Women fighter pilots: India’s first-ever women fighter pilots gear up for solo MiG-21 flights

NEW DELHI: An Indian woman will soon tear into the skies on a supersonic fighter jet all alone for the first time in the country.

Avani Chaturvedi


Bhawana Kanth

and Mohana Singh have already scripted history by becoming the first-ever women to undergo fighter pilot training in the IAF.

But the trio have only undertaken solo sorties in aircraft like the Pilatus PC-7 turboprops, Kiran and Hawk jet trainers, which are much easier to handle. Now, Avani and Bhawana are getting all set to fly the highly demanding and ageing MiG-21 "Bisons", which have virtually the highest landing and takeoff speed in the world at 340kmph, by themselves at their respective airbases.

"Avani is already undertaking sorties in a twin-seat MiG-21 Type 69 trainer with a qualified fighter instructor (QFI) at the Suratgarh airbase. Bhawana will follow suit at the Ambala airbase soon. Mohana, in turn, is still with Hawk advanced jet trainers at the Kalaikunda airbase... She will also be posted to an operational squadron in due course," said a senior officer.

A rookie fighter pilot usually undergoes around a dozen "dual-check" sorties, where he or she is taught basic flying techniques, handling, take-off and landing, before being deemed fit for solo sorties by the QFIs. But flying jets solo does not mean they promptly turn into fullfledged fighter pilots, capable of handling the intricacies of high-voltage combat flying.

After "consolidating their general handling" of MiG-21s in solo sorties, the women pilots will graduate to tactical flying and manoeuvres.

This, in turn, will be followed by training in air-to-air and air-to-ground combat. Once they become "fully ops (operational) by day" on the MiG-21s, the night-flying will kick off first in the "moon phase" and subsequently the "dark phase".

"A fighter pilot is declared 'fully ops' only after successfully undergoing this entire process, which takes upwards of a year," said another officer. Avani, Bhawana and Mohana, commissioned as flying officers into the fighter stream after basic training in June 2016, have punched a huge hole in the long-standing combat-exclusion policy for women in the Indian armed forces.

(This article was originally published in The Times of India)