First flying was not a scary experience for Meghana

Meghana Shanbough

Meghana Shanbough didn’t feel scared when she first flew in a Pilatus PC-7 aircraft nearly 11 months ago.

“I was anxious. I was also thrilled, but I wasn’t scared as I was trained well to anticipate what to expect. Also it was dual sortie as my instructor was sitting in the front seat,” the Chikkamagaluru girl who passed out from the Air Force Academy, Dundigal, last week told DH. Meghana becomes IAF’s sixth women fighter pilot and first from South India after the Air Force opened up combat flying for women in 2015.

Incidentally she took to the skies almost at the same time when the second batch of two women pilots – Shivangi Singh and Pratibha – graduated from the IAF academy.

Asked why she opted for fighter flying that comes with several inherent risks, Meghana said, “I wanted to break the barriers and do something out of the box. The concept of risk is subjective because even flying a transport aircraft and helicopter comes with their own risks. In any case it is worth taking the risk.”

“Fighter flying is a personal choice, which I took after discussing it with my mentors and parents, who were very supportive. I don’t regret my choice,” she said.

Meghana completed her training with Pilatus basic trainer and Kiran intermediate aircraft. For the next 12-14 months, she would be trained in Hawk advanced jet trainer, first at Bidar and subsequently at Kalaikunda in West Bengal.

“I enjoy fighter flying because of different types roles these aircraft perform. Also it would be exciting to join a squadron as I heard so many anecdotes about the kind of culture and camaraderie that exist in a squadron,” she said.

Coming from a civilian background, the military academy gave a cultural shock to Meghana who studied first at her home town and later in Mysuru. But being a fast-learner, she was able to manage. First six months of training was all on the ground after which she stepped into the cockpit of the Pilatus PC-7. “Initially, the aircraft almost seems to have its own mind. It took me some time to be at ease with the aircraft. Then the flying became enjoyable. Each sortie used to bring some challenge. I learn how to fly by the day and by the night. I learn about navigation. Every phase of flying is different and enjoyable,” she said. The first three IAF women fighter pilots – Bhawna Kanth, Avani Chaturvedi and Mohana Singh – are now part of operational squadrons and flying fighter jets solo.

Currently IAF has close to 1,600 women officers including more than 100 pilots for fighter, transport and helicopter operations. The service also has women trained for flying helicopters in Siachen glacier, which is equally arduous and challenging task.

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