The MiG Operational Flying Training Unit
by Phil Camp and Simon Watson
The state of Assam in North East India is blessed with extremes of weather. During the monsoon from April to September it has held records as the wettest place on earth, however during the winter months, clear pollution free skies are the norm. The Indian Air Force flying training syllabus originates in the trouble free areas of the south and progresses to Eastern Air Command for the advanced stage 3. (See AFM) The Northern States are surrounded by Bhutan and China to the North and East, and Myanmar and Bangladesh to the South.
After graduation from the Airforce Academy the students are sent to Air Force Station Barrackpore, near Calcutta for their Technical Type Training (TETTRA) course. Here future aircrew and groundcrew get to learn about the Mig21. They spend 78 hours spread over 85 periods learning the general description of the aircraft, including 24 periods on the airframe and 24 on the engine and after the 5-week course they have to pass an exam. Those that pass go onto the MOFT Syllabus and are despatched to the airfields that cater for it in the various commands. This usually amounts to about 45 students going to the main airfields in Eastern Air Command (which we will describe below) and approximately 30 students going to 15,32 and 101 squadrons in the west. The latter 3 squadrons operate the Mig21Bis and Mig21M and because of the height limitations in the Mig21FL, pilots with a torso or sitting height of over 98.25 cms will come here.
Until 31st October 2002, five units flying the Mig21FL and Mig21UM would take the students for semester 1 of the MOFT Syllabus in Eastern Air Command. They were the Mig Operational Flying Training Unit and 30 Squadron at Tezpur, the Operational Conversion Unit and 52 Squadron at Chabua and 8 Squadron at Bagdogra. However 30 Squadron was numberplated on 31.10.02, after 33 years of continuos service with the MIG21FL.
For the first two weeks the students study the pilots notes on the aircraft and the standard airfield operating procedures. At the end they have to achieve a 95% pass rate in the exam and if they fail, they get one more chance to pass it. They then progress onto the simulator where they complete several sorties to increase their knowledge on the type. The initial flying phase lasts for 30 weeks and will include 30 flying training sorties and 48 fighter sorties. Initially the students will complete about 9 sorties, dual in the Mig21U before being allowed to go solo. During dual training they practice low speed handling and must complete one practice diversion. Regimes covered include circuit training, aerobatics, loose formation flying, medium tactical flying, 2 and 4 ship formations, low level tactical flying with 2 aircraft and 4 aircraft, instrument flying.
Semester 2 commences after 6 months and continues with more advanced flying. The basic principals of ground attack, air combat training, advanced air combat and live firing are taught to the flying officers. 28 sorties are completed in the Mig21U trainer and a further 70 are completed on the Mig 21FL. During the live firing phase, sorties are flown to the Dolungmurgh Range, 125 kms to the North East of Tezpur. This range is shared with Chabua and Mohanbari, and the aircraft adhere to strict slot times over the target. Weather over the range and at diversion airfields has to be clear before a sortie can depart. Normal weapons carried are the GSH23 cannon loaded with 60 rounds, two UB16 rocket pods each with one 57-mm rocket projectile and 25-lb practice bombs. Upon completion of semester 2 the students would have flown a grand total of 58 trainer sorties and 118 fighter sorties, amounting to 105-110 flying hours. They are then deemed daytime operational on the Mig21.
To give you some idea of the intensity of the flying, the Air Officer Commanding Tezpur, Air Commodore PK Barbora VM, was quoted as saying to the press in October, that Tezpur had recorded the highest number of flying hours of any operational base in the Indian Air Force. He also went on to say that there had been a significant increase in flying hours and that on average 10,500 sorties are undertaken each year, which equates to approximately 70 a day.
During the course of the syllabus, their instructors assess the pilots and gradually their personal file is built up. Upon completion of the MOFT Syllabus they are posted out to Mig21, Mig23, Mig27 and Jaguar squadrons, depending upon their abilities. During their first operational tour they learn to become night operational.
Weather plays an important part in the MOFT syllabus. Although semesters usually start on 1st January and 1st July, bad weather and operational deployments of the frontline squadrons involved with the syllabus can delay the start and finish of courses. Some courses spend the majority of their flying during the bad weather months from April onwards, but the chances are that they would have graduated from a good weather course whilst undergoing stage 2 or 2A at the Air Force Academy.
