Wing Commander Harshit Sinha, the Indian Air Force (IAF) MiG-21 Bison pilot, was killed in a crash in Rajasthan on Friday night. Bison jets have been involved in five crashes this year.
As a result of the incident, attention has once again been drawn to India’s longest-serving fighter plane, its safety record, and the IAF’s long-term plans to upgrade its aging fleet.
In the IAF’s fleet, the Bison is the most up-to-date version of the Mig-21. The IAF has four MiG-21 Bison fighter jets squadrons, each with 16 to 18 fighter jets. The last of these upgraded MiG-21s will be phased out in the next three to four years.
One MiG-21 arrived in 1963, and 874 variants were gradually added to the air force to increase its combat capability. Of the 874 MiG-21 variants inducted by the IAF, over 60% were license-produced in India.
MiG-21 fighters have been nicknamed “Flying Coffin” and “Widow Maker” because of the number of fatal accidents they have been involved in over the past six decades.
To date, more MiG-21s have crashed than any other fighter because they dominated the IAF’s fleet of fighter aircraft for many years.
To keep its MiG-21 fleet flying longer than desired, the IAF was forced to delay the induction of new fighters.
Two years ago, the Bison participated in IAF operations in response to the unprecedented, peacetime, cross-border strike against terrorist targets in Pakistan’s Balakot region.
India’s Wing Commander (now Group Captain) Abhinandan Varthaman scripted military aviation history by downing a Pakistan Air Force F-16 seconds before ejecting from his MiG-21 Bison.