MiG-21FL C779 – A legendary airframe
By now, everyone would have known the sad news that on 18th February 2023, Air Vice Marshal B K Bishnoi (4594) F(P), Vir Chakra and Bar, passed away in New Delhi.
For the un-initiated, AVM Bishnoi was one of the only five officers in the IAF to have been decorated with the Vir Chakra twice. He was in command of No.28 Squadron “The First Supersonics” during the 1971 war, when they operated out of Guwahati in the Eastern Sector.
The operations undertaken by No.28 Squadron were legendary – starting with the taking out of runways of Tezgaon airfield in Dacca, to strikes against important targets in Dacca city. Key among them was the ‘Strike on Governor’s House’ which is now embedded in lore as one of the turning points of the war. On this strike, on 14 December 1971, three Squadrons attacked the Governor’s house, which forced the resignation of the civilian government of East Pakistan, and hastened the surrender of the entire Pakistani force two days later.
The first formation was led by four aircraft of No.28 Squadron, led by none other than then Wg Cdr B K Bishnoi.
AVM Bishnoi wrote a detailed account of his operations – “Thunder over Dacca” was published in Vayu magazine in the 1990s. His detailed account also appears in “Eagles over Bangladesh“. As published in these accounts, AVM Bishnoi led the sortie in a MiG-21 with the serial C779.
MiG-21 C779 was the 155th FL inducted into IAF service. It was built by HAL at end of 1970 and taken on charge in early 1971 from available records. In addition to the Governor House strike, the aircraft was flown by AVM Bishnoi on the very first day of the war during strikes against Tezgaon airfield, in which he destroyed a Twin-Otter aircraft that belonged to the Pakistan International Airlines but being used for military purposes.
The MiG-21FL C779 survived for years – it went into storage for a few years and later in the early 90s was bought back into service to serve with the OTU. It caught the eye of filmmaker Shiv Kunal Verma who was making the film “Salt of the Earth” in 1991.
In the re-enactment of the Governor House Strike, Verma used footage of the very same aircraft – C779!
The aircraft was still spotted in operations when Simon Watson and Phil Camp visited the north east in the late 90s. So it was known that the plane survived for years. The Type 77s had undergone some modifications including the UHF antenna right in front of the windshield on the forward nose.
Its fate in the subsequent years was not clear. The FLs were slowly phased out of service . It was not known what happened to this particular aircraft.
Then in 2014, Gp Capt Tarun Kumar Singha, posted a photo of a MiG-21 on display at the Air Force Hospital in Jorhat on Facebook. The webmaster of this site immediately recognized the significance of the tail number and called it out for what it was! It is to the credit of Gp Capt Singha that he took the information and let the IAF higher echelons know.
Posted in Delhi at that time was Air Vice Marshal Vikram Singh, who pulled enough strings for the aircraft to be ‘shipped’ to Delhi. At that time – and soon enough, the aircraft was taken off the pylon at Jorhat and then shipped to Delhi for Storage. He then started the arduous work of getting the airframe back to display status. The aircraft arrived with a big gaping hole in the underside due to the pylon mounting that had happened at Jorhat. That needed to be fixed and painted over. The VHF Antenna on the nose fuselage had to be removed, the undercarriage was extended.
The entire aircraft was properly painted in a scheme representing the 1971 operations and it was completed in early 2020. To complete the display an appropriate drop tank and a UB-16 rocket pod also had to be procured.
On 23 February 2020, Air Vice Marshal B K Bishnoi was invited to visit the completed aircraft at the IAF Museum in Palam. He was interviewed at that time in front of the aircraft where he recollected his memories of that historic sortie.
While AVM Bishnoi is no more, his legacy continues with the presence of the MiG he flew on the historic strike on Governor’s House. It is a direct connection to the conflict in 1971 transporting the museum visitors to that moment the East Pakistani Government collapsed ending in victory for the Indian and Bangladeshi forces, and giving rise to a new country as we know it.