482 such planes have crashed in 30 years. There is someone risking a lot more than F-22 pilots.

May 02 2012 - 14 Comments

As already explained in a previous post, there’s a very small number of U.S. combat pilots who have asked not to fly the F-22 Raptor fighter jets, or to be reassigned to other units, because of the oxygen-deprivation problems with the fifth generation stealth fighter.

However, there’s another community of aircraft pilots risking much more than the U.S. elite fighter jocks.

On May 2, India’s Defense Minister A.K. Antony said that 482 Mig-21 fighter, more than half of the India’s 873-strong Mig fleet, had met with an accident in the last three decades. Such impressive amount of mishaps caused the deaths of 171 pilots and 39 civilians.

That’s why the Indian ageing collection of Soviet-era Migs have been dubbed “widow makers” and have long been unpopular with India Air Force pilots.

I think Indian pilots deserve the right to ask to be reassigned to a safer plane too.

Image credit: Indian Air Force

  • Ron Chapelle

    It could be worse. It might be Luftwaffe F-104s.

    • Rock

      Yes, let’s not forget the F-104, my favorite jet but also known as the ‘widow maker’.

      • To be honest, the widow maker F-104 is almost a urban legend. Germany that was the main user (with 916 examples) lost many. However, as I’ve written in my book “Italian Starfighters”:
        even if these were to be blamed on human factor and on poor weather conditions that the German pilots had to deal with, rather than on the aircraft itself, the Starfighter was nonetheless undeservedly dubbed the “widow maker”. An epithet that was firmly rejected by the Italian pilots who have been involved with the F-104 for over forty years and who can only but attest their genuine love for this fighter, appreciate its great power and reliability and who prefer to call it with the nicknames “Spillone” and “Chiodo” (“Nail”). Overall, despite many years of service, the F-104 has proven to have an accident rate that is in line with comparable aircraft, and in some cases much lower.

        • Kinetik

          Canadian pilots of the 104 didn’t share the Italian pilots “enthusiasm”. I was told point blank by pilots of the 104 that they all had up-to-date wills and kissed their wives and kids twice before each flight.

    • Even in the Luftwaffe the accident rates weren’t that high, the Luftwaffe lost a lot of machines in absolute numbers but then again they had a awfull lot of them too. A lot of the unsafeness is percieved due to marketing from competing manufactorers, political reasons and uninformedness from the press.

  • Well since about 1975 the only good thing a MiG-21 is for is to be a target for the US Navy, USAF and/or allied air forces & navies.

    India should just put these USELESS MiG-21s into storage and negotiate to turn them into drones for potential customers…

    • Dusan

      When it was introduced it made short work of most USA and other so called allied aircraft`s. Don`t blame Mig 21 for lack of training and mistakes of the pilots, We have open records now and we can see how many of them had an accidents in a Soviet Unions air force and then compare them to Indian air force…

      • With respect, my comment began “since about 1975” due to this fact. Big thing called the Vietnam War.

  • Alexandar

    Yes, Mig21 good for nothing except shot down 104′ and most of USA crap during Nam War. And about skill of Indian Air Force Man, especial for plains like is Mig21(very an forgivable, high take of and landing speed, also very easy came in stall even if speed which is on tacho under some AoA by manual isn’t stall speed, Mig-21 is Plain for high Skill Air Man which have capability to fill air plains ability to do something in specific moment’s, Mig21 isn’t plain which can execute complicate maneuver just by Manual Book and that is true, no fly by wire, very rough and deadly if pilot know what he doing.And of course Mig21 is not Multi-Roll Plain.

  • Rob

    they lost also many many Mirage, not only MiG… I think problem is not airplanes, but how they manage them and training.

  • Yawn


    The figure of 872 has been bandied about pretty recklessly with little or no research; 872 is not the total number of Migs, but rather the number of Mig-21s alone. The total figure of 21s, 23/27, 25 and 29s exceed 1200. Of course these are inexecusable figures but there’s also a difference between crashes and accidents of the the kind caused by weather and disasters like one where 21s and 27s were damaged during an earthquake in Gujarat in 2001..

    • Thanks.
      The figure was given by India’s Defense Minister A.K. Antony.

  • Joseph Volpendesta

    David, this kickstarted my memory. In late 1963, I was stationed at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, new York. We operated Army aircraft out of Stewart AFB, near Newburgh, NY. At the time, Stewart AFB was headquarters for the 26th Air Division for Air Defense Command.
    There were several pilots from India undergoing training in the Air Defense technologies of that time. In their off time, the Indian pilots, being interested in all facets of aviation, visited us. india had gotten buddy-buddy with the Soviet Union and were beginning to operate Mig-21s. The pilots I talked to seemed to be pros who had trained on other aircraft of British and American design. They told us about the Mig-21’s poor range and the fact that the engines needed to be overhauled every hundred hours which the pilots considered ridiculous.
    I remember too, the comments of george W. bush flying the F-102A. Please keep in mind that 879 F-102As were built and 250 of them crashed, killing 70 pilots. Our century-series jet fighters were notoriously unforgiving. Of course, most fighter planes are that way, aren’t they?

    • Thank you Joseph,
      interesting story.
      Many of the non-American combat pilots are (in some cases, were) trained in the U.S.,UK, France, Italy, etc, that’s why they are usually pros. What makes the difference is that poorly equipped Air Forces have fewer planes, less advanced tech requiring more maintenance work, that can affect safety.