If we think of grit, discipline and self-sacrifice, it’s the image of the Indian Air Force that flashes in every Indian’s mind. Celebrating its 87th anniversary on 8th October, the IAF has risen to every challenge, whether natural or political; and come to the rescue of its people in desperate times. Pretty much a pioneer in every field, IAF was also the first among the tri-services to change the law and start the recruitment of women in all streams. Yes, the Indian Air Force is among the only few forces in the world that have women in combat roles as fighter pilots and chopper pilots.
The gender barriers are constantly being crushed by Indian women and we are definitely cheering for them! Rigorous training, both physically exhausting and emotionally challenging births these brave women officers who are prepared to die for this country. Walking shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts, these officers are inspiring not only our current but as well as the coming generations. This only goes on to prove the fact that there is no domain left where women haven’t carved a niche for themselves.
Today, on the occasion of 87th Indian Air Force Day we speak to Flt Lt Surabhi Saxena a committed IAF pilot,
who during her recent stint in Ladakh saved the lives of several mountaineers apart from leading other challenging expeditions.
Flt Lt Surabhi Saxena is a helicopter pilot of IAF. An engineer by qualification, she is one of the few to fly at extreme heights in the country. She is a keen traveller, a foodie and an ace basketball player. In her free time, Surabhi loves nurturing plants in her backyard and her friends describe her as easy going and a good listener.
1. Please tell us about your academic background?
I did my high school from St. Mary’s Convent School (ICSE), Senior Secondary from Delhi Public School, Indirapuram (CBSE) and then went on to do my B.Tech in Electronics and Communication from SRM University, Chennai.
2. What motivated you to join the Indian Airforce?
I was extremely passionate about flying and along with that, I guess I had a friends circle where a lot of my friends were also keen on joining the forces. These two reasons were perhaps the conscious driving factors behind my decision to fill-up the form. Flying was the only motivation that kept me going.
3. Did you take any extra coaching to get into the Air Force Academy?
Not really. I think whatever I studied during engineering was more than sufficient to prepare me for the entrance exam. It was actually my uncle who was then a Colonel in the Indian Army, who updated me about the SSB procedures and thus gave me an idea of the entire entry procedure.
4. Do you think having pursued engineering gave you an edge over others to become a pilot?
Engineering definitely helped me in understanding some subjects like Avionics and Instruments better, however, I would say that a sound technical background is helpful even if it is not engineering.
It helps you understand the concepts better as most of the curriculum as a pilot consists of subjects like Aerodynamics, Avionics and Navigation.
5. How would you describe flying as a career for women?
Flying as a career is as adventurous as it is demanding. This is because it demands your dedicated effort, time and physical upkeep. You need to be balanced and keep your wits about yourself when you are in the cockpit or even when you prepare for your sortie on the ground.
6. How can young girls prepare themselves better if they wish to become a pilot with the Indian Airforce?
The only entry for women in the Air Force is the AFCAT exam. So you need to study well during graduation and fill up these forms on the career airforce website in your final year of graduation. 75% marks in 12th and more than 60% in graduation is the requirement. The questions in the entrance test are pretty basic, comprising of logical reasoning and analytics. Thus, I don’t think it requires any special training.
7. What is the future for women pilots in the Indian Airforce? Is it a stable career option?
It is as recent as last month, that the first lady pilot in IAF has been given her permanent commission and has taken over as an Flt Cdr of a flying squadron. This in itself speaks of the stability that women will have in the times to come. The way IAF takes care of you and your families is commendable and there is a requirement of strong and dedicated women to be a part of the team.
Every year, the Air Force Day is celebrated at Hindon base in presence of the IAF chief and senior officials of the three armed forces. This year’s celebrations would be presided over by the new IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria, PVSM, AVSM, VM, ADC.