Landmark event in IAF history: Meet India's first 3 women fighter pilots

Indian women broke yet another glass ceiling in an age when practically nothing much remains beyond their means anymore. This morning belongs to flight cadets Avani Chaturvedi from Madhya Pradesh, Bhawana Kanth from Bihar and Mohana Singh from Rajasthan, who are currently undergoing stage-II training on Kiran Intermediate Jet Trainers at Hakimpet Air Force Station in Hyderabad.

The three women, in their early 20s, created history as India’s first women fighter pilots in the Indian Air Force (IAF), as they were commissioned from the first batch on Saturday.

All of them cleared the first stage of training and has about 150 hours of flying. Once they pass out at the Combined Graduation Parade Spring Term 2016 today, the three will begin advanced training on advanced jet trainer — British built Hawks at Bidar in Karnataka. It will take another 145 hours on the Hawks before they actually get into the cockpit of a supersonic fighter. Fighter pilot training takes place in three stages.

Last October, the government decided to open the fighter stream for women on an experimental basis for five years. But combat roles in the Army and the Navy are still off limits due to a combination of operational concerns and logistical constraints. Women pilots were first included in 1991, for choppers and transport aircrafts.

According to official sources, it takes Rs 15 crore to train a fighter pilot.  Air Chief Arup Raha has reportedly said that the woman fighters would get no preference and will be assigned as per requirements of the force.

Know these three daredevils

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Mohana Singh, Avani Chaturvedi and Bhawana Kanth. Image courtesy:

Avani Chaturvedi: Born in Madhya Pradesh's Satna and daughter of an executive engineer of the state government, Avani did her schooling from Adarsh School in Rewa and BTech in Computer Science from Banasthali University, Jaipur.

Bhawana Kanth: Born and brought up in the refinery township of Begusarai in Bihar and daughter of an engineer with Indian Oil Corporation Limited, Bhawana did her schooling from Barauni Refinery DAV Public School and BE in Medical Electronics from BMS College of Engineering, Bangalore.

Mohana Singh: Belongs to Jhunjhunu in Rajasthan and is the daughter of a serving IAF personnel. Mohana did her schooling from Air Force School, New Delhi and BTech in Electronics & Communication from Global Institute of Management and Emerging Technologies, Amritsar.

Despite having encountered bad weather, thunder, lightning, uncertainties and hazards of flying, nothing could deter these three flying cadets from achieving their goal.

The achievement of the three would also be a significant milestone for the Indian military, which is yet to permit women into any combat roles. India now has more than 8,350 women military officers (including those from Armed Forces Medical Services and Military Nursing Services). According to government data, if we add officers and non-officers of paramilitary forces, such as the Border Security Force (BSF), Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Coast Guard, National Security Guard (NSG), etc, the number of women in the forces exceeds 25,000.

As per latest figures provided by Defence minister Manohar Parrikar in the Parliament, the armed forces have granted permanent commission (PC) to 340 women officers till now. Women were allowed to join armed forces since early 1990s, but could serve only 14-15 years as short-service commission officers. Following legal battles and policy changes, some have got PC.

The strength of women officers (all the three wings combined) comprises 5.4% (3,177) of the total strength (59,380).

Scripting history: Women empowering Indian Defence since 1968

• Padmavathy Bandopadhyay was the first woman Air Marshal of the Indian Air Force. She joined IAF in 1968.

• The first woman in the history of the Indian Army to be selected for the ‘Sword of Honour’ was Ajith from Chennai in the year 2010.

• Punita Arora became the first woman in India to don the second highest rank, Lieutant General of Indian Armed Forces, and became the first Vice admiral of Indian Navy.

• Mitali Madhumita in February 2011 became India’s first female officer to receive the Sena Medal for gallantry.

• Women don’t join combat operations. But beating all odds, Shanti Tigga was an exception, who joined Territorial Army as first female jawan of India. She was honoured by former President Pratibha Patil.

• During the Kargil War, Flight Officer Gunjan Saxena made history by becoming the first woman IAF officer to fly in a combat zone. She was later honoured with the Shaurya Vir Award.

• Lieutenant Ganeve Lalji, a young intelligence officer created the history by becoming the first woman to be appointed as a key aide to an Army Commander

• Squadron Leader Veena Saharan became the first woman pilot to land heavy lift transport aircraft IL-76 at Leh airfield.

• Squadron Leader Nidhi Handa, the first woman pilot in IAF from Himachal Pradesh, in a short career span of six years, reached the B-Green category which allows her to captain an aircraft in all the roles in every sector of the country.

• Flight Lt Nivedita Choudhary became the first woman from the Indian Air Force (IAF) to summit the Mt. Everest – and the first woman from Rajasthan to achieve this feat.

• History was made on 26 January, 2012 when Flight Lt, Sneha Shekhawat, an IAF officer led a contingent of 144 airmen at the 63rd Republic Day parade down the Rajpath.

• Wing Commander Pooja Thakur was the first female officer to lead an inter-services guard of honour for the US President Barack Obama at Rashtrapati Bhavan before the Republic Day parade on 26 January, 2015.

• Flight Lts Alka Shukla and MP Shumathi were trained for combat roles at the Yelahanka station in flying twin-engine Mi-8, a utility and medium-size assault helicopter.

• The 66th Republic Day parade, also for the first time, witnessed what the Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Naari Shakti (woman power), with women contingents from the Army, Air Force and Navy marching down Rajpath.

From the pages of history

Russia and Turkey inducted women pilots during the World War II. Post world war, Canada was the first country to induct women pilots in combat role in 1989. It was followed by Norway (1992), Netherlands and USA (1993), UK (1994), France (1999), Israel (2001), Singapore (2003), Germany (2007) and, China and Pakistan (2013).

The first woman in a flying combat role was Sabiha Gökçen of Turkey in 1936.


Updated Date: Jun 18, 2016 09:59 AM