Women fighter pilots break cloud ceiling

Three gritty women will today give wings to the aspirations of hundreds as they get inducted as the Indian Air Force's - and the country's - first ever women fighter pilots.

Flight cadets Avani Chaturvedi of Madhya Pradesh, Mohana Singh of Rajasthan and Bhawana Kanth of Bihar, all in their early-20s, usher in a new chapter for the Indian defence forces, which have for long opposed the induction of women in combat roles.

For Mohana, whose father is a warrant officer in the IAF and grandfather served as a flight gunner at Aviation Research Centre, being a part of the defence forces was a foregone conclusion.

"I wanted to carry on the family legacy of serving the nation by being in defence and what better way than fighter-flying," she added.

With an aim to fly the best of the IAF's fighter aircraft, Mohana aspires to make her parents proud of her. "I dream of being a part of future combat missions, and fight for the nation when duty calls," she added.

Mohana, Avani and Bhawana will be awarded the President's Commission as flying officers of the fighter combat stream by defence minister Manohar Parrikar at the Combined Graduation Parade at Air Force Academy, Dundigal, on the outskirts of Hyderabad. They will then be posted to either the Bidar or Kalaikunda airbase to undertake "transitional" fighter training on the Hawks, which includes learning intensive combat manoeuvres and armament firing spread over a year to ensure the rookie pilots can handle highly-unforgiving old fighters like MiG-21s or relatively new multi-role ones like Sukhoi-30MKIs and Mirage-2000s.

Though the glass ceiling in the defence forces is now being gradually broken, the Army and Navy have no plans as of now to induct women into the infantry, armoured corps or artillery, nor allow them to serve on board warships. Even in the IAF, which has 94 women pilots flying its helicopters and transport aircraft, their entry into the fighter combat stream as short-service commission (SSC) officers has been done on an "experimental basis" for just five years.