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Women to join Russian Aerospace Forces as military pilots

The air force which fielded the famous “Night Witches” of the Second World War is recruiting women pilots again

Russian Defence Minister Shoigu has told reporters today – Russian Aerospace Forces Day – that 15 women cadets are being enrolled in the Krasnodar aviation school to be trained as military pilots.

There are quite a few girls who would like to become military pilots. We’ve received hundreds of letters, hence the decision to enrol the first group of girls in the Krasnodar military aviation school this year.  They will be few in number, 15 all in all. However, considering the number of applications received by the Russian Aerospace Forces we cannot ignore these requests, so on October 1, the first group of girls will start training to become military pilots

The Krasnodar aviation school has been enrolling women cadets since 2009, but not for training as military pilots.

Shoigu did not say that the women cadets would be trained as fighter pilots.  The Krasnodar aviation school trains pilots for all types of military aircraft including fighters, bombers and ground attack aircraft, and military transport aircraft.

The Russian Ministry of Defence’s decision to begin training women as pilots does nonetheless mark a significant break for the Russian Aerospace Forces, whose pilots up to now for all types of aircraft have been exclusively men.

In this Russia differs from other countries – including Muslim countries like Somalia, Algeria, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates – all of which have trained and employ women fighter pilots.  China also began employing women fighter pilots in 2013, and most NATO states (including the US) have been doing so for some time.

In some respects this is surprising since the Soviet air force during the Second World War not only employed women pilots – including fighter pilots – in large numbers and to an extent unknown to any other air force, but following Stalin’s personal order even planned to field what were intended to be three all-women’s air force regiments, one of which became the famous “Night Witches“.

Since then Russian women pilots have excelled in aerobatic competitions – I recall the stunned admiration of the crowd at a brilliant aerobatic display put on by a Russian woman pilot flying an SU-26 during an airshow in Farnborough in Britain in the 1980s – and of course Russia was the first country to send women into space.

Fighter pilots need to be exceptionally fit to withstand the exceptionally strong G-forces of modern combat, and some of the first supersonic aircraft – the Soviet SU-7 was a well known example – required considerable strength to operate their very heavy controls.

Possibly this explains why after the Second World War the Russian attitude to women military pilots changed, with the Russians perhaps doubting that women had the physical strength and stamina required to be successful military pilots.

It seems that this view is changing again, and that the Russians are now taking their first steps towards bringing women as pilots back into their air force.

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