Thursday, March 03, 2022

Women's Day 2022: Celebrating Sarla Thukral, India's first female pilot who took to the skies in a saree

As International Women's Day is less than a week away, we are taking a look back at the career and achievements of an Indian woman who inspired generations of female aviators.

A good ten years before our Independence, women were hardly allowed to participate in public life, let alone choose professions that were dominated by men. Amid these unfavourbale circumstances, a woman named Sarla Thukral flew high (quite literally) to break stereotypes and inspire others.

Sarla Thukral was the first female pilot of India, who flew solo and got her license at the age of 21.

Thukral was born in 1914 in Delhi and later moved to Lahore. Inspired by her husband, PD Sharma, who was an airmail pilot from a family of fliers, Thukral began her own training and obtained an initial license.

It is said she stepped into a cockpit of a small-double-winged plane for her first solo flight while being dressed in a traditional saree.

The first time Thukral flew as a commercial pilot was in a Gypsy Moth, a 1920s British two-seat touring and training aircraft that was developed into a series of aircraft by the de Havilland Aircraft Company.

She then persevered and obtained her A license, a first for Indian women, by completing one thousand hours of flying in the aircraft owned by the Lahore Flying Club. After that, she began her preparations to become a commercial pilot.

Her husband died in an airplane crash in 1939. After that, Thukral tried to apply to train for her commercial pilot license, but the outbreak of World War II put a halt on her civil aviation training.

It was at that point that Thukral abandoned her plans to become a full-time commercial pilot.

She returned to Lahore and started studying fine arts and painting at Lahore’s Mayo School of Arts (now the National College of Arts).

03/03/22 TimesNow

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