Seventy-five years after its formation, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has finally broken the gender barrier with a young woman reaching out to the skies as its first woman flying officer. Kavita Barala logs in another first this on January 26 when, in a moment for posterity, she salutes India's first woman president Pratibha Patil.
Barala, who is from Jaipur, is determined to add more firsts to her career. The determined young officer has her sights set on learning to navigate the frontline fighter jet Sukhoi-30 and becoming the first female co-pilot of a multi-role aircraft.
Barala's story is one of grit and determination. Though the choice of becoming a navigator in the IAF was open to women since they were inducted into the force a decade-and-a-half ago, no one had opted for the branch till now.
"When I joined the Air Force Academy at Dundigal (Andhra Pradesh), I came to know that no woman has opted to become a navigator, so I decided to take the plunge. I completed my training successfully and became a navigator," Barala told IANS.
The navigator's job is challenging. The navigator has to be aware of the aircraft's position at all times. The responsibilities include planning the journey, advising the pilot of the estimated timing to destinations while en route, and ensuring that hazards are avoided.
Standing at a mere 5.3 feet, Barala personifies the generation of Indian women who want to fly high in the sky.
She completed her training as navigator in 2008 for AN-32 transport aircraft and is currently undergoing training for navigating during bombing and relief operations at the Agra air base.
"Once my training is over I would like to get training for navigating Sukhoi-30," said Barala, who is in her early 20s.
After she trains to navigate Sukhoi multi-role fighter aircraft, she will become the first Indian woman to sit as co-pilot in the cockpit of the fighter jet.
Barala's decision has inspired other women to follow suit. Two women in her batch have opted for navigation.
"After me, two more women have opted to be navigators," Barala said.
The IAF currently has 784 women officers who work in all branches, barring the fighter stream.