Avani flew a 30-minute solo sortie in a MiG-21 at the Jamnagar airbase afternoon, Feb. 19.

First indian female pilot
First-Ever indian female pilot to fly a fighter aircraft solo.

NEW DELHI: Growing up in a small town named Deolond near Rewa in Madhya Pradesh, Avani Chaturvedi never in her wildest dreams imagined she would one day become the first-ever Indian woman to break the sound barrier with resounding sonic booms in a supersonic fighter all alone.

But Avani, who likes to play the violin and paint, has done precisely that to create history. Among the first three women fighter pilots being trained by the IAF, shattering the deep-rooted combat-exclusion policy for their gender in the Indian armed forces, Avani flew a 30-minute solo sortie in a MiG-21 at the Jamnagarairbase on Monday afternoon.

“My heartiest congratulations to Flying Officer Avani Chaturvedi for successfully clearing her first solo sortie on a MiG-21 'Bison’ fighter. The IAF has always taken a lead in providing an equal platform to women officers. It’s a red letter day for the country,” said Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa, speaking to TOI on Wednesday.

Avani, whose father is an executive engineer in the MP government, however, is too busy with her gruelling fighting training regime. But she had earlier said, “Any air force is defined by its fighters. My dream is to become a good fighter pilot, on whom my seniors can rely when it comes to flying live operations. I want to fly the best fighter aircraft and learn more and more each day.”

That she will certainly have to do. As will her colleagues, Bhawana Kanth and Mohana Singh, who like her, will go for solo fighter sorties only after undertaking over a dozen “dual-check” sorties in twin-seat MiG-21 Type 69 trainers with qualified fighter instructors to learn the basics of flying combat jets.

It’s a totally different ballgame to handle the highly-demanding and ageing MiG-21 “Bisons”, which have virtually the highest landing and take-off speed in the world at 340 kmph, after flying only training aircraft like the Pilatus PC-7 turboprops, Kiran and Hawk advanced jet trainers.

Avani, who was commissioned into the fighter stream after basic training in June 2016, still has over a year to go before she can be deployed for combat missions with her 23 “Panthers” Squadron. The first solo flight is just the initial step in the exhaustive operational syllabus that transforms rookies into full-fledged fighter pilots capable of handling the intricacies of high-voltage combat flying.

She will have to learn tactical flying and manoeuvres after consolidating her general handling of MiG-21s in multiple solo sorties. Then will follow the air-to-air and air-to-ground combat training. Once she becomes “fully ops (operational) by day” on the MiG-21s, she will have to learn night flying during the “moon” and “dark phases” on them. A BTech in computer science from Jaipur, Avani has her task cut out for her.

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