In one week, the Indian Air Force has seen two MiG fighter planes fall out of the skies, reconfirming the aircraft's 'flying coffin' tag. One plunged into paddy fields in Punjab on July 7, killing both the pilot and co-pilot, while another crashed in Kashmir during a routine sortie on Monday, although the pilot managed to bail out. Russian-made MiGs make up nearly half of the air force's planes and are used extensively for training. But their safety record has been a cause for concern for the past decade. They keep dropping out of the sky, costing the air force a huge amount in lost planes and striking fear into the families of pilots, who never know if the aircraft will make it safely home. Over the past decade, 120 young pilots have died in 290 accidents, the vast majority involving MiG planes. In the past three years alone, 50 MiGs have crashed on training flights. According to one estimate, the air force loses one MiG for every 2,500 flying hours, making it the most vulnerable aircraft in service anywhere in the world. Defence Minister George Fernandes recently defended the track record of the ageing MiGs, which are almost 40 years old, praising their 'worthiness and efficacy'. The government blames the high crash rate on pilot error, technical problems or bird hits. But experts say the problem is Indian pilots are being trained on the wrong plane - on operational jet fighters rather than on trainers. 'MiGs become flying coffins in the hands of inexperienced pilots. Trainee pilots have to make a quantum leap from training on slower subsonic aircraft straight to the supersonic MiG,' said defence analyst Ashok Subramaniam. 'That's because the air force has no trainer aircraft to fill the gap before the pilot moves on to an operational fighter aircraft.' In 1982, the government promised to buy advanced jet trainers so that pilots could make a more gradual transition. Two decades later, it is still ruminating. The families of the dead pilots are deeply distressed. The mother of Abhijit Gadgil, who was on a routine sortie in his MiG-21 two years ago when it plunged into the Rajasthan desert at 500km/h, has formed a lobby group. 'Not only do young boys like my son die, the government then takes away their honour by saying it was pilot error without bothering to prove this. How many more must die before we do something?' said Kavita Gadgil.