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Supersonic jet set for last sortie

New Delhi, Dec. 7: The Indian Air Force will phase out its first supersonic fighter jet, the MiG-21FL, which will fly its last sortie over the Kalaikunda airforce station in Bengal next week.

The first aircraft was inducted into the IAF fleet 50 years ago in 1963. In later years, several crashes of the aircraft earned it the unflattering sobriquet “Flying Coffin”.

But the IAF has been flying the MiG-21FL well past its service life in the absence of replacements and delays in inductions of newer aircraft. The IAF calls the aircraft “the most-widely exploited platform” in its history.

Other variants of the MiG-21 aircraft will continue to remain in service for at least five more years.

On December 11, four of the last few MiG-21FL in the IAF fleet will fly in a “box” formation, as Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne watches, into military aviation history.

The Soviet-origin MiG-21FL played crucial roles in the wars of 1965 and 1971.

In the 1971 war, which led to the creation of Bangladesh, a pinpointed attack on the Governor’s House at Dhaka by IAF pilots flying the MiG-21s “proved to be a turning point in the war” forcing Pakistan to negotiate a surrender.

In the western front, in what was the first supersonic air combat over the sub-continent in 1971, an Indian MiG-21FL claimed a PAF F-104 Starfighter with its internal twin-barrelled guns alone, the IAF records.

By end of the hostilities, the IAF MiG-21s had shot down four Pakistani F-104s, two F-6s, one F-86 Sabre and a Lockheed C-130 Hercules.

The MiG-21 was also fielded in the 1999 Kargil war.