Celebrating Women Power: The First Women Officers Of IAF

Shivangi Singh IAF

“Being a fighter pilot is not inherited and is not gifted, I earned it with my own blood, sweat and tears,” said Avani Chaturvedi, the first solo woman fighter pilot of India. As on September 1, 2020, the total strength of women officers serving the Indian Air Force (IAF) is 1,875. Of which eighteen are navigators and only ten women officers are fighter pilots. One of the pilots – Flight Lieutenant Shivangi Singh – is currently undergoing Rafale “conversion training”. In 2016, three officers – Bhawana Kanth, Avani Chaturvedi and Mohana Singh – created history by becoming IAF’s first women fighter pilots

Here’s a list of the top women officers serving the Indian Air Force:

Country’s first all-women Medium Lift Helicopter crew

In May 2019, three women officers of the IAF created history after flying a medium-lift helicopter. The trio of Flight Lieutenant Parul Bharadwaj (Captain), Flying Officer Aman Nidhi (Co-Pilot) and Flight Lieutenant Hina Jaiswal (Flight Engineer), flew a Mi-17 V5 helicopter for a battle inoculation Training Mission. They took off and landed from restricted areas at a forward airbase in South Western Air Command. Squadron leader Richa Adhikari, the unit engineering officer, certified the helicopter airworthy,  as per reports.

Flight Lieutenant Bhardwaj hails from Mukerian in Punjab. She was the first woman pilot to fly the Mi-17 V5. Ranchi-born Flying Officer Nidhi is the first woman IAF pilot from Jharkhand.

First Woman Flight Engineer Of IAF: Hina Jaiswal

Flight Lieutenant Hina Jaiswal, who hails from Chandigarh, is the first woman Flight Engineer of the IAF. She became the first woman flight engineer in the Indian Air Force in February, last year. She successfully completed the course in 112 Helicopter Unit, Air Force Station Yelahanka. During the six months of hard training, she trained alongside her male counterparts. “Since childhood, she had aspired to don the soldier’s uniform and take on the skies as an aviator. Finally, her dreams have manifested into reality after successfully graduating from the alma mater of Heli-lift,” IAF had said.

Also Read: Five headlines that tell us women achieve every single day

Avani Chaturvedi Flew MiG-21 Solo

Avani Chaturvedi, who is one of India’s first women fighter pilots, flew the heaviest aircraft to handle – MiG-21. Officer Chaturvedi in 2018 scripted history by becoming the first Indian woman to fly a fighter aircraft solo. Earlier, she broke the glass ceiling along with Bhawana Kanth and Mohana Singh on June 18th, 2016 by getting inducted in the combat stream. Three women were commissioned as India’s first women fighter pilots.

Chaturvedi flew a MiG-21 Bison for 30 minutes all by herself, becoming the first Indian woman to do so.

Chaturvedi had told India Today, “You cannot become a fighter pilot in a day or two, it is a long process. A person needs to be mentally and physically fit and fine. We have to be quick in decision making, especially while driving an aircraft with the fastest landing speed in the world.”

Bhawana Kanth: Second Indian Woman To Fly Aircraft Solo

Flight Lieutenant Bhawana Kanth became the second woman pilot to fly a fighter aircraft solo, after Avani Chaturvedi. She hails from Darbhanga in Bihar. Kanth had revealed how flying “like a free bird” had always been a childhood dream for her. When she finally got the opportunity to fly high in 2016, there was no second thought in joining the IAF, TOI had reported.

In 2019, Kanth also became the first woman fighter pilot capable of undertaking any mission during the daytime. “After clearing my Stage I training, I got the golden opportunity to opt for the fighter stream. The best and the biggest thing that has happened to me and the best part is it is just the beginning. It is my aim to become a good fighter pilot and fight for the nation and make my parents proud,” Kanth had said earlier.

Mohana Singh: She Flew The Hawk Jets

Flight Lieutenant Mohana Singh was one of India’s first women to pilot missions on the Hawk advanced Jet Aircraft during the daytime last year. She landed after a ‘4 Aircraft Combat Sortie’ at Air Force Station, Kalaikunda in West Bengal.

Both air to air and air to combat missions were included in her training. She had also undertaken a number of practice missions which involved firing of rockets, guns and dropping high calibre bombs. Additionally, she also participated in many Air Force level exercises. Of the 500 hours, which she spent in incident-free flying, 380 hours she spent flying the Hawk MK 132 Jet.

Subsequently, she graduated from the Global Institute of Management and Emerging Technologies, Amritsar to pursue her dream to fly high in MiG-21 Bison.

Minty Agarwal: Honoured With Yudh Seva Medal

Squadron Leader Minty Agarwal was awarded the Yudh Seva medal last year in August for her distinguished service during wartime. She became the first woman to receive the honour. Agarwal was one of the flight controllers served during Pakistan’s retaliation to IAF’s Balakot airstrike. Five of India’s IAF Mirage-2000 aircrafts bombed a JeM terrorist training camp in Balakot on February 26. Agarwal, was part of the IAF’s team of seven fighter controllers on duty then.

She has earlier said, “On 26th February, we successfully carried out the Balakot mission over non-military camps. We were expecting a retaliation, therefore we were extra ready. They retaliated within just 24 hours.”

Squadron Leader Khushboo Gupta

Khushboo Gupta is the first woman helicopter pilot to land at forward posts on the Siachen glacier. She had said, “During my training days, my instructor would tell me ‘don’t even dream of getting posted to Ladakh and flying choppers there.’”

“But here I am landing my Cheetah helicopter on a matchbox-sized helipads at altitudes of nearly 20,000 feet in Siachen,” said Squadron Leader Gupta. She was one of the two women serving in the Leh-based 114 Helicopter Unit, also known as Siachen Pioneers.

“For me it was one proud moment to land a helicopter in Siachen, considering that it is the highest battlefield in the world,” she said. Gupta’s husband Wing Commander SK Pradhan is also with the Siachen Pioneers.

Shaliza Dhami: First Woman Flight Commander

Last year, Shaliza Dhami, who served as a Wing Commander in the IAF, became the country’s first-ever women Flight Commander of a flying unit. She has been serving in the IAF for the past 15 years. An expert at flying choppers, Dhami became the first woman flying instructor of the Air Force and is also the first woman officer to get a permanent commission of the flying branch.

She was in charge of a Chetak helicopter unit at the Hindon Airbase in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh. Ludhiana-born Dhami dreamt of being a pilot since she was in the ninth grade. She took her first solo flight in 2003 in Hyderabad, on the HPT-32 Deepak, a basic trainer aircraft, and by 2017, she had clocked over 2,300 hours in the air.

Shivangi Singh: First Woman Pilot To Join Rafale Fleet

Flight Lieutenant Shivangi Singh is set to create history by becoming the first woman fighter pilot in the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) Rafale squadron. Singh hails from Varanasi and was commissioned into the IAF in 2017 as part of the second batch of women fighter pilots. Currently, Singh is undergoing rigorous training to fly IAF’s newest fighter based in Ambala, also known as “Golden Arrows.”

After joining the IAF in 2017, she steadied her hands by flying  MiG-21 Bison aircraft and was till recently serving at a fighter base in Rajasthan. Prior to this, Singh was deployed as a cadet of the 7 UP Air Squadron in the National Cadet Corps. She has flown along with Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was taken captive after the Balakot airstrikes.

Feature Image Credit: India Today

Also read: Special Feature: Women in Indian Armed Forces

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