Flight Lieutenant Bhawana Kanth, who was commissioned into the Indian Air Force as one of the first women fighter pilots in 2016, has created history by becoming the first woman to qualify for combat missions on a fighter jet. She has successfully completed the operational syllabus for carrying out combat missions on MiG-21 Bison aircraft, during the day.
“She is the first woman fighter pilot to be qualified to undertake missions on a fighter aircraft by day. She has been able to achieve this feat with her hard work and perseverance,” Air Force Spokesperson Group Captain Anupam Banerjee was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.
The MiG-21 is the oldest frontline combat jet in service with the Indian Air Force, having first entered service in 1964. The jet has been regularly upgraded since then. The MiG-21 “Bison” is the definitive variant of the legacy fighter.
Bhawana Kanth, who is from the first batch of woman fighter pilots of the IAF, joined the fighter squadron in 2017. She flew solo on MiG-21 Bison last year and is now posted at the Nal base in Rajasthan’s Bikaner.
#WomenPower: Flt Lt Bhawana Kanth adds another feather to her cap by completing Day Operational syllabus on MiG-21 Bison aircraft. She is the first women fighter pilot to be qualified to undertake missions by day on a fighter aircraft. pic.twitter.com/J5SWN8A4oD
— Indian Air Force (@IAF_MCC) May 22, 2019
For Flight Lieutenant Bhawana Kanth, becoming a fighter pilot was a childhood dream. “It was something only boys were expected to aspire for. At least that was the stereotype. But my parents never made me feel I needed to think any different just because I am a girl,” she had said.
In 2015, the government had, on an experimental basis, decided to open the fighter pilot stream for women for five years. Commissioned by the then Defence Minister, late Manohar Parrikar, the first batch saw three women selected from of a batch of 125.
The first batch of female fighter pilots which comprised of Bhawana and her cohort, Flt Lt Avani Chaturvedi and Flt Lt Mohana Singh were inducted into the IAF fighter squadron in 2016. The trio has undergone gruelling training since.
Bhawana hails from Barauni in Bihar and her father is an electrical engineer in Indian Oil Corporation and mother a homemaker. She did her schooling in Barauni and though keen to join the National Defence Academy, she couldn’t since women weren’t inducted in the programme.
She went on to do her engineering in Medical Electronics from Bengaluru, and was recruited by Tata Consultancy Services in 2014.
But she didn’t give up on her dream to fly. She went on to take the UPSC Combined Defence Services competitive examination. From there things changed. She was selected to be commissioned into the Air Force.
During her Stage I training she joined the fighter stream.
In 2016, she and her cohort as part of Stage II underwent a six month training on Kiran intermediate Jet Trainers in Hyderabad at the Hakimpet Air Force Station. The same year, the trio passed the combined Graduation Parade Spring Term at the Air Force Academy in Dundigal.
Last year Bhawana completed her solo MiG-21 Bison flight, and . completing the Operational Syllabus, became the first woman fighter pilot. MiG-21 are supersonic jets and interceptors designed by Russia, and have take off and landing speeds of 340 kilometers per hour.