HaritaKaurDeol- Flight to Fame

2nd Sep, 2017

| by writesolutions

Women’s contributions are sometimes ignored, when men document their history.

But we can’t let this happen to this doughty young Sikh woman.

Courage came natural to this woman, as she hailed from the Sikh faith in a frontier state, where women, with their menfolk have fought, ruled, and protected the country for ages against fierce invaders.

Opposing patriarchy and in-bred misogyny, Sikh women have steered communities and armies to the border, led revolts and donned the mantle of revolutionaries at peak crisis time. We are familiar with the names of some of these women, but a majority could never make it to limelight and their heroic tales are now lost to time.

Harita Kaur Deol (1972 – December 25, 1996) was one such woman, whose promising career was cut short by one freak accident. A pilot with the Indian Air Force, she was the first woman pilot to fly solo in the Indian skies.

Not many would know that the Indian Air Force (IAF), the fourth largest in the world, took a late, big leap in gender parity when the Ministry of Defense re-wrote its rules to allow women pilots to be inducted into the fighter (combat) stream of the IAF. Deol belonged to the first elite cadre.

At present, there are about 739 women officers in the Indian Air Force which make up for about 7% of the total cadre strength. If you think this is low, you’d be surprised to learn that the Indian Army and the Indian Navy have only about 2.67 and 2.94 percent of women, in their respective cadres.

This kind of skewed representation is no doubt shameful, but you’d be surprised to learn that even these small numbers have managed to produce their share of tall heroines.

The most celebrated among them, of course is Harita Kaur Deol. She was just 22 years old when she flew solo 13 years ago on September 2, 1994 in an Avro HS-748 and entered her name in IAF records.

After taking off into the sky like a soaring eagle, she continued to play hide and seek with the wooly clouds at an altitude of 10,000 feet for a few more minutes. Zipped up in her navy blue overalls, strapped to the pilot’s seat inside the cockpit of an Avro aircraft, Flight Cadet Harita Kaur Deol smiled as she kissed the skies.

The 22-year-old gritty girl from Chandigarh flitted about in the clouds for nearly half an hour, expertly maneuvering her mean machine as her colleagues and seniors held their breadths, while closely monitoring her movements on their monitors at the ATC, with their sense of pride growing with every passing second. It was indeed a momentous occasion for the five-feet-two-inch tall girl.

When she emerged from the aircraft to a thundering applause, pats, hugs, and handshakes later, she was flustered but not overwhelmed.

“No, not at all. I am happy I was the first to do a solo and that I lived up to the expectations of my instructor,” Flight Cadet Deol told media persons who had gathered to watch her solo sortie. Chin up in the air, Deol looked straight into the camera and quipped: “I will speak to my parents first… and may be celebrate today’s success with my friends over the week-end.”

Unfortunately Harita Kaur’s promising career got cut short in a freak accident, just two later.

She was among the 24 people who lost their lives when an IAF Avro Aircraft crashed near Nellore.

On the fateful day of December 24 1996, Flt Lt Harita was flying HS-748 as a co-pilot on a sortie from Chennai to Hyderabad. On the return flight, the aircraft developed a technical glitch with wing fatigue and crashed near Bukkapuram village in Prakasam district of Andhra Pradesh.

That was the end of a fine officer.  The first woman to fly solo, she also became the first woman to die in harness in the line of duty.

While her story come to an abrupt halt, her legacy remains strong among her peers, as she continues to inspire many young women, who came in to fill in her position at IAF later. She constantly reminds them of the dangers lurking in the shadow of duty.


Radhika Sachdev

Content Strategist

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1 year 5 months ago

It’s really appreciate your vision and leadership towards bringing such real leaders facts to this world.
I also being a part of Air Force, doesn’t knew much more about this lady Officer who created an aviation history.
Salute to Harita Kaur and pay sincere tribute to her.
I m also doing little bit towards empowerment of our women’s and launched the brand only for women’s
Warm Regards