The Air Force Station Halwara had become home to No.221 Squadron ever since they converted to MiG-23 BN in February 1982. 27 years on, No.221 Squadron is lone Squadron with MiG-23 BN on its inventory. The squadron known as the 'Valiants' was formed on 1963 at Barrackpore under he command of Sqn Ldr N Chatrath with 22 officers. It was then a part of the 55 Bengal Auxillary Air Force Squadron. Initially equipped with Vampire, Spitfire and Hurricane aircraft, it assumed the mantle of an operational unit when selected to support Indian Army's blitzkrieg advance in East Bengal during Dec 1971.
The aircraft got its first taste of operation on 04 April 1984 when the Squadron was alerted for the launch of 'Operation Meghdoot' for securing the Siachen Glacier in Northern Ladhakh. Intensive flying began in Kashmir valley, the Mig-23 BNs were employed to the limits, flying in the mountainous region by day and night. In 1985 MiG-23 BN got the unique distinction of being the first fighter aircraft ever to cross Banihal Pass in J&K region by night.
On 25 may 1999, 'Operation Safed Sagar' was launched. The Indian Air Force was to commence offensive air action at first light of the next morning. The MiG-23 BNs were launched into action targeting enemy positions at Tiger Hill with 57 mm rockets and 500 Kg bombs. The ensuing seven weeks from 26 May and 15 July saw the squadron fly 155 attack missions more than those during December 1971 operations and accounted for 28 percent of total load drop and 30 percent of all missions flown in that area.
During the Kargil conflict this aircraft had the distinction of being the single aircraft type to fire the maximum weapon load over the dizzy heights of Dras and Kargil. The MiG-23s have had flown more than 154000 hrs in the service of the nation.
(Text & Photos Courtesy IAF)