History was scripted on Saturday when Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar formally commissioned three women fighter pilots of the Indian Air Force at a combined graduation parade at the Air Force Academy in Dundigal. Flight cadets Avani Chaturvedi of Madhya Pradesh, Mohana Singh of Rajasthan and Bhawana Kanth of Bihar, all in their early-203, usher in a new chapter for the Indian defence forces, which have for long opposed the
induction of women in combat roles.
The three women, all in their mid-twenties, have already encountered uncertainties and hazards of flying, when training and grit become the difference between a successful recovery and an accident, or even between life and death.
Avani Chaturvedi had to abort her second solo flight sortie minutes before take-off. "As I started rolling for take- off near the first marker, I heard the Canopy Warning Audio," she recounts.
The warning, she says, "confused" her initially, but her hours of training took over and she "aborted" the take-off bringing the aircraft to a halt safely on the runway.
For pilots, says Cadet Chaturvedi, it all about "split second" decisions. "Had I delayed aborting the take-off or got air borne with the open canopy, it would've been catastrophic," she adds.
Flying cadet Bhawana Kanth said she was going in for her first ever solo spin and recovery manoeuvre when, flying at 20,000 feet, "doubt started creeping in," on what would happen if the aircraft didn't respond.
She nonetheless, she went into a spin. "It was more vicious," she says, adding, "the fighter pilot in me took over. The recovery action drilled "into us" took over. The aircraft "recovered from spin and so did my confidence."
On her first solo night sortie, flying cadet Mohana Singh encountered bad weather with thunder and lightning. She couldn't distinguish "between the stars in the sky and a small cluster of lights on the ground. Visual cues were going against cues from the instrument. The effect - it was difficult to maintain or ascertain the altitude of the aircraft.
Fighting her instincts to trust visual aids she switched to following only the instruments cues. "No unnecessary head movement, switch over to instruments," is what I was taught. Soon, she was in complete control, reoriented herself and "recovered the aircraft."