In pics: First women fighter pilots from around the world

  • Vignesh Radhakrishnan, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Oct 08, 2015 18:48 IST
An all-woman Indian Air Force contingent marching down Rajpath. (Ajay Aggarwal/Hindustan Times)

After pondering for several years whether to allow women pilots into its combat wing, the Indian Air Force finally announced on Thursday they may soon get to fly fighter planes.

There more than 3,250 women in the Indian armed forces but they have traditionally been kept away from close combat roles such as flying fighter jets and serving in the infantry, armoured corps and warships.

Even as India was debating whether women can cope with the demands of controlling high-performance combat aircraft, over 20 countries, including North Korea, Pakistan, USA and Israel and Pakistan, went ahead and inducted female fighter pilots at various points of time in history.

Women to soon be inducted as fighter pilots in IAF: Air force chief

Meet some of the first female fighter pilots from around the world:

Sabiha Gokcen, Turkey

According to a news article published in The Milwaukee Sentinel on April 6, 1958, the first woman ever to fly a fighter plane in combat was Sabiha Gokcen of Turkey. She was one of the eight adopted daughters of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder and first president of Modern Turkish Republic.

According to Institute for Woman of Aviation Worldwide (IWOAW), Gokcen took part in the Turkey’s military operation in 1937 against the Dersim rebellion and became the first female air force combat pilot in the world.

Jo Kum Hyang and Rim Sol, North Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C) with first female fighter jet pilots Jo Kum Hyang and Rim Sol. (AFP)

In this undated picture released by North Korea’s state news agency, Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), on June 22, 2015, its leader Kim Jong-Un is seen with his country’s first female fighter jet pilots - Jo Kum Hyang and Rim Sol.

According to KCNA, Kim Jong called them “flowers of the sky” and the pilots cried when they were presented with bouquets and thanked their leader “for giving them wings to fly.”

Ayesha Farooq, Pakistan

Ayesha Farooq (REUTERS)

Ayesha Farooq became Pakistan’s first combat-ready female fighter pilot when she passed her final exams in 2013 to qualify for battle. “In our society most girls do not even think about doing such things as flying an aircraft,” Farooq told Reuters two years back.

According to a Reuters report, there are now about 4,000 women in Pakistan’s armed forces, largely confined to desk jobs and medical work in the country’s 1.4 million-strong armed forces.

Ulrike Flender, Germany

Ulrike Flender (Wikimedia commons)

Ulrike Flender became Germany’s first female fighter pilot in 2006. Bundeswehr - the German defence force - celebrated her induction by releasing a documentary on her achievement.

She was named as one of Germany’s “100 greatest women” by German tabloid ‘Bild’ for her feat.

Col. Jeannie Leavitt, USA

Jeannie Leavitt (Wikimedia commons)

According to an AP report, Jeannie Leavitt became the US’ first fighter pilot after she flew an F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet in 1993 in Texas.

In an interview with NPR, Leavitt said, “Being the first female fighter pilot, there was a lot of attention and the attention wasn’t what I wanted. I just wanted to fly fighters. But it was a significant change in policy and it was something very new and different. And so, there was a lot of attention with it. So that probably made it a little bit more challenging. It was hard to blend in and be part of the squadron when there were media requests and interviews and such.”

Read the full interview here.

Major Mariam al-Mansouri, UAE

Major Mariam al-Mansouri, the first female pilote to join the Emirates Air Forces, gesturing as she sits in the cockpit of her F-16 fighter jet. (AFP)

Major Mariam al Mansouri, the first female pilot to join the United Arab Emirates Air Forces, “led the squadron” of its fighter jets that participated in raids targeting Islamic State jihadists in Syria as part of the US-led campaign against the extremists.

Al Mansouri graduated from Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa bin Zayed Air College in 2007 and is veteran pilot of F-16 warplanes.

Jo Salter, England

Jo Salter waves from the cockpit of a Tornado GR1B after landing at Lossiemouth, Scotland 21 February. (AFP)

Jo Salter, the Royal Air Force’s first woman strike-attack combat pilot, achieved her ‘Combat Ready’ status in December 1994 after joining 617 Squadron based at Lossiemouth.

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