Woman IAF flying cadet killed in trainer crash

In yet another crash involving a trainer aircraft, a woman flying cadet of the Indian Air Force (IAF) was killed when her HPT 32 aircraft crashed during a routine training flight near Hyderabad on Monday afternoon.

IAF officials said Flying Cadet Deepika Sharma was conducting a solo flight during the first stage flying training when her aircraft plunged to the ground minutes after take-off.

This is only the second fatal crash involving a lady pilot since women were inducted as Short Service Commission (SSC) officers into the Air Force. In 1996, Flying Officer Harita Deol was killed when her Avro transport aircraft crashed near Chennai on a ferry flight to Hyderabad. Women are inducted in the flying branch as transport and helicopter pilots, but are not eligible to qualify as fighter pilots.

Sharing details about Monday's incident, sources at the Air Force Training Academy said a technical problem in the single engine trainer seems to have caused the crash.

Officers at the academy said final communication with the pilot indicated that the engine of the trainer caught fire during the flight. A detailed Court of Inquiry has been instituted.

The crash comes weeks after a newly acquired Hawk Advance Jet Trainer (AJT) of the IAF crashed at Bidar. While both pilots remained unhurt, the incident once again brought IAF's training program under scrutiny.

The HPT 32, which is manufactured by HAL, is a single engine aircraft that is used to impart first stage or initial flying training to cadets. While the aircraft has two seats, Flying Cadet Sharma was flying alone to get her required 'solo hours'.

Cadets graduate to the Kiran trainers for second stage faster flying training after getting initiated in the HPT 32. The newly acquired British-made Hawk trainers fill a vital gap in India's fighter pilot training program and will be used to impart fourth and final stage training to pilots.

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