Pride of Pakistan: Ayesha Farooq

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Young, determined and courageous, not many people know that this lady is Pakistan Air Force’s (PAF) first female fighter pilot.

Flight Lieutenant Ayesha Farooq belongs from Hasilpur, Bahawalpur. In 2013, she became the first and the only Pakistani female fighter pilot after topping the final exams to qualify. She now flies missions in a Chinese-made Chengdu J-7 fighter jet alongside her 24 male colleagues in Squadron 20.

At 31 years of age, Ayesha Farooq says about working in a male-dominated profession, “I don’t feel any different. We do the same activities, the same precision bombing.”

She was previously posted at Mushaf base in north Pakistan, where neatly piled warheads sit in sweltering 50 degree Celsius heat.

Offering advice to young women, the war pilot said that instead of looking up to role models become one yourself

“Because of terrorism and our geographical location it’s very important that we stay on our toes,” said Farooq, in a previous interview.

“In our society, most girls don’t even think about doing such things as flying an aircraft,” she said.

Farooq has made history by becoming the first woman assigned to one of Pakistan’s front-line dogfighting squadrons.

“My mother raised me to be strong, to a point that if one day, I was left alone, I would be able to take care of myself,” she said while addressing a crowd at Aga Khan University in Karachi, adding that her achievement comes as a consequence of her mother’s support.

Now, flight Lieutenant Farooq says she is ready for the ultimate test.

“If war breaks out, I will be flying on my senior’s wing as his wingman, well, wingwoman,” she said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph at the headquarters of PAF in Islamabad.

“I want to prove myself, to show that I’m doing something for my country,” she said.

In the process, she has become a role model for millions of girls in Pakistan. Yet Fl Lt Farooq remains a traditional Pakistani woman in some ways. She is married to her cousin.

Of six female fighter pilots, Fl Lt Farooq is the only one qualified for combat and to fly sorties along the border.

“As well as doing a job for my country I’m changing the thoughts of people,” she said. “It’s a big responsibility.”

“Life at PAF wasn’t just about hardcore training and brutal seniors; it included fun memories with friends,” Farooq said.

In response to a question about the physical training one undergoes at the flight school, Farooq briefly explained: “You have to wake up for a one-mile run every morning at about 4:30am – so you’d run first and then you’d wake up.”

She added that they had to carry an MG3, a machine gun, which weighs about four kilogramme – for two hours.

“You wouldn’t think 4kg is heavy,” she said. “But carry something of that weight for two hours, and you will realise it is.”

After that, Farooq said the students would have to undergo the theory part of the course, and then take part in compulsory games, Farooq chose swimming and horse riding, then it was prep time followed by “lights off.”

Offering advice to young women, the war pilot said that instead of looking up to role models become one yourself.

She encouraged women and girls to come out of their houses, telling them that men and women could, in fact, compete on the same level.

Young, determined and courageous, not many people know that this lady is Pakistan Air Force’s first female fighter pilot

Regarding facing gender discrimination, Farooq said, “I didn’t face that at all, but of course I had to work harder to prove myself. Being inducted as a female fighter pilot was a great experience, but all eyes were on you at that point.”

For a woman who came across as soft-spoken and who is qualified to engage in combat, Farooq also displays her sense of humour.

When asked whether she would rather have been a transport pilot as opposed to a fighter pilot, she responded with a laugh, “definitely a fighter pilot”.

“I visited the cockpit of an airline once and when I walked in they were sitting and eating donuts,” she said, to raucous laughter from the audience. “I asked them what they were doing eating donuts and they casually replied “oh it’s, on autopilot.”

Achievements

BREAKING STEREOTYPES

In 2013, Ayesha Farooq became the first and the only Pakistani female fighter pilot after topping the final exams to qualify. She now flies missions in a Chinese-made Chengdu J-7 fighter jet alongside her 24 colleagues in Squadron 20.

MAKING HISTORY

Ayesha Farooq has made history by becoming the first woman assigned to one of Pakistan’s front-line dogfighting squadrons.

A ROLE MODEL

Farooq has become a role model for millions of girls in Pakistan. Yet Fl Lt Farooq remains a traditional Pakistani woman in some ways. Of six female fighter pilots, she is the only one qualified for combat and to fly sorties along the border. Offering advice to young women, the war pilot said that instead of looking up to role models become one yourself. She encouraged women and girls to come out of their houses, telling them that men and women could, in fact, compete on the same level.

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