IAF gives wings to Dreams

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New Delhi: Women officers in the Indian Air Force continue to storm new bastions. The IAF’s much heralded helicopter display team ‘Sarang’ now boasts of a women pilot Squadron Leader Deepika Misra and a woman engineering officer, Flight Lieutenant Sandeep Singh in their team marking new beginnings. It was during her passing out parade at Air Force Academy, in December 2006 that Deepika Misra, then a Flight Cadet, first fell in love with the aerobatic displays by the ‘Surya Kirans’ and ‘Sarang’, IAF’s fixed-wing and rotary-wing aerobatic display teams respectively.

Deepika imagined herself flying some day in either of the formation flying teams. Back then however, it seemed an impossible dream. But she never gave up hopes and prayed hard. She was commissioned in the helicopter stream and was posted to a Chetak/Cheetah helicopter unit. Women short service commissioned pilots were only permitted to fly these single engine helicopters then. In a major policy shift in 2010, IAF allowed conversion of women pilots to twin-engine category of medium to heavy-lift helicopters. Deepika felt extremely lucky.

Having notched up nearly 1,600 hours on Chetak and Cheetah helicopters after her two stints at Bareilly and Udhampur, Deepika was more than ready when the opportunity came. IAF had meanwhile also sought volunteers from amongst women helicopter pilots to join the Sarang Team. Sqn Ldr Deepika had no hesitation and promptly volunteered for the new challenge. She was among the first to be inducted into the indigenously built Advanced Light Helicopter while a few others joined the Mi-8/Mi-17 class of helicopters. Sqn Ldr Deepika joined the Sarang Unit last July. Her prayers were now answered. In the process, she also became the first IAF woman pilot ever to join a formation display team.

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Incidentally, Deepika’s husband, Sqn Ldr Sourabh Kakkar, an aeronautical engineering officer was already posted to the Sarang unit and the couple would now be a team. Deepika would not remain the only women officer in the Sarang outfit for long. Flt Lt Sandeep, a lady engineering officer would soon join her in the Sarang unit. Both Deepika and Sandeep now share a rare camaderie as among the first and the only two lady officers in the Sarang team.