SEMAINE D’AVIATION DE TOURAINE (30 avril – 5 mai 1910) Madame DE LAROCHE, Collection of Dave Lam, (via earlyaviators.com)
Those magnificent ladies in their flying machines,
they go up tiddly up up,
they go down tiddly down down. (with apologies)
almost more than 3 times as many commercially active, women pilots in India compared to the global average.
The Wright brothers first flew a powered flight in December 1903. They had much support – and financing – from their sister Katharine Wright and she first joined them in exhibition flights in 1909.
But it was a young French actress, Elise Raymonde Deroche (who called herself the Baroness Raymonde de Laroche), perhaps inspired by Katharine, who was the first woman to fly solo in 1909 and the first to be awarded a pilot’s licence in 1910. Though some others flew solo flights earlier, the first American woman to gain a pilot’s licence was Harriett Quimby in 1911.
Amy Johnson of England was the first woman to fly solo from Croydon, London to Darwin in Australia in her Gypsy Moth in 1930. Amelia Earhart of the US was then the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1932.
Women were involved in military flying already from WW 1.
In World War I, Helene Dutrieu of France and Princess Eugenie Shakhovskaya of Russia both served as reconnaissance pilots.
The first military woman to fly combat missions did so in Turkey in 1937. Sabiha Gokcen participated in the Thrace and Aegean exercises, and in the same year joined the “Dersim Operation.” During the Seyh Riza Rebellion, she facilitated the land operation by bombing Dersim and its surroundings.
In the Soviet Union in World War II, women flew combat missions in three predominately female regiments. The 588th Air Regiment (later the 46th Taman Guards Bomber Regiment) flew night bomber missions in the PO2 biplane. The 587th Bomber Regiment (later the 125th M. M. Raskova Borisov Guards Bomber Regiment) flew bombing missions in the PE2 airplane. The 586th Fighter Regiment flew air defense missions in the YAK-1 aircraft.
Fighter pilot Lily Litvak of the 586th regiment shot down 12 German aircraft and shared the credit for two others. Regiment mate Katya Budanova shot down even more aircraft but the exact number is unknown. They were both killed in action in 1943.
Originally a navigator and a Gold Star Hero of the Soviet Union, Marina Raskova used her influence to propose and gain approval for the formation of the female regiments. She was the first commander of the 587th Bomber Regiment, and she was killed ferrying her aircraft to the front lines. Galina Brok-Beltsova, one of the navigators in Raskova’s regiment, attended our conference last year and we anticipate having her attend this year’s conference.
Rose Clement served as a Navigator in the US Navy during World War II. These women navigators were the first US military women to be aircrew, to wear wings, and to receive flight pay (half their base pay). They were generally assigned as navigator instructors, in pairs at various bases around the country, after satisfactory completion of celestial navigation training.
In Britain in November 1939, Pauline Gower proposed and was granted permission to form the Women’s Section of the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), which would ferry aircraft from the DeHaviland factory to RAF training bases. She was the first woman to be allowed into, let alone fly, a Royal Air Force plane.
Though women have been involved in flying from the very early days of flight, they only constitute about 6% of all licensed pilots and only about 3% of active airline pilots according to The International Society of Women Airline Pilots. But for some reason over 11% of commercial pilots on Indian airlines are now women (and over 14% among the newly qualified pilots).
Sarla Thakral image iwpa
The first Indian woman to gain a licence was Sarla Thakral in 1936. Prem Mathur was the first woman to gain a commercial licence in 1947 and she flew on domestic airlines but was only allowed as co-pilot. It was only in 1956 that Indian Airlines had Durba Bannerjee as its first woman pilot. The Indian Women Pilots Association was formed in 1967. And by 1985, Saudamini Deshmukh had led the first all-woman flight crew on a domestic commercial flight. In 2008, Sonica Chhabra became the first Indian woman to qualify as a Pilot Examiner.
But the Indian Air Force lags far behind. It was only in 1994 – 80 years after WW1 started – that 3 women were first inducted – reluctantly – as pilots into the Air Force. The first missions ever flown in a combat zone by a woman pilot was during the Kargil conflict in 1999. They are still not permitted as pilots of Indian combat jets though the first combat mission ever flown by a woman was back in 1937. The staid bureaucrats of the Ministry of Defence and the still old fashioned leadership of the Air Force are apparently very disturbed by the very idea of women wielding power. The current Air Chief Marshall Arup Raha recently displayed his rather fossilised thinking. He apparently classes pregnancy as a “health problem”!
TOI, March 13th, 2014.
IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, answering questions in Kanpur on Tuesday, said the capabilities of women “air warriors” in his force was never in doubt but biological and natural constraints precluded them from flying fighters.
“As far as flying fighter planes is concerned, it’s a very challenging job. Women are by nature not physically suited for flying fighters for long hours, especially when they are pregnant or have other health problems,” said ACM Raha, as per news reports.
Defence minister A K Antony, in turn, told Parliament just last month that two studies – by the integrated defence staff HQ in 2006 and a high-level tri-Service committee in 2011 – had both rejected induction of women in combat duties. A serving major-general said, “As a society, we are not ready for our women in combat roles. What if they are taken PoWs?”
Indian commercial airlines clearly don’t have the same fears of women as the Indian Air Force. In the world of commercial airlines, Indian women are progressing much faster than their colleagues abroad. Why this should be is not very clear though it has been suggested that the availability of family support may make it easier for Indian women to cope with time away from home.
TOI 24th November, 2014.
Almost 600 of the 5,050 pilots in Indian airlines are women, according to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). At 11.6%, this is way above the 3% global average estimated by the International Society of Women Airline Pilots.
India is also seeing a steady rise in women pilots annually. The last five years saw 4,267 commercial pilots’ licences being issued, of which 628 or 14.7% went to women.
A direct outcome of this trend is that Indian carriers are employing more women pilots. The Jet Group, for instance, had 152 women pilots in October 2011; today it has 194 — the highest in India. “There has been steady growth of about 10% year on year in the number of women pilots joining the airline,” says a Jet official referring to Jet Airways and JetLite. The official adds that 30.5% of their 13,674 employees are women.
At IndiGo, 11% of pilots are women. “That number is definitely growing. Of the pilots that joined from April 2014, 16.5% are women,” says an IndiGo official. Overall, 43% of the airline’s 8,200-strong workforce is women. SpiceJet and GoAir also reported that the number of women pilots is on the rise. The merged Air India-Indian Airlines has the second largest number of women pilots at 171, and often has an all-women crew operating its longest non-stop flights to the US.