In a momentous feat, two female officers of Bangladesh Air Force yesterday became the first-ever combat pilots of the country.
Flight Lieutenant Nayma Haque and Flying Officer Tamanna-E-Lutfi went down in history when they landed their Bell 206 helicopters at the BAF Base Bir Sreshtho Matiur Rahman in Jessore at 1:19pm and 1:21pm respectively after successfully completing their 15-minute solo flying.
"It was a dream-come-true experience for me," said a beaming Nayma after achieving the feat.
"I always had the dream to be a pilot. When I joined the BAF, I didn't get the opportunity to become a pilot. However, the chance eventually came. We are grateful to the Almighty Allah and the BAF authorities and my senior officers and instructors who trained us and helped us fulfil our dream,” Nayma told The Daily Star at the base.
She dedicated her success to the women in Bangladesh.
"It's not a personal achievement. Rather it's an achievement for all women in the country. We represent them in an esteemed organisation like the BAF," said Nayma, who was commissioned in the air force in December 2011.
"The door to this opportunity has opened today. Inshallah, more women will come in this profession in the future,” she said.
Why did she choose this risky and challenging path of life?
"I don't see it as a risky profession but as an opportunity to serve the country," said a proud, confident Nayma.
Similar conviction was found in Tamanna.
“I am feeling proud after completing the solo flying. My parents encouraged me from my childhood to take part in daring tasks. It's because of their inspiration I joined the air force in the first place and became a pilot today,” said the flying officer, commissioned in the BAF in December 2012.
Both the pilots said their immediate objective was to successfully complete all the trainings.
However, the task was not an easy one. Had they failed yesterday, they would have never got the chance again.
This is perhaps why the moment their choppers touched down at the BAF Base, air force officers burst out in applause to hail the girls for successfully attaining the qualification to become combat pilots.
"These two pilots' feat is a milestone in the history of the BAF … It is only the beginning. I believe the female officers will move forward with their skills and competence,” said Air Officer Commanding (AOC) M Sayed Hossain of the base, after awarding squadron badges to the two newest military pilots.
They have proved that women in Bangladesh have succeeded in all sorts of professions, he said.
However, trainings of the two are far from over yet.
“They are conducting basic conversion training and will go to the operational flying squadron and will take part in all operational activities like UN missions, search and rescue and disaster management after completing all the trainings,” said the AOC.
The female pilots would be trained to take part in war as well, he added. “I wish bright, prosperous and safe future for these two young pilots.”
Wing Commander Ahmed Asif Akhter and Squadron Leader Bashar Ahmed conducted the flying examinations while Air Commodore Hasan Mahmud and AOC Sayed accompanied the duo as safety pilots during the solo flights. After the tests, all the officers at the base celebrated the historic moment by cutting a cake. Later, Group Captain ATM Habibur Rahman, officer commanding of the base's operational wing, moved a vote of thanks.
The air force began inducting female officers in 2000 to become the first among the three armed forces to do so. The highest rank a female officer holds in the BAF at the moment is Senior Squadron Leader. Two more female BAF officers will start training for becoming military pilots from January.