The Winged Ladies

The traditional stereotype of men being the defenders of the nation has been broken by the Pakistan Air Force. In an apparent move to end gender discrimination in the defense services, PAF is now training a batch of 10 lady pilot cadets.
The winged ladies of PAF are currently undergoing training along with their male counterparts at Risalpur.
The PAF took the lead over the Army and Navy to induct women in combat units. The first batch of female pilots is expected to graduate from the PAF Academy Risalpur in April 2006.
These young ladies joined the 116 and 117 Batch of General Duty Pilots. Of the 10 included in the first two batches, four have completed primary flight training on Mushak aircraft and are now flying T-37 jet aircraft. They are Saba Khan, Nadia, Saira Batool and Mariam Khalid.
PAF has implemented the directives issued by Benazir Bhutto during her second tenure as prime minister to end gender discrimination in the forces and induct women officers.
“Air Chief Marshal Abbas Khattak was then the Air Chief and he said that he was ready to be the first chief to induct women in the air force. The other service chiefs have also agreed to follow PAF’s example,” said former defense minister Aftab Shaban Mirani.
After successfully completing training at Risalpur the lady pilot cadets will be sent either to the Fighter Conversion Unit at Mianwali or the Transport Conversion Unit at Chaklala, based on their skills, abilities and aptitude, as is the case for their male counterparts.
Analysts believe that women pilots, like men, come in a variety of shapes, sizes and capabilities, ranging from superb to barely adequate and it is the job of leadership and air force systems to do progressive screening.
Studies within the PAF command have been made to assess the feasibility of women pilots, particularly those who are undergoing training at Risalpur. The batch was inducted on an experimental basis. Further inductions were stopped to assess the success or failure of the existing group.
When the PAF opened its doors for females it initially wanted them to be involved with traditional roles and not to fly aircraft or be involved in combat. In 1977, lady officers were included for the first time in the branch of education. Prior to that only lady doctors were serving.
The regular induction of lady officers in other branches such as engineering, administration, information technology, logistics, legal, accounts and meteorology started in the 1990s.
The PAF’s director public relations, Air Commodore Sarfraz Khan, said, “The lady officers have adjusted well in the working culture of the PAF and are performing to the best of their capabilities.”
He said that out of the total strength of officers approximately three per cent were lady officers. Induction of ladies in the College of Aeronautical Engineering and College of Flying Training, Risalpur started a few years back, he added.
“Presently there are 18 lady aviation cadets undergoing training at PAF Academy Risalpur. Eight of them are becoming aeronautical engineers and 10 are at different stages of flight training,” he elaborated.
The PAF does not make much distinction between the genders during training as the lady aviation cadets undergo as rigorous a training schedule as do their male counterparts. The training exercises are geared to improve the cadets’ muscular strength, endurance, flexibility, agility, and coordination.
Inclusion of women in air forces around the globe have shown that to pilot a modern day fighter it takes training and skill, not excessive strength and that training and skill are not gender specific.
Technological improvements in aircraft and control system design during the years have removed the requirement for fighter pilots to possess a lot of physical strength.
According to officials at Risalpur, in some instances like academics, the female cadets performed better than their male colleagues.
Commandant PAF Academy Risalpur, Air Vice Marshal Inamullah Khan said that allowing women to enroll had been a good experience and some of the female cadets had done better than expected.
Though a lot of ground has been covered by the PAF in ending gender discrimination, a degree of segregation is maintained in the messes and the cadets mix with their colleagues only in the classrooms or the training areas in view of what the officials say are religio-cultural sensitivities. (Courtesy Dawn)


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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