A Russian business daily reported last week the grounding of the Russian Air Force’s MiG-29 fleet, when recently, a tail broke away during a training exercise. The Vice President of Russian Aircraft Corporation (RAC) confirmed on Wednesday, the grounding of the aircraft, saying an inquiry was underway.Vladimir Barkovskiy said, “Flights of the aircraft have been postponed and a commission is conducting an investigation into the matter. When everything is okay, flights will resume. We will also be sharing the results of the investigation with the Indian Ministry of Defense.” Interestingly, he also said the Indian Air Force (IAF) was facing no such problems. “The maintenance has been looked after properly, so the IAF does not need to ground its MiG-29 aircraft.”
Last year, Algeria had also rejected 15 MiG-29s, citing poor quality, a claim that was rejected by the Russian government. The aircraft, which number 291 in the Russian Air Force, according to the Kommersant, make up almost half of the Russian fighter fleet of 650. The newspaper had also reported that the MiG plant at Lukhovitsy near Moscow is struggling to meet the Indian Navy’s order for MiG-29K carrier-borne fighters, which has reportedly only produced two aircraft in the last few years. But Barkovsky, unable to give a delivery schedule, said the grounding of the Russian fleet would have no impact on the deliveries.Retired Air Marshal Harsh Masand, who also flew the MiG-35 demonstrator at Aero India 2009 on Wednesday, says it’s very normal for air forces around the world to ground their aircraft at some point of time or the other. “It’s par for the course. Whenever we find a fault in one particular aircraft, the entire fleet is grounded and checked thoroughly.” The Air Marshal, who last flew a fighter aircraft six years back, was the first commanding officer of the first MiG-29 squadron of the IAF.
But sources in the IAF also point out that the MiG-29 tail rudder, if abused over time, can lead to weakening of structural integrity of the component. Sources have told StratPost, that this actually occurred with an IAF MiG-29 in the 1990s and was found to have been a result of mishandling of the rudder. “The MiG-29 tail rudder requires a little delicate handling. It needs to be done with finesse and not all pilots have that kind of mastery,” said one source.