New Delhi: In yet another first for women in the Indian military, an officer of the Indian Air Force (IAF) has graduated from the Air Force Test Pilot School as the country’s first woman flight test engineer.
Squadron Leader Aashritha V Olety is the first and only woman in the IAF qualified for the role, and as a flight test engineer, she will evaluate aircraft and airborne systems before their induction into the armed forces, sources said. Olety, a native of Karnataka, has graduated as part of the 43rd Flight Test Course after completing a one-year course at the pilot school.
Excluding the medical wing in which women have been serving for decades, the army accounts for 6,807 women officers, the IAF 1,607 and the navy has 704 women officers. In percentage terms, women still form a small part of the military — 0.56% of the army, 1.08% of the air force and 6.5% of the navy.
Test pilots, test engineers and test instrumentation engineers form an important team in test flying, said Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (Retd), a former test pilot and test flying instructor. “It’s a challenging avenue that requires theoretical and practical experience to test aircraft,” Bahadur said.
The headcount of women in the military has increased almost three-fold over the last six years, with more avenues being opened for them at a steady pace. There are a total 9,118 women serving the army, navy and air force, with the services giving them more opportunities to boost career progression, the government told Parliament in February.
One of the turning points for women in the military came in 2015 when the IAF decided to induct them into the fighter stream. The navy has also opened more avenues for women in recent years. Tanks and combat positions in infantry are still no go zones for women, who were allowed to join the armed forces outside the medical stream for the first time in 1992.