India to retire MiG-21 ‘flying coffin’ by 2025: 200 pilots and 60 civilians killed in 61 years of crashes

He Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 It is one of the most recognizable fighters of the Cold War that, despite its age, is still present in the Air Force of some countries such as Indiabut not for much longer. For 2025India will have withdrawn the last units it still maintains and will thus close the long and troubled accident-filled career of this supersonic interceptor within the Air Force. More than 11,000 units produced between 1959 and 1985he MiG-21 It grew over the years to become one of the most advanced aircraft in the sky. to be considered a ‘flying coffin’ and then an antique from aerial combat.

The first flight of a MiG-21 took place in 1955just a decade after the end of World War II, and It was introduced into the Soviet Air Force in 1959.. It enjoyed a long period of manufacturing 26 years which ended in 1985 and made it one of the most produced aircraft in historyThe MiG-21 is one of the longest-lived Soviet fighter aircraft still in service around the world, although there are older MiG-17s and MiG-19s still flying.

He joined the Indian Air Force in 1963formed the backbone of the country’s fleet from the 1970s to the 2000s and was decisive in the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971 which lasted two weeks and ended with the surrender of the Pakistani Army. But today it is a relic that has been withdrawn from most of the world’s armies that have had itHowever, the Indian Air Force continues to fly a limited number of MiG-21s despite efforts to replace them, albeit for a short time now.

Two MiG-21s of the Indian Air Force. Indian Air Force.

One of the reasons for the longevity of the MiG-21 in the Indian Air Force is that Its number of troops is below its authorized strength.. Should have 42 fighter squadrons, but only reaches 31among which there are modern Russian fighters such as the Su-30MKI and the French multi-role fighter Dassault Rafale until the BAE Hawk and the MiG-21. The gap between the generational capabilities of the older and newer aircraft is huge. So India needs to replace older ones, like the MiG-21, while increasing its numbers to approach 42 squadrons. At present, India maintains 40 MiG-21salthough these have been updated to match the third-generation fighters, according to India Today.

But the problem with the MiG-21 is not just that it is an old fighter, but its history of mechanical problems and the number of accidents which he has starred in and which have earned him nicknames such as ‘flying coffin’ and ‘widowmaker’.

MiG-21 fighter aircraft belonging to the Croatian Army.
MiG-21 fighter aircraft belonging to the Croatian Army.Gojanovic123456789.Wikipedia.

During the 61 years of service in the Indian Air Force, 200 pilots and at least 60 civilians have died in at least 400 MiG-21 accidentsMore than half of the 840 MiG-21 fighters built in India between 1966 and 1984 have been lost in accidents. Most of the Indian MiG-21s were built under license by the state-owned company Hindustan Aeronautics LimitedHAL, in Bangalore.

Accidents have occurred even in recent years. Two pilots died in the Indian state of Rajasthan after one that took place on July 28, 2022. Another pilot was forced to eject on May 8, 2023; the pilot was uninjured, but Two civilians died on land. More than 20 planes have crashed since 2010Today, only 40 MiG-21s remain comprising 2 squadrons of the Indian Air Force which are used primarily as interceptors and for training exercises.

A Chengdu J-7 fighter, based on the MiG-21F-13, of the Pakistan Air Force.
A Chengdu J-7 fighter, based on the MiG-21F-13, of the Pakistan Air Force.Michael B. Keller.United States Air Force.

But even after the withdrawal of the Indian Air Force, The MiG-21 will remain in service with other air forces. This is the case of the hundreds of Chengdu J-7Chinese-licensed version of the MiG-21, which remain in service in the Chinese Air Force.