Hyderabad/New Delhi, June 18 (IANS) Flying Officers Avani Chaturvedi, Bhawana Kanth and Mohana Singh on Saturday created history by becoming India’s first three women fighter pilots when they were formally commissioned into the Indian Air Force.
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar commissioned them into the IAF after they successfully completed their training at the Air Force Academy in Dundigal on the outskirts of Hyderabad.
Hailing from Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan respectively, the trio was the cynosure of all eyes at the Combined Graduation Parade at the academy and said they were happy over the opportunity given to them to serve the nation.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet from his personal Twitter handle: “It is a matter of immense pride & joy to see the first batch of women fighter pilots being inducted in our Air Force. More power to them.”
The three women, who broke the gender barrier to etch their names in IAF history, will get to fly fighter jets next year only after the completion of stage-III training at Bidar in Karnataka.
The women, who earlier flew the Pilatus and Kiran jet trainers, will now get to train on the Hawk advanced trainer jets for a year before they can fly the supersonic warplanes.
They were visibly elated after the defence minister conferred on them the ‘President’s Commission’ to formally induct them into the IAF.
Talking to reporters, they said it was a great honour to be in the first batch of women fighter pilots in the IAF. “We are happy to get this opportunity to serve the country,” said Chaturvedi.
They said they enjoyed the six-month training at the academy and never felt that they were being treated differently from male trainees.
Asked what role they expected to play in the force, they said they will now focus on the next level of training.
Chaturvedi, hailing from Satna district, comes from a family of army officers. She was inspired to join the IAF by her brother, who is in the army.
She said she always wanted to fly and joined a college flying club during her graduation days.
Bhawana Kanth, from Darbhanga district, said she always dreamt of flying planes as a child.
She opted for the fighter stream after successfully completing her stage-I training.
Daughter of an Indian Oil Corporation officer, she said she had set her mind on becoming a fighter pilot and serve the nation.
Mohana Singh from Jhunjhunu district said her grandfather was a flight gunner in the Aviation Research Centre while her father is a warrant officer in the IAF.
Mohana said she is excited to continue the family legacy of serving the nation.
While women pilots have been flying helicopters and transport aircraft since 1991 in the IAF, it was last year when the government decided to allow women into fighter jet cockpits.
In February, President Pranab Mukherjee announced that women cadets will be allowed in combat roles in all three defence services.
Speaking at the parade, Parrikar said more women would join the armed forces.
The minister reviewed the colourful passing-out parade and conferred the ‘President’s Commission’, on behalf of the President of India, on 129 graduating trainees of various branches, including 22 women trainees.
Parrikar also presented the ‘Wings and Brevets’ to the newly commissioned officers of the flying branch and to officers from the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard.