Excuse me, while I touch the sky: Meet war pilot Ayesha Farooq

Published: November 14, 2014
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"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," War pilot Ayesha Farooq. PHOTO: REUTERS

"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," War pilot Ayesha Farooq. PHOTO: REUTERS

KARACHI: Becoming the first and only female war pilot in the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) can’t possibly come easy, but Ayesha Farooq makes it seem otherwise.

Being a woman and engaging in war, undergoing rigorous training, dealing with ‘brutal seniors’, and living in a country – or world – where females are commonly known as the second sex, Farooq has indeed defied the glass ceiling.

The slim framed and soft spoken war pilot said she was inspired by her mother, a housewife and a widow, who for Farooq, is “the ultimate symbol of strength.”

“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 the Aga Khan University (AKU) in Karachi, adding that her achievement comes as a consequence of her mother’s support.

She also spoke fondly of a pilot who taught and inspired her, saying, “He taught me to touch the skies.”

Of her life and experience in PAF, Farooq spoke about fun-filled experiences with her juniors and seniors, rigorous training and emotional goodbyes.

“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 kg- 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.

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.”

* Correction: In an earlier version of the story, it was not mentioned that the talk was held at the Aga Khan University.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 14th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (19)

  • Kamran
    Nov 14, 2014 - 3:49AM

    Ayesha and Malala are the heroes young Pakistani girls should look up to and know they can do anything. Don’t let backwards minded insecure male members of your family tell you anything less. It astounds me how many males in Pakistani society don’t want to become educated and fear their girls being educated, lest they then tell them the truth about life.
    Insecure men should instead be proud of their daughters and know they will be mothers to the nation and able to teach their own offspring.,

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  • Suraqa
    Nov 14, 2014 - 4:33AM

    Well done Ayesha Farooq. May Allah grant you the strength to break other barriers too.

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  • Ch. Allah Daad
    Nov 14, 2014 - 8:01AM

    She is a true role model for all girls. Very proud to see her in uniform.

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  • Talha Farooq
    Nov 14, 2014 - 8:18AM

    The gun you referred to is not MG3 Heavy Machine Gun (weighs 10.5 kg) but G3P4 Assault Rifle (weighs 4.1 kg)

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  • Nov 14, 2014 - 8:59AM

    Salute!

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  • Fizza Kazmi
    Nov 14, 2014 - 9:34AM

    While this is a good piece on Flt. Lt. Ayesha, I consider it to be extremely irresponsible reporting since the article totally ignores the fact that Flt Lt. Ayesha gave a talk at the Aga Khan University as part of its Special Lecture Series which was widely attended by staff faculty, members of civil society as well as the media. The piece makes it sound it was a personal one to one interview with the Tribune which it was not since she was not cleared by PAF to give personal interviews. AKU requested a special consent for Ayesha to appear at the Special Lecture Series in Karachi on 13 November from PAF.

    As a leading newspaper, it is regrettable that the facts of a particular situation are not clearly provided.

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  • Sabeeh
    Nov 14, 2014 - 10:06AM

    To the best of my knowledge, She has applied for Resignation from PAF. I’m not the one against females in PAF, though focus of most these ladies and PAF herself is to use them as show-piece than professional value.

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  • Nasim Lirani
    Nov 14, 2014 - 10:34AM

    It was an awesome, mind blowing & heart touching session conduct by The Aga Khan University Hospital. I second Fizza Kazmi (y)

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  • Nasim Lirani
    Nov 14, 2014 - 10:37AM

    @Fizza Kazmi:

    I second!

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  • Anwar.Suhail
    Nov 14, 2014 - 12:44PM

    This is indeed FINE example of irresponsible reporting.
    Event was held at Aga Khan University as part of it’s Special Lecture Series. ET should have the courtesy to mention this fact. How sad!
    Newspaper Dawn did justice and reported the event in professional manner.

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  • Anwar.Suhail
    Nov 14, 2014 - 12:47PM

    I second Fizza Kazmi.

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  • Anwar.Suhail
    Nov 14, 2014 - 12:52PM

    @Fizza,
    Regrettable indeed. I wonder what stopped them from mentioning the venue and situation of this event.

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  • Farah.S
    Nov 14, 2014 - 2:15PM

    This is prime example of irresponsible reporting.

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  • Tariq Yousuf
    Nov 14, 2014 - 2:32PM

    Well done Ayesha Farooq
    Amazingly well written article , well done Raisa Vayani !!!!!!

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  • Ayesha kamal
    Nov 14, 2014 - 2:36PM

    Yes , please provide the correct context. This is irresponsible and disrespectful to a national inspiration to be decontextualised.

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  • Parvez
    Nov 14, 2014 - 2:59PM

    Pakistan needs more people like her.

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  • sherly
    Nov 14, 2014 - 4:15PM

    Well done Ayesha Farooq ! the whole nation is proud of you. You are the true inspiration and motivation for girls who want to be Piolt like you and want to join arm forces. Congrats on your achievements.

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  • Nov 15, 2014 - 4:54AM

    Reading the comments…….. Something is wrong with Pakistanis, instead of appreciating the lady pilot, people are stuck on minute details of AKU events…. Do you even realize how difficult it is to be a pilot….. Same goes for Malala……she was shot in the head, why was she shot, she was shot because she asked for education for girls when schools were burned by Taliban…… Syndical thinking is unhealthy……. Do something, make a difference instead of always trying to put others down…. I am a Pakistani who lives in America…

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  • Samira khan
    Nov 16, 2014 - 12:06PM

    True inspiration for all women population around the globe…. May ALLAH bless you……

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