3 women pilots at UT air force station soar to dizzying heights

“Coming back to flying after a break of almost two years was a thrill,” said Squadron Leader Teji Uppal.

Written by Express News Service | Chandigarh | Published: January 25, 2012 1:25:19 am

The only IL 76 women pilot of the Air Force,the only women aviator qualified to fly independently in almost all the forward bases of the country and the first women pilot to have landed at the world’s highest Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) Doulat Beg Oldi (DBO)

Among the force of around 30 woman officers in various branches,Squadron Leader Veena Saharan,Squadron Leader Teji Uppal and Squadron Leader Nidhi Handa are the three women pilots at the 12 Wing Air Force Station,Chandigarh,who have some of the rare achievements to their credit.

Incidentally,all these three officers were also batch mates at the Air Force Academy who got commissioned into the Transport stream in December 2002. Now after various postings,they are now together at the Chandigarh Air Force Station.

“Coming back to flying after a break of almost two years was a thrill,” said Squadron Leader Teji Uppal who if from Ludhiana and also the only married woman among three. Married to an Army officer who is posted in Srinagar,she has a one and a half year old boy.

“It is difficult but we plan out our leave in a manner that makes the family to stay together for the maximum possible period,” she added.

Apart from being the first women pilot to land at a height of 16,500 feet,she is also qualified to undertake independent operations at all the dropping zones in the northern glaciers. She has also captained the formation missions like “Big Boy” and has undertaken important challenging operational exercises.

Squadron Leader Veena Saharan,the only women pilot flying IL 76 got recently cleared for landings at high altitudes of Leh making her the first women pilot to land a military multi-engine aircraft at this high altitude airfield. Since last month she is operating independently at Leh. She had also served her two tenures on An 32.

“If women are capable and being provided enough opportunities,then why not explore them,” questioned Squadron Leader Saharan when asked about the role of women in forces. “Being passionate is the essence to excel in whatever one does,” she added.

Squadron Leader Nidhi Handa from Himachal Pradesh was in the forefront in the recently carried out evacuation mission at Jammu and Kashmir. About 1700 stranded passengers including civilians and army men were airlifted from the region.

An 32 aircraft flew five shuttles and airlifted around 300 passengers and IL 76 aircraft flew six shuttles and around 1,400 passengers were airlifted across the Banihal Pass by flying all throughout the night. Apart from the Jammu and Kashmir evacuation programme,these pilots have undertaken in relief operations including the recent Kalka mail accident,humanitarian aid provided in Jammu and Kashmir,earthquake relief at Sikkim and north eastern region,evacuation of passengers from Libya,Cairo,aid to Bangladesh and humanitarian aid and disaster relief to China.

Taking pride in these women officers,the Air Commodore S C Chafekar,Air Officer Commanding (AOC),12 Wing said,“To have such women pilots at the station is motivating for all. Not only these three but also women officers are deployed in almost all the streams from flying,technical,logistics,administration and accounts at the station,’ he said.

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