Индия: самолет упал на деревню
Indian Air Force personnel stand near the debris of a MiG-21 fighter that crashed into a village in Lakhabawal, 350 km west of Ahmedabad February 20, 2004. An Indian Air Force MiG-21 fighter jet crashed into a village in Gujarat on Friday, killing three people on the ground and injuring 15 others, authorities said. REUTERS/Amit Dave
Ageing MiG-21s, rookie pilots: A deadly combo
TIMES NEWS NETWORK[ SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 21, 2004 12]
NEW DELHI : Flying Officer G S Ghumman, who ejected from his MiG-21 after it developed engine trouble in Jamnagar on Friday morning, symbolises the typical IAF rookie pilot.
They may be bright-eyed and full of swashbuckling spirit, but are forced to fly ageing and extremely-demanding fighters like the MiG-21s without adequate training and "mentoring" by their seniors.
"The oldest fighter aircraft in the IAF is flown by the youngest pilots for the maximum number of sorties. Coupled with inadequate flying skills, lack of situational awareness and errors of judgment, the MiG-21s with several design limitations form a deadly mix," admitted an officer.
Friday's MiG-21 crash, as per preliminary investigations, was caused due to an engine flameout. "It appears to be an engine malfunction... Ghumman, while doing a pull-up attack as part of his training mission, tried to relight the engine but was unsuccessful," said IAF's director of flight safety, Group Captain A V Thakurdesai.
"Technical defects" and "human errors" have caused 40 per cent each of the around 320 category-I crashes (where the aircraft is a total loss) witnessed by the IAF since 1990-91, with the rest being attributed to bird hits and other factors.
While it's economically impossible to replace the MiG-21s, which constitute over a little less than half of the IAF combat fleet, maintenance standards need to be drastically overhauled.
Pilot training, of course, remains a crucial issue since the IAF itself feels that "human error" is more responsible for the crashes.
Take Ghumman himself. After 120 hours of training on subsonic aircraft like HPT-32 and Kiran trainers, which have a take-off and landing speed of 140-200 kmph, he was compelled to graduate directly to the supersonic MiG-21s.
The MiG-21s, incidentally, have the highest take-off and landing speed (340 kmph) in the world. Ghumman did not get any transitional training in an AJT (advanced jet trainer), which would have taught him the basics of tactical and air combat flying with a speed of around 250 kmph during the take-off and landing phases.
He had to make do with second-generation MiG-21 twin-seater trainers, which India buys second-hand from countries like Kyrgyztan and Ukraine at a cost of Rs 2.5 crore a piece. An AJT, in turn, costs Rs 85 crore.
The government may have cleared the Rs 8,000-crore British "Hawk" AJT deal in September last year, after a two-decade delay, but the actual contract is yet to be signed. The delivery of the AJTs will begin only 35 months after it is inked.