Safety concerns ground Mirage fleet, French team helping probe

After two successive crashes that have been pinned down to engine failure, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has grounded its fleet of Mirage 2000 fighters even as a French technical team has arrived to help probe the accidents. The front line fleet of 49 fighters, some of which are also assigned a nuclear delivery role, have been on the ground for the past ten days and will only fly after further safety checks.

The entire fleet was grounded after the recent crash on March 5 in Rajasthan when a trainer version of the aircraft went down after the engine cut off in mid flight. The crash was similar to the one that took place last month when another trainer version of the Mirage 2000 went down even as an Air Marshal who was at the controls managed to eject safely.

Sources said that a team from Snecma, the engine manufacturers of the French fighters, is presently in India to help the IAF team in its investigation. The two successive crashes have come as a major setback for the IAF that has maintained a very good safety record for the Mirage 2000 fleet with the last crash taking place in 2004.

It is learnt that among other lines of investigation, possible defects in the Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC) system that controls the power plant are also being probed. The computer controlled system governs all aspects of engine performance. While this is not a known problem in the fleet, it is being probed as both crashes took place due to engine trouble.

Sources said that the fighters will be allowed to fly only after technical checks rule out a larger problem that affects the entire fleet. As reported, in last month's crash involving Air Marshal Anil Chopra the engine cut off mid flight and did not re engage even after the pilots tried to restart it several times. After successive attempts, both were ordered to eject as the fighter lost altitude.

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