Girls just wanna… go to Risalpur

Published: April 21, 2011

Flying planes for Pakistan has been my best friend's dream

My best friend wants to be an air force pilot. She (yes, it’s a she) has wanted to be one since she first watched Top Gun. She can tell you the model number of any jet and its year of make by just looking at a picture.

While everyone else our age stalks the Lahore University of Management Sciences (Lums) website, she has the Pakistan Air Force website as her ‘most visited’. Risalpur is her future home.

During the past six months, I have been forced to memorise the lyrics of “Highway to the Danger Zone” and google its 1980s Pakistani counterpart too: Tum Hee Say Aai Mujahido. Anyone?

This is an excerpt of the coversations we have:

“Americans salute like this.”

She brings her hand to her eyebrow, palm facing downwards.

“Pakistanis salute like the Brits, like this.”

She brings her hand to the top of her head, palm facing outwards.

“It’s like sticking an axe in your skull.”

There’s a pause.

“But dude, we’re Pakistani. Shouldn’t we salute like this?”

She cups her palm and brings it to her nose.

“Aadab, Squadron Leader.”

For her birthday, our group of friends seriously considered buying her one of those air force bomber jackets — till we realised she already had one. We settled for an F-16 shaped card.

This is all very unusual for us, but not why you would think it is. Girls in the air force? Been there, done that. No, the unusual thing is that this particular friend of ours actually has a dream. While you’re being bombarded with university applications and are having second doubts about your subject choices, someone out there knows exactly what she wants to do in life and, that too, at the age of 17.

Her dream became our dream. And so we started researching for people who were ever part of the PAF, or the armed forces in general.

First candidate: the tenth grade biology teacher, who had considered a life in the army until she dropped out.

Second candidate: an uncle who did a U-turn after a few months and became a brain surgeon.

“Are you telling me that everyone who failed Risalpur ends up being a bloody doctor?!” our friend screamed on the phone. Her subject choices just happen to be all sciences.

We talked to an aeronautical engineer, who wasn’t exactly as wide-eyed as us:

“The government doesn’t spend Rs10 million on every pilot officer so that they can get married and sit at home making chai.”

“So I won’t marry!”

“Yeah, try telling that to your mom.”

And it’s a fact that the much-lauded first batch of female pilots is only in charge of F-7s, and are unlikely to be seen in combat.

Still, we haven’t given up. My friend still has the JF-17 Thunder as her screensaver and she still has a dream, which is more than what can be said for me and my equally confused classmates. Some of us will go through college ‘undecided’, while others knew they wanted to a surgeon when they were five-years-old, fresh out of diapers and picking on their own scabs.

Dream building is so much easier as children.

When I was seven years old, I announced to my parents that I wanted to be an astronaut. I named my teddy Laika, after the first dog in space, and entered every room proclaiming, “This is one small step for Meiryum…”. After a month of informing unsuspecting strangers about the height of the rocket Saturn V, the friendly optometrist told me I was getting glasses — and, well, that was the end of that. I was heartbroken. Who knew you needed 20/20 vision to fly space shuttles?

So if someone has a dream, and if she has a dream at an age when few do, then I swear by all the F16s and the Ghauris and the Shaheens, I will make sure she gets to Risalpur, and no brutally honest aeronautical engineer is going to say otherwise. If she doesn’t fill out the forms next year, we’re threatening to ship her to the PAF Finishing school – ‘A Grooming Academy for Women’ (yes it actually exists).

“Maybe you can do the finishing school’s commencement speech as Air Chief Marshal”’ I say.

At the rate she’s going, she probably will.

Meiryum Ali

Meiryum Ali

A freshman at an ivy league school who writes a weekly national column in The Express Tribune called "Khayaban-e-Nowhere".

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Fahad Raza

    Girls can handle more G force than boys that’s a scientific fact. Absolutely yes we need ladies fighter pilots. Recommend

  • Happy Man

    I wish all the best to your friend. May she succeed in achieving her goals. God Speed Girl, make this nation proud.Recommend

  • muhammad aamir

    very well said! it is very important to have some aim or else u fall and eventully end up in doing something u never thouht.Recommend

  • Amer

    Maybe she can fly the next 60KM nuclear capable missle the army builds!! Just saying! :) LOLRecommend

  • Hamza Qaiser

    I am seriously impressed! It’s about time women took control of their destiny and not have their fathers or husbands make choices for them; especially the ones as important as opting a career or choosing a partner. It’s women like these who can set an example for millions of rural women in Pakistan who don’t get to do what they like because they are confined to a role that dwells only in the kitchen. I really hope this piece changes a few mindsets around. Bravo!
    p.s. please tell your friend I’m single. Recommend

  • Sarwat

    Good one. I personally had the same urge to join air force and applied for aeronautical but for the very same reason I didn’t get allowed to go to Risalpur academy so I didn’t appear in the second interview after clearing all the primary tests.

