a farewell sortie close to Pakistan border in Rajasthan, winding up six-decade long era of service in the Indian Air Force (IAF) which was besieged with accolades and denunciations too.

The IAF’s No 4 fighter squadron flew for the last time MiG-21 Bison alongside the Su-30 MKI over the Uttarlai town in Barmer, Rajasthan, at a ceremony attended by officials from the three services. The IAF, however, continues to operate two more squadrons of the Bison which would be completely phased out by 2025 and replaced with indigenously manufactured Light Combat Aircraft Mark-1As, said IAF officials.

Legendary serving record

The MiG-21 Squadron based at Uttarlai Air Force Station has served the country for approximately six decades and has significantly contributed to the war effort during Indo-Pak conflicts, a Jaipur based Defence Ministry PRO said.

The squadron known as “OORIALS” has been operating the MiG-21 since 1966 and is now being re-equipped with the Sukhoi-30 MKI aircraft, he elaborated. This change signifies the unwavering commitment of the IAF to modernise and protect the skies of the nation, the PRO observed.

In the legendary serving record, the last high was when the third-generation Bison shot down Pakistan Air Force’s fourth generation F-16 fighter jets in a dog fight post Balakot airstrike carried out on February 26, 2019, to target terrorist launch pad in neighbouring country.

“Flying coffin”

The Russian origin aircraft, however, had earned “flying coffin” epithet owing to the large number of accidents that lead to death of many pilots. As recent as on July 28, the trainer version of Bison crashed in Barmer, taking lives of the two onboard pilots. In May, the IAF ground its entire fleet of 60 ageing Mig 21s for comprehensive check after a single-engine fighter aircraft crash landed into a village of Hamumangarh district of Rajasthan, killing three women.

Former Defence Minister AK Antony had apprised Parliament in 2012 that more than half of the 872 MiG aircraft had crashed, taking lives of 171 pilots, 39 civilians, 8 other services persons, among others.