Scripting a new chapter, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has inducted its first batch of three women pilots into its fighter pilot squadron. It was a dream come true for the three women, who have undergone their first stage of training and will soon be flying the Mirage, Sukhoi or MiG.

The three pilots, Avani Chaturvedi, Mohana Singh and Bhawna Kanth are in their mid-twenties. They have about 150 hours of flying experience and will go to Bidar in Karnataka for their Stage-III training for a year on the British built Hawk advanced jet trainers, before they get to fly supersonic warplanes. However, the induction is on an “experimental basis”. The IAF will study the results of this induction for five years.

Speaking exclusively to this correspondent, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha said: “Indian Air Force has always been at the forefront among the three defence services. Women in IAF until now were part of various branches like the administrative branch, medical branch etc. Till now women were only flying helicopters and other transport vehicles. It was high time now that the gender disparity was addressed and women were allowed to pursue their ambitions to become officers and become part of the combat fleet.”

Talking about the three women pilots, he said they have done well so far and that he hopes that in a year’s time they will be flying Mirage, Sukhoi or MiG etc. “The desire to take on combat roles has always been there among women as well. They are as good as anyone else and I know they’ll prove to be good combat pilots as well. These three women have proved themselves with their leadership roles, will power and hard work. There are stereotypes against women but I think this is a progressive move,” he added.

This first batch, he said, will prove as a benchmark for other women pilots and if they are willing IAF would like to convert them too for combat roles. “Combat pilots also wear out fast in their skills and responsiveness but if there are any volunteers in other flying streams then sure we will see how we can induct them,” Raha said.

The new women pilots of IAF have already encountered various hazardous flying challenges during their training. On being promoted from flying cadet to flying officer, Avani Chaturvedi said, “We are feeling lucky that IAF decided to enroll women fighter pilots during our course and so we could get a chance to compete as well. It doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman, when you are flying, you only think as a fighter pilot. When we joined IAF, the provision for women to become fighter pilots was not there.  But once we got the opportunity, we worked hard and focused on fulfilling our dreams.”

Stressing that she would just like to focus on her training, Chaturvedi said, “We just got commissioned and so there is a long way to go. We are not thinking much about what will happen next or how this will affect the society. We just want to stay focused and keep working hard to move further.”

Flying Officer Mohana Singh  said, “In our training we have been taught that the real challenge is inside your head. So as a pilot we have to be mentally strong to face all physical obstacles.”

Flying Officer Bhawna Kanth said, “It takes a lot of determination, hard work and will power to reach here. If you want it and work for it then you’ll get it. We were obviously happy to know that women can become fighter pilots in India, and the moment the news was announced (that we are selected) there was no doubt in my mind if I wanted to go ahead and become a fighter pilot. I was clear about what I wanted to do and so there was no point of consultation.”

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