SOURCE: Hindustan Times

Rangana Weerawardhana and Pavithra Gunaratne, the first women pilots in Sri Lanka’s air force, expressed gratitude to the Indian Air Force on Friday for helping them script military history in the island nation.

The two pilot officers were commissioned as military pilots in Sri Lanka earlier this week, a year after they completed a crucial part of their flying training at the Dundigal-based Air Force Academy near Hyderabad in 2018-19.

“Becoming a military pilot was a childhood dream,” said Weerawardhana. “We never thought we would get an opportunity to pursue flying training at AFA, Hyderabad. We would like to take this opportunity to express our gratitude to IAF for helping us achieve our dreams,” she said.

“Watching the Su-30 and other fighter aircraft was like a dream come true. It further strengthened our resolve to become military pilots,” she said, recalling a study tour to Pune where they saw the IAF’s Sukhoi-30 fighter planes for the first time.

Weerwardhana also became the first woman in SLAF’s history to command a parade at the commissioning parade on November 16 at the SLAF Academy in China Bay. The pilot officer was also awarded the Sword of Honour for outstanding all-round performance.

The two women, who were among the 53 cadets commissioned as officers this week, started training with the SLAF in July 2017 and were sent to India after they completed a basic combat course.

At AFA, they completed their basic flying training on the Pilatus PC-7 MkII aircraft, before returning to Sri Lanka last year, for their advanced training on the Chinese Y-12 light transport aircraft.

Ahead of joining the AFA in June 2018, Weerawardhana and Gunaratne said, they watched several documentaries on the AFA to get a sense of the IAF’s training activities and the challenges they would be up for in Hyderabad.

Recalling their visit to India as their first trip abroad, the two women fondly recalled their IAF instructors. “The specialty of military flying is to achieve expected levels of performance in a limited time. These levels cannot be achieved individually,” Gunaratne said.

The performance of a cadet is a not just the reflection of his or her effort but also the effort of the instructor, she said. “The perfect guidance given by our instructors raised our confidence. We should also not forget the contribution of the methodical training programme towards the performance of the student,” Gunaratne said.

Both agreed that despite excitement for the training in India, they were also uncertain about what would follow. “We had a feeling of uncertainty when we started our basic flying training. The PC-7 is a sophisticated aircraft with modern systems. We felt proud when we got into the cockpit first time. We worked really hard to complete the basic flying course successfully. Methodical use of flying simulators helped a great deal,” said Weerawardhana.

Gunaratne fondly remembered her fellow Indian cadets at the AFA, and said, “They were like our brothers and sisters who made us feel at home throughout the training period. Their smiling faces gave us extra strength during the rigourous training. The stories we shared during leisure gave us an opportunity to have a great understanding of each other’s cultures and traditions.”

“We had great excitement when we stepped into the AFA. The feeling we had was totally opposite on the day we had to return to our country. With all the memories of the academy and India, it was not easy for us to leave,” Gunaratne said.