Continuing the series of blogs by IWRM on Indian women who have smashed stereotypes and have entered male bastions, here is the fourth piece on Indian Women Fighter Pilots.
Flying Officers Avani Chaturvedi, Bhawana Kanth and Mohana Singh on 18 June 2016 were commissioned as India’s first three women Fighter Pilots .
Avani Chaturvedi became the first Indian woman to fly the MiG 21 Bison, solo. Not only did this declare that a woman from a small town in Madhya Pradesh could become a combat pilot, but it exponentially contributed to the complex narrative surrounding gender inequality in India.For decades, perennial monologues by men about pregnancy, practical ‘ineptitude’ and menopause have denied women a spot in a gamut of high-pressure professions, including the armed forces. “There is a strong belief that combat, by nature, is a male occupation; that the army is a male space and combat the most masculine of all aspects of war,”
Chaturvedi has worked hard in destabilising that belief. She underwent six months of intensive training at the Air Force Academy in Dundigal, Hyderabad, before she was inducted into the IAF fighter squadron. “The best part of being a pilot is that you are flying an aircraft—it is a machine. The aircraft does not know who is sitting behind it, so the machine will behave in the same way it would behave with a male pilot,” Chaturvedi’s defence family gave her unconditional support, irrespective of her gender. The Indian Air Force, however, has traditionally been structured along immutable gendered lines. Chaturvedi received her Bachelors in Technology from Banasthali Vidyapith, a university in rural Rajasthan’s Tonk district.
Bhawana Kanth hails from Darbhanga district in Bihar. As a child, she always dreamt of flying planes. She opted for the fighter stream after successfully completing her stage I training.Daughter of an officer in the Indian Oil Corporation, she set the goal of becoming a fighter pilot and serve the nation.
Mohana Singh comes from Jhunjhunu district of Rajasthan. Her grandfather was a flight gunner in Aviation Research Centre and father is a warrant officer in the IAF. Mohana is excited to continue the family legacy of serving the nation.
While women pilots have been flying helicopters and transport aircraft since 1991 in the IAF, it was last year when the government decided to allow women into fighter jet cockpits.
In a first, a woman has been inducted as a pilot in the Indian Navy. Shubhangi Swaroop, who hails from Uttar Pradesh, will soon be flying Maritime Reconnaissance aircraft.
For Shubhangi, who is the daughter of a Naval commander, its a dream come true on being selected as a pilot. Though Shubhangi is the first Naval woman pilot, the Navy’s Aviation branch has had women officers operating as air traffic control officers and as ‘observers’ in the aircraft who are responsible for communication and weapons.
There have been women fighter pilots in other countries long before India .A brief history of such brave women of some major countries are listed below.
1st Turkish Woman Fighter Pilot
Sabiha Gökçen was a Turkish aviator. She was the first Turkish female combat pilot, aged 23. According to some sources, including Guinness World Records, she was also the world’s first female fighter pilot, being enrolled in the Military Aviation Academy in Eskisehir in 1936.As girls were not being accepted by the War College in Turkey in those years, Sabiha Gökçen was provided, on Atatürk’s orders, with a personalized uniform, and attended a special education programme of eleven months at the Tayyare Mektebi (Aviation School) in Eskişehir in the academic year 1936-1937. After receiving her flight patents (diploma) she trained to become a war pilot at the 1st Airplane Regiment in Eskişehir for six months.She improved her skills by flying bomber and fighter planes at the 1st Aircraft Regiment in Eskişehir Airbase and got experience after participating in the Aegean and Thrace exercises in 1937. In that same year, she took part in the Dersim rebellion and became the first Turkish female air force combat pilot. A report of the General Staff mentioned the “serious damage” that had been caused by her 50 kg bomb to a group of fifty fleeing “bandits.” and she was awarded with a takdirname (letter of appreciation). She was also awarded the Turkish Aeronautical Association‘s first “Murassa (Jeweled) Medal” for her superior performance in this operation.
In 1938, she carried out a five-day flight around the Balkan countries to great acclaim. In the same year, she was appointed “chief trainer” of the Türkkuşu Flight School of the Turkish Aeronautical Association, where she served until 1954 as a flight instructor and became a member of the association’s executive board. She trained four female aviators, Edibe Subaşı, Yıldız Uçman, Sahavet Karapas and Nezihe Viranyalı. Sabiha Gökçen flew around the world for a period of 28 years until 1964. Her book entitled “A Life Along the Path of Atatürk” was published in 1981 by the Turkish Aeronautical Association to commemorate Atatürk’s 100th birthday. Throughout her career in the Turkish Air Force, Gökçen flew 22 different types of aircraft for more than 8,000 hours, 32 hours of which were active combat and bombardment missions.
