Warplanes: May 26, 2003

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The venerable MiG-21 "Fishbed" is showing it's age with each new crash. After the war in Iraq, and the impressive performance of coalition warplanes, this can only indicate an opportunity for American aircraft manufacturers. 

The Indian Air Force currently has the biggest headache, since almost 700 of the Indian military's 1,200 aircraft are single-engined MiG-21s. A Russian team from MiG-MAPO (the original manufacturers of the MiG aircraft) arrived at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) at Nashik on the 20th, to work with Indian Air Force on technical problems plaguing the MiG-21 'Bison' that have earned it the dubious nickname of "flying coffins." Over the last four years, almost 88 Indian MiGs crashed and 26 pilots were killed, while 225 Indian MiGs (worth $2.1 billion) were lost in crashes between 1991 and 2000, killing 100 pilots. 

Bulgarian Defence Minister Nikolay Svinarov speculated that his air force's MiG-21 fleet might be grounded, after a fatal crash at the Graf Ignatievo (170 kilometers southeast of capital Sofia) on May 16. There had been a contract for a Russian-Bulgarian joint venture to repair the Bulgarian MiG-21s and MiG-23s, that was to be signed by late May. But at the end of April, Bulgarian Army Chief of the General Staff General Nikola Kolev announced that MiG-21 may be replaced with new fighters built to NATO standards. 

Other Eastern European nations are thinking the same way. The Czech Ministry of Defense appears to be keeping its options open for replacing its ageing MiG-21 fleet when they are finally mothballed in late 2004/early 2005. However, the British may give the Czechs as many as 14 used British Tornado F3 aircraft (on a temporary basis). 

The MiG-21 can give the uninitiated a rough ride. A Croatian journalist researching a story vomited in the cockpit of a MiG-21 fighter during a flight arranged for him and the subsequent detailed cleaning will put the plane out of action for a week. - Adam Geibel


 


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