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Friday, March 25, 2011

First Indian Woman Pilot In Indian Air Force

Harita Kaur Deol: In 1994, at the age 22, became  the first woman pilot in the Indian Air Force (IAF), on a solo flight.  Originally from Chandigarh, India, she was inducted as a Pilot into the IAF fleet to Transport flyers.   She started her flying in HPT-32, trained in Kiran, Avro and AN-32 Aircrafts. 

Zipped up in her navy blue overalls and strapped to the pilot's seat inside the cockpit of an Avro aircraft, Flight Cadet Harita Kaur Deol made history when she kissed the clouds at a height of 10,000 feet. The 22-year-old girl from Chandigarh had become the country's first woman pilot in the Indian Air Force to do a solo.She flitted about in the clouds for half an hour maneuvering the aircraft with proficiency as her colleagues and seniors monitored her movements with a great sense of pride. It was indeed a momentous occasion for the five-feet-two-inch tall girl and the Indian Air Force. 

With a modest smile, she emerged from the aircraft to a spontaneous applause, pats, hugs and handshakes. Was she in a state of daze... overwhelmed? "No, not at all. I am happy I was the first to do a solo and that I lived up to the expectations of my instructor," replied Flight Cadet Deol. Having been inducted as a pilot into the IAF fleet of transport fliers, she always had the confidence, and now the solo sortie had only strengthened it further, she added. With her chin up. Flight Cadet Deol faced the glare of camera lights and said: "I will speak to my parents first... and may be celebrate today's success with my friends over the week-end." 

Air Commodore P.R. Kumar, Air-Officer-in Command at Air Lift Forces Training Establishment (ALFTE), Yelahanka Air Force Station, Bangalore, who did the solo check, was beaming. "She was confident and in full control of the aircraft. Her take-off and landing were excellent. The standard she demonstrated was much more than my expectation. Girls are much more clear in their expression," he gushed. 

When the IAF advertised for eight vacancies for women pilots in 1992, there were 20,000 applicants from all over the country. About 500 qualified for the written examination held at Mysore, Dehra Dun and Varanasi. From each of these centers, 10 to 12 candidates cleared the written test and were put through a week's physical training followed by a medical checkup. Only 13 candi- dates withstood the strain, pressure and competition and were inducted into the IAF's transport fleet last October. 

Since then the going has been tough. At the Air Force Academy in Hyderabad, the cadets underwent three months of pre-flying train- ing followed by Stage I flying training on HPT-32 aircraft for two months and Stage II flying training on the Kiran aircraft lasting for five months. On an average each of them accumulated 120 hours of total flying. However, the hard grind took only seven of the 13 cadets to Stage III. 

The seven women cadets arrived at ALFTE, Yelahanka, in July that year for pilot's conversion training. On successful completion of their Stage III training on Avro and AN-32, they will get their "Wings" and be commissioned at the Air Force Academy, Secunderabad, in December that year and subsequently posted out to squadron service. 

Obviously, having come through such rigorous mental and physical tests, their zeal to come out with flying colors is unquestionable. None of them looks "tough" in their height or build, but they all believe: When the going gets tough, the tough get going.And of course, the Aircrew Examining Board has been all along validating their "very good performance". Only three of the seven women cadets come from the services' background with fathers retired as Army / Air Force Officers. The rest are daughters of professionals and businessmen. Three women cadets are from ex- NCC (Air Wing). Two had completed their Private Pilots' License and one her Commercial Pilots' License before joining the Academy at Hyderabad. 

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