NEW DELHI: Two IAF women officers broke the glass ceiling on Tuesday by becoming the first women pilots to participate in the Republic Day parade — one at Rajpath and the other over Rajpath.

While Flight Lieutenant Bhawana Kanth, 28, became the first woman fighter pilot to take part in the R-Day parade as she was part of an IAF tableau that showcased mock-ups of an light combat aircraft, light combat helicopter and a Sukhoi-30 fighter plane, Flight Lieutenant Swati Rathore got the honour to be the first woman to be part of the flypast over Rajpath as she flew a Mi-17 V5 helicopter in a formation of four choppers.

Currently posted at an airbase in Rajasthan, Ft Lt Bhawana Kanth flies MiG-21 Bison fighter jets, the same aircraft that was used by Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman to chase and bring down an F-16 of Pakistan during the India-Pakistan face-off in 2019. Along with Avani Chaturvedi and Mohana Singh, Kanth was inducted into the IAF as the first woman fighter pilot in 2016. On May 22, 2019, Ft Lt Kanth became one of the first three women fighter pilots to qualify for day-time combat missions on a fighter aircraft.

Ft Lt Kanth, who had been “watching the parade on TV since childhood”, on Tuesday became part of it. “I currently fly MiG-21, but later I would love to fly other fighter planes, including Rafale and Sukhoi,” she told the media earlier. Kanth, who is from Baur village and grew up in the refinery township of Bihar’s Begusara, did her Bachelor of Engineering (Medical Electronics) from Bengaluru’s BMS College of Engineering in 2014 and later joined Tata Consultancy Services before applying to the IAF. Her father is an engineer (electrical) too. He said that Kanth had been interested in flying even as a schoolgirl and was inspired by her neighbour, Manas Bihari Verma, an aeronautical scientist who helped develop TEJAS.

Like Kanth, Ft Lt Swati Rathore too was born in a village, in Rajasthan’s Nagaur district and did her schooling from Ajmer. She joined the NCC air wing after her schooling as her parents realised her interest in aviation. At the NCC, she won a gold medal in shooting.

In 2013, Swati, who had always dreamt of becoming a pilot, appeared in the IAF common admission test. After clearing it, she was called for an interview by the Air Force Selection Board, Dehradun, in 2014. According to Swati, there were around 200 women candidates from all over the country, out of which 98 were selected for screening. Only five students were left after the screening, in which only she was selected for the flying branch.

Ft Lt Swati Rathore, in an interview to the media earlier, said, “Opportunities are everywhere. You have to look for those opportunities and make the most of them. In fact, parents should always find out the interests of their children and should develop those interests by supporting the kids in every possible way.”

Her father, Dr Bhavani Singh Rathore, who is the deputy director of the Rajasthan Department of Agriculture, said, “I held my head high because of my daughter. I am really happy that she could realise her dream.”

Her achievements even drew praise from state political leaders like former CM Vasundhara Raje and former deputy CM Sachin Pilot. A few days before the Republic Day parade, Vasundhara Raje had tweeted, “It is a matter of pride for all of us that the daughter of Veerbhoomi #Rajasthan and Flight Lieutenant of Air Force #SwatiRathore will lead the 'Fly Past' in the parade on Rajpath on the occasion of Republic Day. I wish him a bright future!”