In perhaps the first accident involving a three-star air force officer, a French-origin Mirage-2000 fighter plane crashed within minutes of taking off from the IAF’s Gwalior airbase in Madhya Pradesh on Friday.
Air Marshal Anil Chopra, air officer-in-charge (personnel) at the Air Headquarters here, was piloting the plane along with Wing Commander Ram Kumar. The two pilots managed to eject safely 50 km northeast of Gwalior.
While the IAF has ordered a probe to ascertain what caused the crash, IAF sources attributed it to engine failure. Chopra has a reputation of being a top-notch fighter pilot.
The Mirage 2000 fighters were inducted into the IAF in the mid 1980s. French defence firms Thales and Dassault Aviation had last year signed a $2.4 bn (R12,000 crore) deal with the defence ministry for upgrading 51 Mirage 2000 fighter planes.
The firms will equip the fighters with new avionics, radars, electronic warfare suites, glass cockpits and helmet-mounted displays. IAF expects the upgrade programme — India’s costliest — to extend the life of the multi-role fighters by 20 years.
The government also gave its go-ahead to a proposal in January 2012 to arm the French-origin fighter with air-to-air missiles that can engage targets beyond visual range (distances of 40 km and above).