Women make their mark in any field that they enter and it is no different for women in the Indian Air Force. We bring you stories of some of these gritty women with wings.
Sqn Ldr Veena Saharan was commissioned into the Transport Stream of Indian Air Force in December 2002 and had initially served two tenures on AN-32, a twin-engine medium-lift tactical transport aircraft. She left her footprints in Northern and Eastern Sectors and gained operational status in Air Maintenance operations in both sectors. Her consistency and prolific flying effort won her many awards.
She was selected for conversion training on IL- 76, a multi-engine heavy lift strategic airlift aircraft. This was the first instance of women officers being chosen for multi-engine aircraft in Indian Air Force. Just last month she cleared landings at Leh and has become the first woman officer to land a military multi-engine aircraft at the high altitude airfield. Since her first landing, she has been regularly undertaking Air Maintenance operations independently in the Northern Sector, a unique feat.
Sqn Ldr Teji Uppal is a dynamic aviator, a pride of IAF’s Transport fleet. With a love for challenges and conquering heights, she is the only woman aviator who is qualified to fly independently in almost all the forward bases of this country. Uppal’s moments of reckoning are, her landings on Advanced Landing Grounds (Kuchcha Strips), like Vijaynagar and Mechuka making her one of the very few women pilots who have dared to land on these airfields. After the heroic stint in the east, she was again handpicked to operate in the even more difficult northern areas.
She was posted to “Chivalrous Camels” based at Chandigarh where she is still continuing to exploit the combat aviation skills. In a very short span of 6 years, she was categorised “B-Green” which makes her a totally independent Captain to operate in these treacherous mountains of Himalayas.
Nothing stopped her from pursuing the new heights while clearing the flight as the Captain to Leh and Thoise, which are one of the high elevation airfields in the world. She took a break of two years for family commitments and came back to flying actions right into the thick of actions when there was a requirement of forward area operations in the north.
She was cleared to land at DBO, a kuchcha airstrip. Daulat Beg Oldi is the highest Advanced Landing Ground in the world at 16,500 feet and Squadron Teji Uppal became the first women pilot to land, a feat to be proud of for every military aviator in this world. She is qualified to undertake independent operations at all the Dropping zones in the glacier of the north. She has also captained the Formation missions like the “Big Boy” formation and has undertaken important and challenging operational exercises.
Sqn Ldr Nidhi Handa hails from the chivalrous mountains of the Himachal Pradesh and she takes the honour of being the first woman pilot of Indian Air Force from the state. In her capacity of being a flyer, she conquered the oceans of the south and the mountains of the east. She was later handpicked to operate in the even more difficult areas of the northern areas in Jammu And Kashmir sector. She was posted to “Chivalrous Camels” based at Chandigarh where she is still continuing to exploit the combat aviation skills.
Within no time she got cleared to operate independently in the treacherous mountains of Himachal and Jammu. Handa has also participated in many operational exercises and contributed towards the Leh flood relief operations. She is a dynamic aviator and has flown a total of 3,400 hrs in her short service tenure.
Women claimed the skies long back… On July 18, 1984 Baltimore-born Beverly Burns became the first female pilot to command a Boeing-747. She became the pilot to prove the male myth as a myth. It happened so that on one of her flight attendant days, a first officer said, “Women are just not smart enough to be commercial pilots.” And the next thing was that she wanted to be an airline captain immediately. We list some more flying fighters…
In May 1932, the Kansas-born record-breaker became the first woman to fly solo, non-stop, across the Atlantic Ocean. She believed that the most difficult thing is the decision to act, and the rest is merely tenacity. She disappeared at the age of 39 under unknown circumstances in the central Pacific, which crossed while being on her way to a round-the-world-trip.
BESSIE COLEMAN was an American civil aviator who was the first female pilot of African American descent. She was also the person of African American descent to hold an international pilot license. Following her footsteps, in 1921,
WILLA BROWN became the first African American, to earn a pilot’s license from France’s Federation Aeronautique Internationale and was the first African American woman to earn both a pilot’s license (1938) and a commercial license (1939).
BARONESS RAYMONDE DE LAROCHE In 1910, she became the first woman to receive a pilot’s license. De Laroche, also an accomplished balloonist and engineer, ditched death on more than one occasion. She died in 1919 while attempting to become the first professional female test pilot. Her experimental aircraft crashed while approaching an airfield in the seaside village of Le Crotoy.
JACQUELINE COCHRAN At the time of her death in 1980, Cochran held more distance, altitude and speed records than any other pilot, men included. She started as a beautician and soon took to her sky-high ambition of being an aviator. She said, “To live without risk would tantamount to death.” Till today Cochran is an inspiration for women who want to fly machines.
HARRIET QUIMBY Quimby lived till the age of 37, but she has continued to be a major influence on women aviators. In 1911 she was awarded a U.S. pilot’s certificate by the Aero Club of America and became the first woman to gain a pilot’s license in the United States. She is also the first woman to fly across the English Channel.
EMILY HOWELL WARNER In 1976, at 36 years old, Denver-based pilot Emily Howell Warner became the first female to command a major American passenger flight when Frontier Airlines made the bold move of placing her in the captain’s seat of a de Havilland Twin Otter. She took her first aeroplane flight as a teenager since then there has been no looking back.