In 2005, when 10-year-old Shivangi heard the thrum of a helicopter while out with her grandfather, she was amazed. The sight of a uniformed pilot strolling out of the cockpit was enough to launch the young girl’s dream of donning the uniform. But it was only after attending a naval presentation at Sikkim-Manipal Institute of Technology, where she studied Mechanical Engineering, that her real undying desire to fly came out.
The now 24-year-old has created history by becoming the first-ever woman to steer an Indian naval aircraft. She will be flying a fixed-wing Dornier maritime aircraft, complete with state-of-the-art sensors and equipment along with advanced surveillance radars. “The uniform is something that always attracted me because you can’t compare it with anything. When I saw the presentation in college, I knew I wanted to be a part of the Indian Navy,” shares Shivangi, who dropped out of her MTech course at the Malaviya National Institute of Technology, Jaipur to pursue her ambition. “Joining the navy is a long process and I didn’t want to waste my time in between. So I started studying further. When I got a call, I just quit and joined,” she adds.
After being selected, Shivangi went through a six-month-long Naval Orientation Course at the Indian Naval Academy at Ezhimala, followed by another six months of training to fly Pilatus, a low-wing tandem-seat basic training aircraft of the Air Force Academy. The pilot is now undergoing rigorous training with Indian Naval Air Squadron 550 aka ‘Flying Fish’ - the Kochi-based alma mater of naval aviation in India, where she is learning to fly the Dornier maritime reconnaissance aircraft.
So far, the young officer has logged some 100 flying hours, with over 60 on the Dornier, as a part of the course. This will be followed by another six months of mission-based flying during which she will learn to utilise the aircraft for its operational role. However, her ultimate dream is to fly the P8I long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft. “As of now, I want to fully operate the Dornier and then I want to get to bigger aircraft of higher endurance,” she muses.
Born to a schoolteacher father and a housewife mother in Muzzafarpur in Bihar, Shivangi’s feat of becoming the first woman pilot of the Indian Navy is breaking the glass ceiling. When asked if she was apprehensive about joining the defence forces, where combat roles are widely secured for male officers, Shivangi shakes her head. “I know there is nothing that women can’t do. My challenges are the same, as any man would face. I have many male officers encouraging me towards my goal. I haven’t been treated differently and neither is any other woman officer here,” she reveals.
The Indian Navy has inducted women officers in prominent roles for the last 10 years, and Shivangi believes that the defence force has also realised that women are also capable of doing different things. “They (women) have been given big roles and opportunities, and I am an example. Just because you are a girl, you can’t think that you can’t do something because only men can do that. It is upon you to take things forward and achieve your dreams,” she opines.
On the job
Speaking about the job, the Sub-Lieutenant shares that her dream of flying, comes with a lot of responsibility. “Once you are flying 10,000 feet high, you have to manage everything on your own. You need a lot of preparation, and have to be able to execute everything in time,” she explains, adding that there is no second chance. “When you are driving, you can stop the vehicle and check the problem, but you can’t do that in an aircraft. You need to come back safely. It’s challenging but once you master this skill, it gives you immense confidence.”
Although she is in the third phase of her training, Shivangi relishes her initial training days, especially the time she first took off and landed safely in Hyderabad. “It was the best thing that happened to me. I felt so confident about flying the plane and that feeling motivates me every day,” she smiles.
While being in the armed forces brought her a lot of adulation, Shivangi credits everything to her support system. “My family has been very supportive,” shares the pilot, adding that her parents followed her journey when she was preparing to join the navy. “When I used to call them during my training days, I would tell them how much I ran and what exercises I would follow. They have always been excited about it,” she says. But the only downside of the coveted job is her limited access with her family and friends. “My friends are very understanding. They are not expecting much from me because they know I have some commitments here,” she shares in conclusion.