By Sangeeta Saxena
New Delhi. 22 February 2018. It was a flight which took off after a long wait but created history as soon as it flew in the skies of Jamnagar on February 19 when a MiG-21 Bison aircraft took off on a solo flight with Indian Air Force’s woman pilot Avani Chaturvedi at the controls. For the first time a lady pilot flew a fighter aircraft of the IAF independently.
Avani is from the first batch of three women officers who were commissioned as fighter pilots in the IAF in June 2016. Avani joined the IAF after completing B.Tech in Computer Science from Jaipur.
For a girl hobbies are playing the violin, table tennis and painting, Army officers in my family and a few hours of flying experience in the flying club of her college, motivated her to join the IAF.
Avani got trained in the twin-seater Hawk training jets accompanied by IAF instructors. Before that, she first got her basic training in flying on a Pilatus aircraft. This was followed by six months of training on the Kiran trainer jet and another year of training on advanced trainer jets. Currently posted at No.23 Squadron (Panthers), Avani will have to undergo rigorous training for another year before she is deployed for combat missions.
She also has to undertake air-to-air and air-to-ground combat training, learn to fly at night . She will have to learn tactical flying and manoeuvres after consolidating her general handling of MiG-21s in multiple solo sorties.
82 years ago Turkish aviator Sabiha Gökçen, who enrolled in Military Aviation Academy in Eskisehir in 1936, became the world’s first female fighter pilot. Post which the Soviet allowed its women to fly combat missions, deploying an all-woman combat flight unit, known as the ‘Night Witches,’ during World War II. The US Air Force commenced female fighter pilot training in 1993. Brigadier General Jeannie Leavitt graduated that year to become the first female fighter pilot in the US and later the first woman to command a USAF combat fighter wing. In 2013, the Pakistan Air Force revealed its first combat-ready female fighter pilot and presently has about 20 female fighter pilots. China’s first female fighter pilots made their first solo flights in J-10 fighter jets in 2012.
IAF’s commitment to give a level playing field to women is fulfilled and hope is that more and more women break the male bastion of flying fighters and there comes a time when India has a squadron of fighters with women alone. The sky will no longer be the limit for women in India.