Women power in copter display team

Women power in copter display team

India’s helicopter aerobatic team, Sarang, which will dazzle the audience at Aero India 2017, is fuelled by women power with four females among its 20 members.

In a field dominated by men, they are working in various capacities, as pilots, engineers and commentators among others. Squad leader Sneha Kulkarni is the first female pilot to be in the Sarang display team and is among three women at the air show this year. On the experience of being in the pilot’s seat, she said, “When you are flying, you are so occupied with the controls and getting everything right that there is no time for adrenaline rush. But the experience is great and there is nothing like it.”

She was inspired by her elder brother who is in the Indian Army. “I want to represent India abroad and make my country proud. We will be performing in the air show in Malaysia soon,” she said.

Sarang, which means peacock in Sanskrit, flies Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) or Dhruv helicopters developed indigenously by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). Making sure that the choppers are ship-shape is Flight Lieutenant Sandeep Singh, Technical Officer with Sarang. “At a time, only four helicopters are used for display but my job is to ensure that five aircraft are air-worthy at any given time,” she said.

Flt Lt Singh was inspired to join the armed forces by the Doordarshan serial ‘Aarohan’, about a woman in the Indian Air Force. “I used to watch this serial when I was in class III and aspired for this career ever since. Immediately after engineering, I tried for the Air Force and was accepted in the very first attempt.”

The upkeep of a fleet of nearly 15 helicopters is challenging, she says, especially at air shows when the team makes at least two display performances in a day.

The ‘radio jockey’ of the team, Flight Lieutenant Tinju Thomas, is the voice of Sarang in her role as commentator and education officer. “It involves a lot of multitasking because I have to watch the display, listen to the instructions being communicated to the pilots, speak into the microphone and change music tracks at the same time. But I have done so many displays by now that it is in my nerves,” Flt Lt Thomas said. Her mother was apprehensive about her joining the Air Force as she thought the career was not suitable for women. “But I wanted the uniform, a central government job and wanted to continue my interest in sports. This was the best career option which satisfied all these requirements and I am loving it. I encourage other girls to consider this career, too,” Flt Lt Thomas said.

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