New Delhi, Jan 23: Two of India’s first women fighter pilots – Flying Officer Avani Chaturvedi and Flying Officer Bhawana Kanth – are set to fly the supersonic jet fighter and interceptor MiG-21 Bisons, Indian Air Force’s iconic fighters that have the highest take-off speed in the world at 340 kilometres per hour. Avani and Bhawana have already undergone their fighter pilot training and have undertaken solo flights in Pilatus PC-7 turboprops, Kiran and Hawk jet trainers. Their compatriot and Flying Officer Mohana Singh is being trained at the Kalaikunda Air Force base in West Bengal.

“Avani is already undertaking sorties in a twin-seat MiG-21 Type 69 trainer with a qualified fighter instructor (QFI) at the Suratgarh airbase. Bhawana will follow suit at the Ambala airbase soon. Mohana, in turn, is still with Hawk advanced jet trainers at the Kalaikunda airbase. She will also be posted to an operational squadron in due course,” a senior officer was quoted as saying by Times of India. (Also Read: Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman Meets IAF Chief, Grabs a Seat in MIG-21)

However, to be declared “fully operational”, the three fighter pilots will have to take nearly a dozen “dual-check” sorties, following which they will be declared fit for solo sorties by the Qualified Flying Instructors (QFIs). In the “dual-check” sorties, the fighter pilots will be taught basic flying techniques, handling the aircraft, take-off, and landing. Following this, they will graduate in tactical flying and operations.

The graduation will be followed by training in air-to-air and air-to-ground combat, and then the three officers will get trained for night flying and combat operations which has two parts – “moon phase” and the “dark phase” – from their respective airbases. “A fighter pilot is declared ‘fully ops’ only after successfully undergoing this entire process, which takes upwards of a year,” another officer said.

Avani and Bhawana getting ready to fly MiG-21s also shows that the IAF showed no leniency in their training. Unlike the latest fighters in the IAF arsenal like MiG-29, Sukhoi-30MKIs and Mirage-2000s, the first MiG21 joined the force in 1960s and have since then remained the backbone of India’s aerial power.

Breaking the gender barrier, the Indian Army chief General Bipin Rawat, too, had in 2017 announced that the process to offer combat roles to women was moving fast. The move will induct women on “an experimental basis” for five years initially.