1st British Woman Fighter Pilot
Joanna Mary Salter (born 27 August 1968 in Bournemouth) was Britain’s first female fast jet pilot flying the Panavia Tornado ground attack aircraft with 617 Squadron, she later became an inspirational speaker. In November 2016 she joined PwC as a manager, responsible for digital capabilities within the People and Organisation practice. Salter joined the Royal Air Force at the age of 18 to be an Engineering Officer but she went on to train as a pilot after the British government announced that women would be allowed to fly jet aircraft in 1992. As part of her engineering training she had studied at the Royal Military College of Science. Salter was awarded her wings on 3 Apr 1992 and at the end of 1992 she finished her fast jet training at RAF Brawdy with Dawn Hadlow (nee Bradley), who became Britain’s first RAF female flight instructor.
In August 1994 Salter joined 617 Squadron at RAF Lossiemouth in August 1994 as a Flight Lieutenant, and was declared combat ready by the RAF on 21 February 1995. Salter was the first woman to be an operational Tornado pilot and she later flew from both Turkey and Saudi Arabia in protection of the No-fly zone over Iraq. Whilst flying ground attack Tornados, Salter started a MBA course with the Open University in 1996, being sponsored by the MoD, she completed the course in 1999.
1st German Woman Fighter Pilot
Hanna Reitsch (29 March 1912 – 24 August 1979) was Germany’s most famous female aviator and test pilot, starting in the early 1930s. During the Nazi era, she and Melitta von Stauffenberg flight tested many of the regime’s new aircraft.
She set more than 40 flight altitude records and women’s endurance records in gliding before and after World War II. In the 1960s, she was sponsored by the West German foreign office as a technical adviser in Ghana and elsewhere and founded a gliding school in Ghana, where she worked for Kwame Nkrumah.
1st French Woman Fighter Pilot
CommandantCaroline Aigle (12 September 1974 – 21 August 2007) was a Frenchaviator who achieved a historical first when, at the age of 25, she became the first woman fighter pilot in the French Air Force. Her promising military career was cut short by death from cancer seven years later. She was posthumously awarded the Médaille de l’Aéronautique (Aeronautics Medal). After graduating from the Polytechnique, Aigle chose to join the French Air Force. On 28 May 1999, she became the first woman to receive the Air Force’s coveted fighter pilot wings. She was assigned to the Mirage 2000-5 in the escadron 2/2 “Côte-d’Or” in 2000, and promoted to the rank of Commandant (roughly equivalent to Major) in 2005. Among the top candidates, she was also on the verge of being selected as an astronaut for the European Space Agency. By the time of her sudden death three weeks before her 33rd birthday (the cancer, a melanoma, had been diagnosed only a month earlier), she had accumulated a total of 1600 hours of flight time.
Aigle was a keen athlete and represented the Air Force in inter-service sports competitions. She was the 1997 French military champion in triathlon, followed by the 1997 triathlon world championship in military team competition. Still competing in 1999, she and her team won the triathlon world military vice-championship. She was also a skydiver and free-fall parachutist.
1st Russian Woman Fighter Pilot
Lydia Vladimirovna Litvyak (August 18, 1921 in Moscow – August 1, 1943 in Krasnyi Luch), also known as Lilya, was a fighter pilot in the Soviet Air Force during World War II. With twelve solo victories and four shared kills over a total of 66 combat missions, over about two years of missions, she was the first female fighter pilot to shoot down an enemy plane, the first of two female fighter pilots who have earned the title of fighter ace, and the holder of the record for the greatest number of kills by a female fighter pilot. She was shot down near Orel during the Battle of Kursk as she attacked a formation of German planes.
1st American Woman Fighter Pilot
Jeannie Marie Leavitt (born c. 1967) is a United States Air Forcegeneral officer. She became the United States Air Force’s first female fighter pilot in 1993, and was the first woman to command a USAF combat fighter wing.
Leavitt began her Undergraduate Pilot Training at Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas in 1992. She was being trained as a T-38 instructor pilot at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio when restrictions on women flying combat missions were dropped in April 1993. Thereafter she began formal combat training in the McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle, becoming the service’s first female fighter pilot.1st Lt. Flynn sitting in the cockpit of a F-15E during her time with the 555th Fighter Squadron.Leavitt’s F-15 flight hours have included 300 combat hours, mostly over Afghanistan and Iraq. On one mission, during Operation Southern Watch in 1996, she supported a Royal Air ForceTornado GR1 under threat from an Iraqi Roland surface-to-air missile.
From 2002 to 2010, Leavitt earned three master’s degrees; a Master of Business Administration from Auburn University in Alabama (2002), a Master of Military Operational Art and Science from the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base (2004), and a Master of National Security Strategy from the National War College (2010).
Leavitt’s first command was the 333d Fighter Squadron at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina. She was appointed Commander of the 4th Fighter Wing, at the same base in June 2012.
