Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Learning never stops in combat flying, says Avani Chaturvedi

New Delhi: One never stops learning in fighter-aircraft flying as every take-off and landing brings in new experience, feels India's first woman fighter pilot Avani Chaturvedi.

In a brief interview to DH on the eve of the International Women's Day, Avani said her unit (21 Squadron) didn't distinguish between male and female combat pilots as both were allotted similar tasks and same workload every week.

More than a fortnight ago, Avani created history as she became the first Indian woman to fly a fighter aircraft solo when she took off in a MiG-21 Bison at Jamnagar air base. The 30-minute sortie broke a glass ceiling.

Before Avani and two of her batch mates Bhawna Kanth and Mohana Singh became the IAF's first three women fighter pilots, at least one previous IAF chief and a vice chief rejected the idea of women entering the male-dominated sphere of combat flying.

There were two arguments against the fairer sex. First women were not strong enough to fly a mean machine and secondly if they get married and became pregnant, the money invested on them for training (nearly Rs 15 crore) would not be recovered.

In December 2015, the defence ministry changed its policy to allow women in combat flying on an experimental basis for five years. Within a year, the trio was selected.

A year later another batch of three girls Rashi Raina, Shivangi Singh and Pratibha were picked up for the second batch of women fighter pilots.

In fact, soon after Avani, Bhawna and Mohana began their training, IAF issued an advisory to the young cadets asking them to put off the motherhood by at least four years from the date of their commissioning.

The trio got their wings in June 2016.

Asked to comment on the advisory, Avani said she was not aware of any such advisory from the IAF headquarters.

"I am lucky that IAF showed confidence in me and given a free hand to fly the MiG-21 Bison," said Avani, whose brother is in the Army and father works for the irrigation department in Madhya Pradesh.

Her training period would continue for another one and half years as she would have to master the art of flying solo as well as flying in moonless night.

Avani's batch mate Bhawna too began flying the MiG-21 at Ambala.
07/03/18 Kalyan Ray/Deccan Herald