    I am living my life as a married girl with degree in telecom engineering, and life moves on. But I still have PAF posters pasted all across my room.

    Hope your friend gets to live her dream.Recommend

  • kulsoom Zakir

    I too gave up on my dream when I got glasses. Hope your friend goes all the way. Best of luck to you all! :)Recommend

  • Sanya Shiraz

    Haha, BRILLIANT!! I hope she succeeds! :)Recommend

  • shoeb

    glasses killed my dream of Air-force .. i hope she get there …best of luck to ur friend. Recommend

  • http://islamabad Maryam

    u know wat i always wanted to join PAF, my dream was to be an aeronautical engineer, but my cousions who are in PAF and aeronautical engineers themselves strongly discouraged me and my mom dad by telling that she has to get married , what if there is any problem regarding the posting n stuff…..
    so yes….i am married now with a degree in Telecom Engineering just like you and working for a telecom operator….
    the first time i saw those 4 girls passing out of air force as pilots u cannot believe hw jealous i was….(yes i can be mean at times) and to date at times i curse my cousions for not letting me join PAF.

    @ Meriyum….all the best to your friend , i hope she gets to fulfill her dream…Recommend

  • Amer

    My last comment was just a joke! Seriously I wish your friend the best in her dreams and hopefully she can get what she wishes for. It’s very refreshing to see in Pakistan that girls can get to where they think that their potential can take them.
    P.S: People don’t start degrading the role of a woman who lives at home and takes care of her family/kids etc. They deserve our respect and gratitude as well. Recommend

  • Ravi

    Ask her that do she know who fills fuels in PAF jets????
    USAID or other development agencies !!!!!!!!!Recommend

  • Adna Khan

    You know you have to er, kill people in the armed forces ?. Can she handle that end of the bargain ?.
    It’s not just driving a really fast plane, wearing a sharp uniform and giving our crisp salutes. Armed forces are meant to go out there and kill those, who mean us harm. That might be crazed suicide sanctuaries one day and John Abraham the next.
    I think she should go to aviation school and try and become a commercial pilot. That will not interfere too much with either her dreams (uniform, fast plane, etc), or her mothers (family life).Recommend

  • Ali

    Well the Pakistan air force did not have a very good experience with lady pilots so they stopped induction of lady GDP (general duty pilots) since the passing out of first batch…..Recommend

  • Hina Khan

    Hye every 1 and AUTHOR
    Alot of comments haan. but Miss author what is the true picture. let me be straight.
    No more girls are there on fighters. 1st reason there so called PASSION was over as soon as they graduated from the academy. 2nd reason, there performance. They were given more chances then boys. But to my surprise, they also did what suited them the best. As far as the Airforce is concerned, they are using these girls just for MODELING purpose…..showing the world so called LIBERALISM. Author and others may think that i am against these girls. NO. It is something to do with the reality, culture and the trends. I have closely monitored and read the modern airforces. They have different trends and culture. Girls or Boys. Every 1 can fly. NO BIG DEAL. The thing is , are we saving the 10million rupee investment. Answer is NO. Initially PASSION works but later it becomes your duty and to perform duty you have to face hardships and go through tough time. For that tough time those girls or our girls are not ready. And please dont refer to TV documentry, interviews etc etc. I say again this is not the reality. To cut short real heros are those BOYS who are flying day night safe gurading the sky. Who dont have any option of postings to their desired bases. Who dont have any choice of aircraft. Who dont sleep in airconditions all the time. And those who are enjoying passion and feeding and supporting their families—NOT WAISTING MULTI MILLION INVESTMENT OF THIS POOR NATION. I strongly believe those girls should be taken out from fighting force. They should be restricted to Admin only.Recommend

  • Rashid

    BTW isn’t women wearing shirt and pant is unislamic. If you want to know more details pls contact the nearest fanatic Mullah….Recommend

  • ashraf

    absolute nonsense,women should leave fighting to men,islam does not allow women to fight,even the holy prophet(PBUH) has said this,instead they should focus on being good mothers and wives.Recommend