Occasionally different permutations are tried during the MOFT syllabus. For example, currently at Chabua, the OCU were training semester one pilots only, whilst semester 2 was handled by 52 Squadron. Also some pilots from semester 1 at the OCU had been sent to 8 Squadron at Bagdogra to complete semester 2, as they have more airspace at their disposal, Chabua being very close to Myanmar and China.
Mig Operational Flying Training Unit.
MOFTU was formed on 15th December 1986 at Tezpur to impart stage 3 training on the Mig 21FL and Mig 21U. The primary role of the unit is to instruct operational flying training to pilots inducted into the fighter stream. MOFTU is the largest fighter-flying establishment in the Indian Air Force and consists of two squadrons, Alpha and Bravo. The unit has stood up twice for operational deployments in time of tension with Pakistan. The first being Operation Brass Tacks in January 1987 and more recently Operation Parakram in May 2002. Each time they despatched aircraft to operate at bases in Western Air Command, where they stood alert on operational readiness platforms. Experienced pilots were also despatched to other units to augment their aircrew strength. The official unit emblem depicts a Hawk (signifying the instructor), leading a fledgling (signifying the student).
30 Squadron, ‘The Rhinos’.
The Rhinos were formed on the 1st November 1969 at Tezpur on the Mig21FL. During the 1971 war with Pakistan, they maintained deployments at Kalaikunda and Panagarh in the east and during the first day on the 4th September they were dog fighting with Pakistani F86’s over Dacca. A week later the squadron was split in two and despatched to Panthankot and Chandigarh in the western sector. They maintained aircraft at operational readiness alert and engaged the enemy on numerous occasions, but without success. After the war they returned to the east and were stationed at Kalaikunda from where they moved to their current location of Tezpur in 1973. The unit has won numerous awards during its life and has actively participated in the training of stage 3 pilots. An average of 15 students at any point in time, being the norm. Due to the shortage of airframes, the squadron became the first in the run down of Mig21FL squadrons to be numberplated. This occurred on the 31st October 2002, exactly 33 years to the date on formation. On that day the station stopped to watch the fly-by performed by the remaining seven pilots. Its assets were then distributed amongst the other squadrons. The unit emblem depicts a one horned grey rhino, commonly found in this part of India and signifying strength and courage.
Operational Conversion Unit (OCU), The Young Ones’.
The OCU was raised on 1st October 1966 at Jamnager with the Hunter F56A, and was initially known as the Operational Training Unit (OTU). Its purpose was to ensure the smooth transition of young pilots from training into the front line squadrons. Its got its name because no matter how old the unit was, it would always have the youngest of fighter pilots in its ranks. During the 1971 Indo-Pak War it operated a four aircraft detachment from Jaisalmer and was temporarily known as 122 Squadron. On the 5th December 1971 a regiment of Pakistan Army T59 Tanks crossed the border near Tanot, with the aim of capturing Jaisalmer by sun down. Following a request to help from the Indian Army, the detachment destroyed or damaged 29 tanks in 48 hours. This action stopping the enemy advance in its tracks and earning the unit the battle honour of ‘Longewala’. The event was commemorated in the Bollywood Film, ‘Border’. During the 1971 War the OCU flew 256 sorties and apart from Longewala also carried out interdiction strikes against enemy railheads and counter air strikes against airfields and radar stations. Flying training resumed in February 1972 and in April 1975 the unit moved to Kalaikunda and was renamed the OCU. On 31st March 1991 the OCU was numberplated and all its assets were transferred to 20 Squadron. On 1st January 1998 it was resurrected at Chabua to implement the MOFT Syllabus. The OCU Crest depicts 3 Himalayan Eagles flying through lightning. The eagles depict ferocity, aggressiveness and fearlessness and by flying in formation they depict the high level of integrity and mutual co-operation that exists amongst its members.
52 Squadron, ‘The Sharks’.
52 Squadron are the youngest fighter squadron in the Indian Air Force and were raised at Hashimara on the 1st January 1986; inheriting the Mig21FL’s of 1 Squadron that had converted onto the Mirage 2000. The squadron moved to Bagdogra during January 1990 and then moved to its current location of Chabua on the 1st November 1996. The primary role of the squadron is air defence and the secondary is ground attack. However during peacetime the squadron is given the additional responsibility of conducting the MOFT Syllabus of young pilots. Like the other operational squadrons, 52 were also forward deployed to the west during times of tension in 1987 and again this year. The squadron badge is a shark signifying the aggressive nature of fighter pilots and the ability to work as part of a team, and its ability to foray close to the shores to strike blood and terror.