Attrition: India Makes MiG-21s Safe to Fly


August 21, 2007: The Indian Air Force has made its MiG-21s safe to fly. It hasn't been easy, or cheap. Five years ago, the poor safety record of the MiG21 reached crises proportions. The Indian Air Force has lost 102 of it's Russian-made MiG-21 fighters and 39 pilots to crashes, between 1 April 1992 to 31 March 2002. The defense ministry simply said that the losses were due to human error, bird hits and technical defects. But pilots had been quite blunt in pointing out that the 1950s era MiG-21 design had never been properly developed for safe flight.

At that time, the Indian Air Force still had over 700 MiG-21s, with the most modern variant being the MiG 21bis. An upgrade of older MiG-21s, costing over $5 million per aircraft, replaced electronic and mechanical items that had been identified as responsible for the accidents. This reduced the loss rate to about one crash for every 20,000 flight hours. The upgrade also made the aircraft viable for another decade.

The latest model, the 125 MiG-21 Bis aircraft, have a good safety record. But the other, older,models are what produced the nearly two crashes per 10,000 flight hours accident rate. The Bis model is good for another 15 years or so. By then, India expects to have replaced all the MiG-21 aircraft with more modern fighters.


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