Twenty-two-year-old Avni Chaturvedi from Rewa, who is one of trio to be soon commissioned as Indian Air Force’s first woman fighter pilots, was always inspired by NASA astronaut late Kalpana Chawla.
“When astronaut Kalpana Chawla died in an unfortunate crash of her space-shuttle, I was very upset and was crying in front of the television. Then, Avni came to me and said Maa, don’t cry; I will become next Kalpana Chawla,” said Avni’s mother Savita Chaturvedi.
“She was then just a small kid studying in class 3.”
She also drew her motivation from ex-President of India and missile man late APJ Abdul Kalam’s speeches in which he always asked the youth to take the country to new heights.
The headcount of women in the armed forces is upwards of 3,300, including 1,300 in the air force, but combat roles were off-limits to them until the IAF took the lead in crushing internal resistance to grant them equal opportunities.
Three female trainees were selected for the fighter stream after a high-powered board of officers carried out detailed assessment of the flying capabilities of the 125 cadets training at the Dundigal-based premier academy.
“Our family has a significant army background. My son is a Lieutenant in the Indian Army while by brother has served as Colonel in the Indian Army. Seeing her brother in uniform left a deep impact on her, which eventually made her determined to join the armed forces,” said Savita.
Avni did her schooling at Deolond, a small town in Shahdol district of Madhya Pradesh where her father Dinkar Prasad Chaturvedi was deployed as an executive engineer at Ban Sagar Dam project.
She was good at studies and even topped her high-school examinations.
“After her schooling, Avni did her B.Tech in computer sciences from Vanasthali University, Rajasthan in 2014,” said Chaturvedi.
But Avni always dreamt of flying choppers during her childhood days.
“She secured 88% in the course and even got a lucrative job at one of the leading multi-national companies, which she left after just six months as she cracked the entrance examination for the Air Force Academy in Hyderabad,” said Dinkar Prasad.
Even after cracking the examin for the Air Force Academy, Avni said she will only join the academy only if she got to fly aircraft.
“She was so determined to become a fighter pilot that she said she would not join the Air Force if she is offered a ground job. But luckily she was selected for the training of fighter pilot,” he said.
“We never forced our children in their studies. We always allowed them to study what they want,” said Chaturvedi.
“There can’t be a prouder moment for us with both our children serving the nation in the armed forces. We just want Avni to complete whatever mission she is given and make the nation proud of her,” said her parents.