The MiG-21 Type 77 fighter plane, a Soviet-era aircraft that helped India win at least one war, was mothballed by the Indian Air Force today amid considerable fanfare.
The Kalaikunda airbase near Kharagpur in West Bengal saw three later-variant MiG-27 aircraft perform the 'Trishul Break Manoeuvre' as a salute to the aircraft that were towed out and into the hangar for the last time.
Earlier, two pairs of MiG-21s - India's first supersonic jet - took off with a deafening roar from the runway of the Kalaikunda air base at 9.45 am for one last time on Wednesday, and flew into the history of the Indian Air Force after 50 yearsai of service.
The final farewell to the MiG-21 was attended by Indian Air Force chief N A K Browne, among other dignitaries. The Air Chief Marshal described the event as a ''watershed moment'' in the history of the IAF, having served for nearly five decades as the force's main fighter.
Inducted into the IAF in 1963, the MiG-21 marked IAF's entry into the 'supersonic era'. Air chief Browne said in his tribute that over the years, the aircraft accorded the force a high level of ''combat versatility'' and ''operational flexibility''.
The IAF chief said this delta-wing ''marvel'' evolved into the combat backbone of the force, and close to 1,000 MiG fighters (including all variants) have served the IAF to date. In 1980-90s, the MiG-21s constituted nearly 60 per cent of the country's combat fleet strength.
Paying tributes to the ''unmatched combat prowess'' of these fighters, Air Chief Marshal Browne said, ''as a matter of fact around 80 per cent of the presently serving fighter aircrew in the IAF have flown the T-77 aircraft and 90 per cent have flown one of the MiG variants at some time or the other in their flying career.
''The T-77 may have flown its last sortie today, but its imprint on the operational DNA' of the IAF will continue for a long time.''
A MiG-21 FL bearing tail number c-1125 was towed out of the parade square to the tune of 'Auld Lang Syne', as wing walkers marched alongside.
Browne also released a coffee-table book and a commemorative postal stamp to mark the occasion.