1st Israeli Woman Fighter Pilot
Roni Zuckerman, the first female jet fighter pilot for the Israeli Air Force, received her wings in 2001. Zuckerman is the granddaughter of Zivia Lubetkin and Icchak Cukierman (also known as Yitzhak Zuckerman) whose nom de guerre was “Antek”. Her grandparents were among the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising during World War II and among the 34 fighters who survived. They were founding members of Lohamei HaGeta’ot (“the Ghetto Fighters’ kibbutz”), which was established near Haifa in the late 1940s by survivors of the ghettos, and it was there that Zuckerman was raised.
Although women had served as pilots during the Israeli War of Independence and a few years thereafter, the Israeli Defence Forces had, until 1995, denied women the opportunity to become pilots. After the prohibition was lifted, the first female graduate was F-16 navigator “Shari” in 1998, followed three years later by Zuckerman, the first female jet-fighter pilot in IAF history.Another Israeli woman who took the course at the same time as Lt Zuckerman, but failed to qualify, described to a reporter the training as “mentally and physically exhausting.” She stated, “I did 100 push-ups a day, which is difficult for a woman. Of the women on the course, only Roni qualified.
1st Chinese Women Fighter Pilots
China has a significant number of female pilots. According to china.com.cn, the PLA Air Force (PLAAF) has had 545 female student pilots in its history, of which 328 have graduated and 52 of them are currently flying military aircraft.
In 1951, the Chinese government decided to admit the first group of female pilots.
In 2009, the first 16 female fighter jet pilots graduated from the Air Force’s Third Aviation College. That year was also the first time female pilots participated in the National Day parade by flying fighter jets.
Liu Yang and Wang Yaping, two female pilots, were also chosen to participate in astronomical missions with the Shenzhou-9 and 10 spacecraft in 2012 and 2013 respectively.
Piloting fighter jets involves more danger and pressure than other types of aircraft, such as transportation craft or helicopters and it’s traditionally been seen as difficult for women. It requires pilots to be strong physically and China is intentionally training greater number of female pilots because other countries’ experience with such pilots seems to indicate that they often are more careful, and particularly excel in certain tasks, such as recognizing maps and operating delicate equipment.
1st Korean Women Fighter Pilots
The supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea met two of the country’s female fighter pilots.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watched “with satisfaction” as a pair of female fighter pilots flew supersonic jets in a series of drills. He called the pilots “very admirable” and “flowers of the sky.”He said they should be proud of mastering supersonic jets that are, “hard for men to fly.” He said they were the first female fighter pilots “in the history of army building,”.
1st Pakistani Woman Fighter Pilot
Pakistan’s first female fighter pilot
Ayesha Farooq fought her mother to pursue her dream; ‘In our society most girls don’t even think about doing things as flying an aircraft,’
With an olive green head scarf poking out from her helmet, Ayesha Farooq flashes a cheeky grin when asked if it is lonely being the only war-ready female fighter pilot in the Islamic republic of Pakistan.
Farooq, from Punjab province’s historic city of Bahawalpur, is one of 19 women who have become pilots in the Pakistan Air Force over the last decade – there are five other female fighter pilots, but they have yet to take the final tests to qualify for combat.
1st Afghani Woman Fighter Pilot
Niloofar Rahmani (Persian: نیلوفر رحمانی, born 1992) is the first female fixed-wing Air Force aviator in Afghanistan‘s history and the first female pilot in the Afghan military since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.
1st UAE’s Woman Fighter Pilot
Mariam al-Mansouri (Arabic: مريم المنصوري), (born 1979 in Abu Dhabi), is the first female fighter pilot of the United Arab Emirates. She was one of the first women to join the United Arab Emirates Air Force (UAEAF) academy after women were allowed to join, graduating in 2007.She flies an F-16 Fighting Falcon and lead UAE mission airstrikes against ISIS over Syria.
1st Somalian Woman Fighter Pilot
Asli Hassan Abade was one of the first women pilots in Africa; she is also the first pilot known and so far only female pilot in the (Somali Air Force – SAF).She soloed her first flight on 9 September 1976.
1st Danish Woman Fighter Pilot
Line Bonde (born c.1979) is a Danish fighter pilot. In July 2006, aged 27, she became the first female Danish fighter pilot, flying an F-16 jet fighter.
1st Swedish Woman Fighter Pilot
Captain Anna Dellham recently completed her first Gripen solo flight to become the first female Gripen pilot in the Swedish Air Force.
Captain Anna Dellham becomes the first female Gripen pilot in the
Swedish Air Force. Photo: Swedish Armed Forces
In fact, Anna Dellham is Sweden’s only female combat pilot whatsoever. She was awarded her wings in the mid-1990s and flew the Viggen until the aircraft was taken out of service before going onto fly the SK 60. She now works with Gripen’s development at FTS, the Aeronautical Command of the Air Force Headquarters.
1st Norwegian Woman Fighter Pilot
Mette Grøtteland (born 1969) became the first female fighter pilot in the Royal Norwegian Air Force after qualifying to fly jet fighter aircraft in 1992.