Flying officer Avani Chaturvedi made history on February 19, 2018, becoming the first female pilot of the Indian Air Force (IAF) to complete a solo flight in a fighter aircraft.

“Chaturvedi became the first Indian woman to fly a fighter aircraft solo when she flew a MiG-21 Bison in her first solo flight,” an IAF official told The Asian Age.

Chaturvedi, who is posted to IAF’s No. 23 Squadron “Panthers”, completed a half-hour-long solo flight in the MiG-21 jet over IAF’s Jamnagar Air Base in the state of Gujarat, northwestern India.

According to The Indian Express, Chaturvedi had undergone strenuous training program to fly fighter jets. After completing her basic training on a Pilatus PC-7 turboprop aircraft at the Air Force Academy, Chaturvedi went on to train on Kiran and Hawk jets. She now has two more years of training before being deployed as a fully operational combat fighter pilot.

Three women pilots – Chaturvedi, Bhawana Kanth and Mohana Singh – were commissioned as flying officers in the IAF in 2016, after the Indian government decided to open the fighter stream for women on an experimental basis for an initial period of five years, The Asian Age writes.

Sources in the IAF called Chaturvedi’s solo flight a significant moment marking a breakthrough in providing a “real” combat role for women in defense operations.

“This is a major milestone in training of a fighter pilot and first time and Indian woman has flown a fighter aircraft solo,” IAF spokesperson Wing Commander Anupam Banerjee told The Indian Express. The IAF has already selected the next three women trainee pilots for the fighter stream.

Back in November 2017, the Indian Navy inducted first woman navy pilot, Shubangi Swaroop. Three other women pilots were also inducted into the Naval Armament Inspection branch, which was previously considered to be only for men, Times of India reported.

The MiG-21 Bison

The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 is a supersonic fighter jet manufactured by the Russian Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau. It was produced in the early 1950s as a successor to the MiG-19. The jet made its first flight in February 1956, and was introduced into service in 1959.

The jet is a low-cost swept-back delta winged fighter with service ceiling of 58,400 feet (17,800 meters), capable of reaching Mach 2 speeds, with increased combat range of 1,947 miles (1,210 km).

The MiG-21 was used by the Soviet Air Force and currently is operated primarily by the Indian, Russian and Bulgarian air forces.

The fighter jet has become one of the star performers of the IAF. The IAF acquired 300 MiG-21 Bisons in the 1980s. In time, 175 of these were upgraded and integrated in the IAF’s inventory with a host of improvements over its predecessor.

Since 1960s, the IAF has operated over 800 MiG-21s and over 1,200 MiGs in general. The 4th generation MiGs are now up for replacement by a 4-4.5 generation fighter by 2022-2025, the Indian Defense Research Wing writes.