First batch of MIG 21s was inducted in March-April, 1963

As four MiG-21 FL (Type-77) combat jets streaked across the sky in a box formation for the last time at the Kalaikunda airbase (home to the Operational Conversion Unit of the Indian Air Force) in West Bengal’s Paschim Medinipur district on Wednesday, an era in the history of Indian military aviation came to an end.

After the final pass, a MiG-21 FL, with tail number C-1125, was towed towards the hangar. As the old warrior returned to the base for the last time to the tune of a farewell song, the pilots who had flown the war machine watched with heavy hearts. Their companion for years in many battles had bowed out of service. Three MiG-27s performed the Trishul Break Manoeuvre to pay a final tribute to the MiG-21.

To bid adieu to the venerated jet of the IAF, a solemn ceremony comprising well-coordinated parades was performed by the IAF personnel.

It was with the induction of the first batch of six MiG-21s in March-April of 1963 that the supersonic era in the IAF started. In an operational career that spanned roughly five decades, MiG-21 has done great service to the nation in gaining air supremacy during war times.

The first supersonic air combat in the subcontinent occurred during the 1971 war with Pakistan when MiG-21 proved its mettle. By the end of the war, the MiG-21 had shot down four F-104s, two F-6s, one F-86 Sabre and a Lockheed C-130 Hercules of the Pakistan Air Force, according to a release issued by the Press Information Bureau (Defence Wing).

‘Watershed moment’

Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal N.A.K Browne said: “Today’s [Wednesday] event marks a watershed moment in the IAF’s history as we reach the end of nearly five decades of remarkable operational service rendered by this iconic fighter. It is no wonder, therefore, that five generations of our combat pilots, including myself, who have ‘cut teeth’ on this veritable fighter swear by its unmatched combat prowess.”

The fact that around 80 per cent of the serving fighter pilots had flown the old workhorse proved its reliability in battle, where it dominated over enemy aircraft by means of its agility, fast acceleration and ability to turn around swiftly.

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