  • Hina Khan

    (Your comment is awaiting moderation>>>> why miss authorRecommend

  • Said Chaudhry

    So someone who flies a fighter jet used only to kill people is acceptable, but anyone who drops out of training school becomes a “bloody doctor”. Great analogy. But good luck to your friend. Would have been cool if she wrote this piece.Recommend

  • Hina Khan

    @Ali: Recommend

  • Nadir

    Ah my airforce dreams came to an end when i realised that i couldnt make it to Murree without feeling nauseated! More power to her!Recommend

  • ali

    my cousin was the instructor of some of these female pilots…and all of them r now leaving flying….he says its a waste of seats…Recommend

  • Rizwan Liaqat

    Plenty of women in Islam have been in battle. Hazrat Aisha RA to name an example.Recommend

  • A.S

    @ Adna Khan: im sure that if this friend has seriously thought about joining the military she knows that she may have to one day kill. thats the main job of the defence forces.

    @ Ali: the air force is still inducting female GDPs

    @ Ashraf: this is the kind of thinking that is holding our country back.

    @ the author: i am now applying to collages but the place i really want to go to is risalpur. unfortunatly imperfect eye sight is holding me back. i hope your friend somehow manages to fulfill her dream.Recommend

  • Arsalan

    Girls in PAF are not flying fighter jets.

    Only Mashaq or T-37 and thats it.

    Think before you apply…….Recommend

  • Khalid Rahim

    Tell your friend to keep her chin up. Adversity must never control your destiny nor objections
    raised by those who are failures.Recommend

  • moeed

    wow good one Recommend

  • parvez

    You have the instinct of creative writer. Liked the subject, loved the delivery.Recommend

  • Rehan Usmani

    Aoa Meiryum,
    Good article =)
    Hope everything’s fine at your end.Recommend

  • fatima

    reading this article reminds me of my own dream .i so wanted to join air force and be a GT pilot .i was inspired by a drama on RASHID MINHAS .it was like everything for me .alas, i got a weak eye sight during my a levels and so could not qualify as a GT pilot. i did not fit their standards anymore .it was then that the dream was shattered .currently i study at LUMS but memories and shattered dreams still come back and make me sad:( .i came through this article by chance and while reading it i can feel what maryam’s friend feels and i hope and wish to God that she gets what she dreams for inshallah :)Recommend

  • http://maynotmatter maynotmatter

    @author – Indeed air force is no longer a guys only domain. Its good to see increasingly more talented female pilots joining air force. Good luck to your friend.Recommend

  • booya

    Finally, a piece that I read half way through, maybe if you try a bit harder I may read the entire piece in one go!Recommend

  • http://filza filza

    superbly written..good luck to your friend for future endeavors. It is great to see how girls are not restricted to the fields of medicine and engineering and are entering more daring ones. Besides ensuring gender inequality, I really hope the air force focuses on the repair and maintenance of these planes as well. Because we’ve had some terrible air craft accidents in the past.Recommend

  • yaarku

    its lovely article written but tell your friend she wont get pass through issb …Recommend

  • Umer

    A well-scripted article.My father is in Army and my Uncle is a retired PAF engineer….I think after all these years what I have learned from our “Armed Forces” is that they only succeed in bringing out the worst in people.Try talking to a “Brigadier” or a “AVM” they don’t know what GOOGLE is yet they think they KNOW everything.We need different kind of people in the Armed Forces ones who are clean of this “Red-Tapism” and actually know what’s going on in their country and the world.Recommend

  • Old News

    Go for it, i so badly wanted to be an airforce pilot, or even an engineer but i wasnt too fit physically and had specs too, still wish there was someway i could become one, i say go for it when you have the chanceRecommend

  • Jeddy

    Are the planes segregated? Do women and men march separately?Recommend

  • Raj

    Risalpur and no mention of Rashid Minhas in the article and in comments. I am an Indian belonging to a Fauji Family and I am hurt.Recommend

  • Raj

    @Fatima, thanks for mentioning Rashid Minhas..and BTW it is not GT Pilot, the correct term is GD Pilot ( Ground Duty Pilot)…no offence intended…I love the Fauji Spirit..Recommend

  • Patriot

    @Author…keep it up and best wishes to your friends :) Pakistan Zindabad!Recommend

  • Deen Sheikh

    I am surprised no fanatic mullah type raised an objection to the pic, a male senior officer pinning the badge on the female officer, im surprised no overly sensitive religious nutjobs have yet said, pic inappropriate, haram haram haram. Lol
    To the author, Good Luck to your friend and all the young ladies out there who want to pursue whatever dream, whether it is being an artist or a combat soldier, you have a right to pick and choose ur life. Dont let your family members brainwash u with the idea thay the only role of a woman is to get married and take care of her domestic life, would u believe so many even upper middle class families do not even educate their daughters by sending them to uni because they feel dictated by their religious or community ethic that womens role is to get married stay home produce children and take care of domestic responsibIlities.Recommend

  • Caesar

    Nice to read this. Esp being an aviation and military buff myself. I wish your friend luck and salute the ambition!

