Ode to a Swinger: A fighter pilot bids goodbye to MIG 27

As the sun dawns on you for the very last time

And you engage your afterburners for one last time

As you tear down the runway for one last time

To jump into the third dimension one last time

Hyderabad: The era of the swing-wing comes to a close today, December 27, 2019, when the last of the MiG 27 takes to the sky for one last time. There would be tears rolling down the battle-hardened cheeks of many a Flogger rider who have had the privilege of flying this wondrous design, three aeroplanes moulded in one.

The MiG 23/27 was a swing-wing design wherein, unlike any fixed-wing aircraft, its wings could be swung back to suit mission requirements—16 deg for take-off, cruise flight and landing as well as slow speed mano, where the requirement of lift was maximum—45 deg for combat employment and 72 deg (yes 72!!!! Almost like a missile) for a high-speed getaway. Naturally, the aerodynamics for these three settings were exclusive to them and hence voila!! You had three aircraft in one.

The airframe design was almost a box and to top it up, the cockpit had armoured plating around it, a flying tank?? Well almost. The wing-turning mechanism itself weighed 1.5 tons out of the 20+ tons of the all-up weight. The front gun weighed another ton. The box could carry up to 4 tons of explosives and had nine hardpoints, two of which were exclusively for the fuel drop tanks, not to mention most hardpoints could be fitted with multi shackles to carry more than one bomb.

As you scare the enemy for one last time

As you drop the lethal loads for the last time

As you are decked up in all your finery for all to see one more time

For one last time we salute you flaunting your weaponry

She could carry 22, 100kg bombs or 8, 500kg bombs etc. She would often be seen flaunting 4, 240kg rockets called the S 24s and when they left the aeroplane, and your engine didn’t surge, the driver got a feeling of a caged bird freed while pulling out of the dive. If you didn’t want to bust up the heavies you could choose to show off the 128, 57 mm rockets of four huge pods. Off course, the air-to-ground missiles both tv guided and laser-guided were always available to the planners in her heydays. When the beast was not carrying any load it always had the gun, a 30mm, 6 barrel cannon with a rate of fire of 5,000 rounds per min (the aircraft could carry only 240 rounds at a time!!!)—photo analysis of a gun attack was never possible much to the glee of the young riders—the aircraft shook as hell during fire to provide any clear picture.

With all the loads, she went from point to point navigating on the RSBN, then on the Dig Comp and even later in the upgraded version the ring laser gyros. Incidentally, my wristwatch which could store only phone numbers in 1998 had more memory than the dig comp—but it did the job absolutely fine. She could do a dive, a dive toss, laid down, high level, toss and lo behold, offset toss and level offset, weapon delivery. In the last two, the pilots aim and depress the trigger at a point which was not the target but was prominent, the aircraft did the rest.

As you duck to low levels for one last time

As you hug the ground for one last time

As you sweep the mud over for the very last time

We shall all wonder at you for what you were

The Flogger pilots were fondly called the Mud sweepers—she was a pleasure at low levels if you ignore the sweat. They learnt wind corrections for navigation, only for academic purpose and the Aircrew examination board, wind only affected the bombs and rarely the aircraft, so most had the weapon wind effect mugged up and wind effect during navigation forgotten for the most part of the year. Some even claim that they adjusted the engine RPM seeing the speed gauge and not the RPM gauge.

As he nudges your throttle to open for one last time

As he monitors your RPM and JPT for one last time

As he engages the Max Reheat for the very last time

He feels the surge of adrenaline in his veins like each and every time

The engine during its time was the most powerful single-engine fitted on a fighter. It operated so close to the surge margins that it became infamous for blowing up on your face and at times on the runways too!!! A pilot constantly had his eye on the RPM and the JPT gauge, he even opened throttle carefully with fingers crossed, but that was not a hindrance cause once revved up it was “Catch me if you can”. There are pilots who claim that an F16 with a positive lock on the tail failed to achieve a launch due to the Flogger pulling away too fast.

As you come back towards base for the very last time

As your wings are swept forward for one last time

As he calls out four greens for one more time

It’s time to come home and rest my friend, my soulmate

Sleep well for you have done your worth.

All military pilots call three greens after landing gear extension, only the Flogger pilot had the distinction of calling out four greens—one was for the ventral fin which would retract with the gears down. Actually, the downwind call was a butt of many a joke in the pilot circle but the swingers couldn’t care less. They proudly called, “Swinger one, downwind four greens, wings extended, full flaps, full stop.”

 

The article is authored by Wing Commander Amit Ranjan Giri (Retd), Indian Air Force. 

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