First woman pilot in IAF's IL-76 cockpit


File photo of an IL-76. IAF image

NEW DELHI (BNS): The mighty IL-76 transport aircraft of the Indian Air Force will have a woman for the first time in its cockpit. Squadron leader Veena Saharan has become the first woman co-pilot to fly the aircraft breaking yet another gender barrier.

Women have been flying medium-lift An-32 transport aircraft, small Dorniers and helicopters in IAF but IL-76 and combat jets were out of bound for them. The IAF adopted an open policy for women and allowed them to fly the giant aircraft.

Veena Saharan is undergoing training during which she would complete 40 hours of flying. That would be enough for her to become a qualified co-pilot.

“It is a great achievement. I have just finished my solo flight of the IL-76 aircraft. Now I am looking forward to the second step of gaining expertise on this aircraft… It is good that the IAF is creating more opportunities for women officers,” she was quoted as saying by agencies.

Saharan, who comes from north Indian state of Rajasthan, completed her ground training at Agra Air Base last month. The next round would be held at Nagpur for the conversion course from An-32 to IL-76.

The IAF operates more than 100 An-32s and 25 IL-76 aircraft. They are used extensively for providing transport service to the troops. IL-76 is one of the mainline aircraft with a range of over 5,000 km.

At the moment, the IAF does not allow women to fly combat jets. Women are not deployed on operational duties in all the three services. The IAF decided to open some more fields for women in its ranks. The force recently got the first woman navigator. The women flying cadets hope that some day IAF would change its rule and allow them to fly supersonic combat jets.

The IAF claims that the government would have to change its policy before women could be allowed to take control of combat jets. Senior IAF officials said women are well qualified to fly even combat jets. Women pilots have performed exceptionally well in various tasks assigned to them.

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