In February, India got its first woman pilot to fly a fighter jet. This is not the only feather in Avani Chaturvedi’s cap. The flying officer, who hails from Madhya Pradesh, is among the first batch of three women officers who were commissioned as fighter pilots in the IAF in June 2016. Chaturvedi flew solo in a MiG-21 Bison fighter aircraft over Jamnagar Air Base on February 19 for around 30 minutes becoming the first woman to do so. She speaks to IndianExpress.com on her experiences, ambitions, the gender angle and more:
How was the experience to fly a fighter jet for the first time?
Although I am the first woman to fly a fighter jet, there are others in my squadron who have done that before. So I had spoken to others who have done that. I have also had training to fly solo. So it was not a eureka thing. It was planned and a part of the process. But the first solo is something different because you are sitting in the aircraft for the first time alone. That is a big thing. It is exciting and a bit nervous as well. After doing the solo, I was happy it went well. When we are in the cockpit, nothing else goes on in our mind. Whatever worry or trouble we have in our minds, we leave everything on the ground.
After being in the combat role of the air force and flying the aircraft, I realised there is nothing which a woman cannot do.
Tell us about how rigorous your training was?
I joined the Air Force Academy in 2015. For one and a half years, I trained as a cadet on a Pilatus aircraft at the academy. After being commissioned, I did my training for a year on Hawk which is fighter training aircraft. I have undertaken flights in twin-seater training jets, accompanied by Qualified Flying Instructors of the IAF.
In your previous interviews you said you were inspired by your brother who is in the army. So why did you join Indian Air Force?
Flying is the only reason! (laughs) I was always inspired to join defence because many of my family members are defence personnel. I like their lifestyle and work culture. The fact that they are ready to know come out and work more and just do that extra bit. I had a few hours of flying experience in the flying club in my university and I wanted to be a pilot. So defence and flying was the best combination for me.
I was always inspired to join defence because many of my family members are defence personnel. I like their lifestyle and work culture.
Training for a fighter pilot is a lifetime process. There is a lot of training to do and there is no end to it because every take-off and every landing is different. Everytime you go up in the air, you learn something new. So thats one. Apart from this once I am fully trained for flying during day time through more solo sorties, I will have to learn to fly at night.
Why do you think India took so long to include women in combat roles?
After being in the combat role of the air force and flying the aircraft, I realised there is nothing which a woman cannot do. Those who possess the physical and mental fitness, be it men or women, they can take up combat roles. So the best thing is that we started somewhere.
If not a pilot, what else would you be?
If I would not fly an aircraft, I would be somewhere near it!
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