IAF chief Bhadauria flies MiG-21 Bison fighter to pay tribute to fallen pilot
Six days after an Indian Air Force pilot was killed in a MiG-21 crash in Punjab, IAF chief Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria on Thursday visited the fighter squadron based at Suratgarh in Rajasthan and flew a MiG-21 Bison fighter along with the squadron’s commanding officer as a tribute to the fallen pilot, officials said on Thursday.
Squadron Leader Abhinav Chaudhary’s MiG-21 Bison crashed near Moga on May 21. This was the third Bison crash this year.
“Panthers (the squadron) paid tribute to Sqn Ldr Abhinav Chaudhary by flying a ‘Missing Man’ formation, as they recommenced their op (operational) flying. The senior most serving ‘Panther’, CAS (Chief of Air Staff) flew a Bison & joined the CO in the aerial tribute. CAS later interacted with aircrew & technicians of the base,” the IAF said.
The time-honoured missing man formation involves three aircraft where one slot is kept vacant in memory of the fallen pilot.
The MiG-21 Bis (an upgraded variant of the plane flown for the first time in 1976) was further upgraded to MiG-21 Bison in India in 2000.
IAF operates four squadrons of MiG-21 Bison aircraft — a squadron has 16 to 18 fighter jets. The last of these upgraded MiG-21s are set to be phased out in the next three to four years. The air force got its first single-engine MiG-21 in 1963, and it progressively inducted 874 variants of the Soviet-origin supersonic fighters to bolster its combat potential.
Of the 874 MiG-21 variants inducted by the IAF, more than 60% were licence-produced in India.
More than 400 MiG-21s have been involved in accidents that have claimed the lives of more than 200 pilots during the last six decades, earning the fighters ominous epithets such as “Flying Coffin” and “Widow Maker”.