Marking International Women’s Day, India’s Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha has announced that the Air Force will induct its first female fighter pilots this summer.
“As of now, three women trainees have volunteered to join the fighter stream. They are under the second phase of their training,” Raha said, according to The Times of India.
He said they will enter the force “once they complete their training and are at par with their male colleagues,” with the induction ceremony scheduled for June 18.
In India, women “currently comprise just 2.5 percent of the armed forces, working mostly in non-combat roles,” according to the BBC. In the nation’s Air Force, women have been flying helicopters and transport planes since 1991, Raha said.
The BBC adds:
“In 2014, Mr. Raha had expressed reservations about inducting women fighter pilots, saying that ‘women by nature are not physically suited for flying fighter planes for long hours, especially when they are pregnant or have other health problems.’
“But in October, he changed his stance, saying the air force was planning to induct women fighter pilots ‘to meet the aspirations of young women of India.’ “
The U.S. Air Force has allowed female fighter pilots since the early 1990s. In 2013, NPR’s Rachel Martin spoke with Col. Jeannie Leavitt, the Air Force’s first female fighter pilot, about gender in the Air Force.
“Being the first female fighter pilot, there was a lot of attention and the attention wasn’t what I wanted,” she said. “I just wanted to fly fighters. But it was a significant change in policy and it was something very new and different. … It was hard to blend in and be part of the squadron when there were media requests and interviews and such.”
Leavitt, who also became the first female fighter wing commander, served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Of actually flying a fighter jet, she described it as a “pretty incredible feeling.”
“They are very powerful aircraft, as you can imagine, highly maneuverable and very lethal,” she said.
Read and listen to her full interview here.