'In the 1971 war, as Flying Officer I flew MiG-21 in 31 missions'
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On Wednesday, four MiG-21 FL aircraft flown by pilots from the Operational Conversion Unit (OCU), flew in a box formation as Chief of the Air Staff N A K Browne took salute at the ceremonial parade at Kalaikunda. After 50 years of service since their induction in 1963, the MiG- 21 FLs (type 77), the first supersonic aircraft of the IAF, took the last flight into history on Wednesday.
It was in December, 1971, that the aircraft first proved its mettle against Pakistan's F- 104s. Air Marshal (retd) Subhash Bhojwani was a young flying officer then. On December 3, 1971, he was on the Operational Readiness Platform of the Adampur Air Force Station. Just 15 minutes before the sunset, he was given the "scramble" order.
The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) had already raided Halwara and Pathankot. "I flew the first sortie in the 1971 operations in MiG-21 FL, the type 77, and flew 31 missions in those 14 days of war. On December 17, the ceasefire was announced at 4 pm, and at 3.30 pm, I was providing Air Defence (AD) to Sukhoi- 7s, which were to strike Lahore," Bhojwani said about his early association with the supersonic jet, which was to become the backbone of the IAF.
Acquired by India to counter PAF's US-made F- 104 aircraft after being denied the same by the US, MiG- 21 proved to be a better platform than the F- 104s. "While the F- 104s were phased out within 30 years of their induction, the MiG- 21 platforms continue to serve the IAF even till date since their induction in 1963," said Bhojwani. The MiG-21 type 74 was inducted in 1963 followed by type 76 in 1964-65. But Bhojwani said it is type- 77 that provided the strong platform for future variants . He said the Russians had designed the aircraft to be a "high-altitude spot interceptor". "But we used it for all roles besides the specified roles, from normal air defence to Combat Air Patrol (CAP) to high-level ground attack".