“Fighting the skies”- 16 March 2016.

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Thursday, 24 March 2016 19:10

International Women’s Day 2016 created history when Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, chief of air staff while addressing a seminar on women in uniform said that "The IAF will get its first woman fighter pilot on June 18, 2016,'' It was welcomed with a thunderous applause no wonder. For women have been waiting for this day when the government of India will have faith in the power and strength of its women and open the doors of the cockpit of fighter planes so to say. Women of India are already flying choppers and transport planes and are also in the Indian Air Force in the capacities of staff of technical, logistics, administrative, law and medical services. This was the last bastion which has also been won! A major milestone!

It is a matter of pride and honour for women to fight along with men for their country. They are equally devoted, dedicated and determined. Somehow so far they were denied entry in combat roles due to their some weird mindsets. In 2014, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha had said that women “by nature [are] not physically suited for flying fighters for long hours, especially when they are pregnant or have other health problems.” That led to several court cases by female officers demanding more equality and better treatment in the armed forces. Naturally!

Arup Raha apparently changed his opinion about women and their capabilities when he said, “We have women pilots flying transport aircraft and helicopters. We are now planning to induct them into the fighter stream to meet the aspirations of young women in India.”

That is the right thinking. Women and their aspirations have broken many barriers. They are beginning to think out of the box and want to explore all terrains of career making however tough and hostile they may be. They are challenging themselves and working hard to prove their mettle which is commendable. Many girls say, “This is 21st century, give us a chance please”! That is the spirit with which we need to march forward.

There are currently 1,500 women serving in the IAF, including 94 pilots and 14 navigators. However, female pilots and navigators have so far been confined to non-combat roles and serve in transport and helicopter units. “Inducting women into the fighter stream would provide them with an equal opportunity to prove their mettle in combat roles,” the defence ministry statement notes. The first woman fighter pilot will be in the cockpit in June 2017. The press release from the ministry of defence further states that this is “in line with contemporary trends in armed forces of developed nations.” Women fighter pilots have been serving in the air forces of Pakistan, Israel, UAE, US and UK among others. And the Indian women were feeling terribly limited and left out! Even Pakistan inducted women in 2013 they fretted.

 

it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, who finally took the decision to open the cockpits of fighter aircraft for women. After the hesitation and reluctance the IAF is now going all out to make this experiment a success the reports say. Another report of a parliamentary committee of April 2015 found that India is facing a critical shortage of pilots. Opening up the fighter stream to female top guns might help alleviate this shortfall. That makes huge sense as women must be seen as a great resource with tremendous potential.

"This is a learning experience for us. This is the first time we will be putting women cadets in the fighter aircraft cockpit. There are lessons for all of us. We will benefit from these experiences,'' sources in the IAF headquarters said.

Flying Cadets Avani Chaturvedi, Bhawana Kanth and Mohana Singh, are on the threshold of entering history books in the country by being the first three women cadets to be cleared for flying fighter aircraft. We congratulate these three brave hearts. And wish many more to follow their footsteps.

The three women flying cadets are undergoing flying training at the Indian Air Force base in Hakempet along with their male counterparts. It is stated that there is no special treatment for the women cadets. They undergo the same rigorous training as the men. "No concessions for us. Physical fitness or mental robustness, the tests are the same,'' says Flying cadet Mohana Singh.

The women cadets will have to clear every physical, mental and psychological test to be cleared for flying fighter jets.

"So far they are performing better than our expectations. They are mentally very alert and physically as fit meeting all the requirements” say the trainers.

Raise your expectations gentlemen, here we come, they seem to say!!