By Team Billion Beats | JUNE 2018
Indian Air Force’s (IAF) Flying Officer Meghana Shanbough MR is the new poster girl of Indian Air Force (IAF). She recently graduated from Air Force Academy (AFA) in Dundigal at the impressive Combined Graduation Parade, becoming the sixth female fighter pilot to join the ranks of IAF, and the first from South India to do so.
Her journey to reach the skies started in childhood, when she insisted on being sent to a boarding school away from home, whilst she was studying in class 4 in Maharishi Vidya Mandir Public School, Chikmagalur. “My mother was initially hesitant, but my dad did not chip away my wings and was very supportive,” said the 23-year-old daredevil pilot who went on to study in the boarding school Little Rock Indian School in Udupi up till Class 12.
During her engineering days at Sri Jayachamarajendra College of Engineering (SJCE), Mysuru, Meghana formed the Sahas-SJCE Adventure Club, and organised trekking, rafting, mountaineering and such other expeditions which toughened her.
At 20, during her second year of engineering, she did her first solo on a paraglider, jumping off a cliff on Querim Beach in Goa. Her trainers were retired army officers, which gave her a glimpse of life in IAF.
Fate played its own role too. When Meghana completed her engineering and was looking for something out of the ordinary, IAF decided to let women into the cockpit of fighter planes.
“In June 2016, I was truly inspired to read the stories of IAF’s first women fighter pilots (Flying Officers Mohana Singh, Bhawana Kanth and Avani Chaturvedi) graduating from AFA,” stated Meghana who considers her father and paragliding instructor Nagendra her role models.
Meghana cleared AFCAT (Air Force Common Admission Test) and the subsequent SSB (Services Selection Board) at the very first attempt and joined AFA as a Flight Cadet in January 2017.
In June 2017, she had her first flight as part of the FAM (familiarisation) sortie on a Pilatus, in the company of her instructor. “It was a big day for me — being inside the cockpit, ready for a solo for the first time. To use you own call sign, having your own identity and being in control of your aircraft was really a great moment. I cannot forget those 20 minutes of being airborne,” she recalled.
Till date, she has to her credit over 50 sorties on Pilatus (Stage-I) and over 90 sorties on Kiran (Stage-II). Her first solo was in August 2017 on a Pilatus.
Having grown through the grind at AFA, she feels more empowered now. “Your dreams should be out of your league. Your dreams may be unconquerable at the moment. But you must chase them so hard that they are left with no option but to be yours forever in reality,” said Meghana, who, incidentally, is also a trained singer in Carnatic music. After a month’s break, Meghana will head to Air Force Station Bidar for the next level of training on Hawk aircraft.
Air Marshal S R K Nair, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Headquarters Training Command, IAF, who was at the AFA Graduation Parade for the last time, is a satisfied man. ““Breaking the glass ceiling was important and we did it. We keenly watch the standards set and leadership qualities displayed by the boys and girls every year. We tell them to excel in their respective areas and they will get what they deserve,” said Air Marshal Nair, who is retiring next month, after 42 years of service.
Meghana’s father M K Ramesh, an advocate, has been a friend to her. “Meghana was very adventurous from the time she was in Class I. The way her mind worked was very different from others. She is a role model to many,” said Ramesh.
Meghana’s mother CV Shobha is a judge with the District Consumer Forum in Udupi. Nirnay Shanbough, Meghana’s brother says his sister has always been a role model to him in every aspect of life.
The entire family arrived at AFA to witness the historic event of Meghana’s graduation as a Flying Officer. Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa reviewed the parade and conferred the ‘President’s Commission’ on behalf of the President of India to the graduating trainees of various branches. He also presented ‘Wings and Brevets’ to the newly commissioned officers of the flying branch.
And, Chikmagalur’s big dreamer and daredevil girl, Flying Officer Meghana Shanbough, was one of the proud recipients.
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