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Women pilots on cloud nine over combat role decision

British aviator Tracey Curtis Taylor with pilots of the Indian Air Force after a fly past in Hindon on Tuesday. A PTI Photo.

HINDON AIR BASE, UP (PTI): Women pilots serving in the Indian Air Force are positively excited about the government's decision to induct them in combat stream, with a section of them saying that it has come at the right time and under the right circumstances.

29-year-old Squadron Leader Poornima Ranade, based at Sirsawa Air Base in Saharanpur, beams with pride when asked what the decision meant to her.

"Oh, it's any pilot's ultimate dream to fly those mean machines. I fly helicopters but being on the frontline of fighter jets is an exhilarating experience. I mean, I enjoy flying but this is like you could drive a Maruti, but now you have the option of driving a Ferrari," she told PTI here.

Ranade, with an experience of six-and-a-half years under her belt, flies Dhruv helicopters, and has served in rescue operations during Sikkim and Odisha floods.

"I never went into a rat race after my schooling and knew that I had to be a pilot. I do not come from a defence background, and though parents want their wards to be doctors or engineers, my parents fully supported my dream. And, now this decision has come at a right time and in the right circumstances," she added.

26-year-old Nisha Nain, a Flight Lieutenant, who flies Cheetah and Chetak helicopters and has 520 hours of flying on her log, is literally on "cloud nine".

"When we sit into that cockpit, we are just a pilot, not a male or a female one. And, we want to be treated just that way, based on merit. We just wish to compete with parity... Yes, I am thinking of applying for the combat role," Nain said.

Ranade and Nain were among the 15 women pilots, drawn from transport and helicopters divisions of the IAF, who came here Tuesday to meet noted British aviatrix and adventurer Tracey Curtis-Taylor, who is currently following in the slipstream of compatriot and aviation pioneer Amy Johnson's epic 1930 journey from Britain to Australia.

Tracey reached New Delhi on Monday and on Tuesday had a private interactive session with these women pilots, who later lined up on the tarmac to cheer the British pilot as she took to the skies in her restored open-cockpit 1942 Boeing Stearman here for a brief fly-past.

The Centre's decision to induct them in combat role by mid-2017 also drew admiration and endorsement from the British aviatrix.

"I think it's a tremendous breakthrough... decion that will see women pilots being send to the frontlines of fighter jets," she said.

The Ministry of Defence late last month had announced that the induction process will begin with women from the current batch being trained at the Air Force Academy (AFA). The first woman fighter pilot will be in the cockpit in June 2017.

Women pilots of the IAF currently only fly transport aircraft and helicopters. Women fighter pilots have been serving in the air forces of other countries like the US, the UK, Pakistan, Israel, UAE, among others.

Said Ranade, "We have proven our mettle in flying transport aircraft and helicopters, and we are ready to prove our mettle in flying the fighter jets too," adding, "this decision was due for long."

She acknowledged that there are stereotypes in society associated with women, but, "facing these stereotypes only steels our resolve to break them."

"It doesn't weaken our morale."

"To all the girls out there, I only say that never let anyone tell you that you can't do something, because you are a girl. Keep dreaming and keep chasing them with all your heart.

I think it is 50 per cent determination and 50 per cent luck, but you must give your 100 per cent," she said.

Flight Lieutenant Shally Aggarwal, who was also present at the base, said, "It was thrilling to meet Tracey and it has also boosted our confidence in ourselves."

In her 70s now, Jayashri Devi Sharma, a doctor who once served in the Armed Forces Medical College (AFMC) and also flew gliders, came especially from Gurgaon to the air base to "bless Tracey".

She, however, claimed, "Women could have gone in combat role long ago, had it not been for closure of several aviation facilities and aero clubs across the country after Independence."

"The British opened these clubs because they also wanted Indians to fly, and though I am happy that women would now be considered for larger roles, I wish it had come earlier," said Sharma, who first flew a glider in 1965 and her last in 1970s."

"You see flying is not about machines and navigation, it's about feeling the pulse, feeling the sense of flying, in your hands and mind. You must know that you don't drive the engine, you are the engine," said the AFMC graduate, who came to the Hindon Air Base, wearing airplane-shaped earrings.

"You, see, I feel very proud that I flew planes," she said with a beaming smile.

Squadron Leader Kanwaljeet, who along with Group Captain Kulshreshtha co-piloted a Tiger Moth, that accompanied Tracey in the sky on Tuesday at the base, said, "We fly vintage and we are confident of flying the fighter jets too. And Tracey's journey will inspire many women to take this profession and come out with flying colours."


India  Women  Pilot  Combat  Military  

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