The Indian Air Force is examining a proposal to gather data on the performance of its first female fighter pilots, potential difficulties due to physiological attributes and cultural issues in the male-dominated military, HT has learnt.
The proposal, made by a leading woman aviation psychologist and accident investigator in the IAF, is under consideration of the force’s crucial inspection and safety wing, sources said.
Three women are currently taking a shot at becoming fighter pilots after the government approved a plan in October last year.
“We propose to carry out a longitudinal study capturing every aspect of fighter flying,” said Kuhu Ganguly, a senior scientist in the inspection and safety directorate.
“The idea is to track how well they are progressing as they break into a male bastion,” she said. Such studies can stretch for years as subjects are repeatedly observed on specific parameters.
The three women are in the final stage of their training on British Hawk advanced jet trainers at an IAF facility in Bidar, Karnataka. The trailblazers — Bhawana Kanth, Mohana Singh and Avani Chaturvedi — will begin flying supersonic fighter planes from June 2017, considered a watershed in the IAF’s 84-year history.
Several IAF officers said the performance of the women during their training was on a par with their male colleagues.
Such gender-specific studies are not uncommon. Aviation medicine wings of international air forces, including the US and Australia, have researched women pilot programmes. Research has been done in areas such tolerance to gravitational forces, disorientation and motion sickness, pregnancy, use of “piddle packs” and ejection safety. Ganguly, whose rank is equivalent to an air commodore’s, said, “The fighter jet doesn’t know gender and it will behave as it will. The study could also help the
IAF resolve problems, if any, for future women fighter pilots.”
The IAF has advised the women trainees to put off motherhood for at least four years after they are commissioned as fighter pilots so that their flying schedule is not disrupted. No woman trainee from the next batch has opted for the fighter stream.
“Fitness norms for flying duties are clearly laid down and both men and women will have to maintain those standards,” said Air Marshal Pawan Kapoor, who heads the IAF’s medical wing.