MiG-21 Bison fighter jet that IAF Flying Officer Avani Chaturvedi flew: 10-point guide

MiG-21, which Flying Officer Chaturvedi flew, has served in the Indian Air Force for decades, and is set to be completely phased out over the next two years.

MiG-21 Bison fighter jet that IAF Flying Officer Avani Chaturvedi flew: 10-point guide
The MiG-21 has been a mainstay of the Indian Air Force for decades. (Picture: IAF)

Flying Officer Avani Chaturvedi became the first Indian woman to pilot a fighter aircraft when she made her first solo flight in a MiG-21 Bison on February 19. The MiG-21 has been one of the mainstays of the Indian Air Force for decades, and is set to be completely phased out over the next two years.

Here is a quick 10-point guide to the MiG-21:

1.     The MiG-21's full name is the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21. It was designed by the Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau of the Soviet Union in the 1950s. It made its first flight in 1956, and was first inducted into active combat duty in 1959.

2.     It is one of the most used fighter aircraft in aviation history. It has been used by the air forces of more than 60 countries on four continents. It is presently operated by the air forces of 13 countries, and has been retired from the air forces of 49 countries.

3.     It is the most-produced supersonic aircraft, with close to 11,500 being built.

4.     After the Soviet Air Forces and the Russian Air Force, the MiG-21 was most prominently used by the Indian Air Force. The IAF purchased its first MiG-21 in 1961, under an agreement which gave India full transfer of technology and the rights to build the aircraft in India. It became the first supersonic fighter operated by the IAF. 

5.     The MiG-21 FL variant was designed specifically to meet India's requirements. The first MiG-21 built entirely in India rolled out in 1970. Around the turn of the century, IAF MiG-21s were upgraded, and the variant was called the MiG-21 Bison. This was the variant that Avani Chaturvedi flew in.

6.     The nicknames most commonly used for the MiG-21 in the IAF are 'pencil' and 'rocket' - 'pencil' because it looks like one with wings slapped on and 'rocket' because it is a single-engine aircraft with everything mounted around it. It can flay at a top speed of 1.8 mach, close to 2200 km per hour. Estimates of the range of different variants of the MiG-21 over the decades has ranged from 650 km to 1250 km.

7.     More than 1200 MiG-21s have been inducted in the IAF over the decades. Close to 300 are presently in service. The MiG-21 has served in IAF combat in the 1965, 1971 and 1999 wars with Pakistan.

8.     In the 1971 war, they proved to be decisively better than the Lockheed F-104 Starfighters of the Pakistan Air Force. These face-offs between the MiG-21s and the Starfighters were the first supersonic air battles on the Indian subcontinent.

9.     MiG-21s have scored 11 confirmed kills for the IAF. However, this number is likely to be on the lower side considering the revisionist claims of the Pakistani military.

10.    Crashes of MiG-21s of the IAF have gained attention over the past decades, with the media giving it the moniker of 'flying coffins'. However, Air Force officials say the number of crashes only seems high because of the large number of the aircraft in service.

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