    However, having observed the careers of military fliers, both men and women, I’d advise you guys to make your friend meet more people like the lady aeronautical officer she met, for her own long-term good. Such blunt but realistic feedback would give her the much needed reality checks for what’s to follow rather than the Top Gun image of life in the sky seen from behind the general issue aviator sunglasses. That image will be gone in a jiffy the moment she gets herself photographed in olive coveralls/G-suit with jets in the background to her heart’s content.

    What then? Real responsibility and commitment of the demanding career would begin then.

    Many PAF veterans initially opposed induction of Pakistani women into the GD(P) branch, and for good reason. As fate would have it, ALL the female pilots started showing signs of weariness from the hectic and demanding flying duties within the first 2 years of passing out from Risalpur, obviously infuriating the PAF command. While some were sent off to transport squadrons due to below par performance at the Mianwali Fighter Conversion course, the few who qualified the Fighter Conversion were sent to F-7s (which by the way are combat aircraft as opposed to what you mentioned above).

    These few sent to F-7s also wanted an escape to transport squadrons, until the ex PAF chief gave them a visit and gave them a fine example of what being a soldier, and that too a fighter pilot in PAF actually meant. Cry babies who’ve had national investment worth millions per head in training alone in addition to time and other factors invested, were told they’d face court martial as per SOPs in case they fussed about their postings etc. Of course the guys and the veterans have had a wry smile all along.

    At this moment PAF has less than a dozen female pilots. Only a couple of them are still on fighters, that too so far only F-7s. Most others have found an escape to transport squadrons, where life is easier, while others were inevitably evicted from fighter flying due to some discrepancy.

    Fact is, the Pakistani woman is not ready yet, to forego her delicate femininity, instinctive, natural, social or cultural role to adapt a lifestyle of the most macho of all macho professions. In western air forces women get NO special treatment, at base or in battle. Even IAF chief is on record stating that the IAF female pilots induction has not been up to their expectation.

    Being several years senior to your age group and having been through these career options phases, I think anyone who does not feel put off even after hearing the down side of any profession and has the passion to explore anyway deserves all the support and I would wish your friend best of luck! Provided, she doesn’t write off the warnings as baseless and actually reflects on them to reach a conclusion. Meet more PAF officers. There are many women officers in Med, Psych, AD, Met, Aero, Edu branches too. If you can locate a female fliers at your local base, talk to one from another branch.Recommend

  • Fatima

    Caesar says it all.

    Firstly, its not that easy to adorn Risalpur with your presence. Initial tests, ISSB, CMB, FAT and the last but not the least the final merit list (something about which you really cant do anything) are the ordeals one has to undergo initially. Then life at Risalpure is no joke. So far female GD(P)s in Pakistan are the only ones that have not appealed to me as yet. Yes, the details of flying are mesmerizing like anything. After reading “Flight of the Falcon”, I myself wanted to have a machine like F-16 or something but well, having a military background and having female friends in Rsialpur, I know that for us, this all is nothing but mere fancy.

    Pakistani women can be aeronautical engineers. They can serve in supporting branches of Army like they are doing but becoming a GD(P) is something I cannot digest. Recommend

  • Cinnamon

    “Are you telling me that everyone who failed Risalpur ends up being a bloody doctor?!”

    No, they also end up in Accountancy! :P that too, after getting past the initials, ISSB, CMB and FAT at 17! Some ppl just dont make it to the top four or six on the merit list, y’know!

    So, Meiryum’s Friend! Go for it, give it your best.. and i wont say naught else lest the grapes start seeming sour..BUT do sit yourself down and give it a rational thought before you join! Recommend

  • Nightingale

    to all of the above !
    poeple dont say stuff which u arnt sure about !
    clear ur minds n get proper info b4 commenting..therez hardly anything clashing culture n religion .. u just havto open up ur minds.. COMe ON
    n to the Authors friend
    go ahead ! sky is the limit !!!
    be the falcon ! n make ur dream come true .. u knw … this life is worth dreaming of !

    gooood luckk girly !!!!!!!

  • Caesar

    I just came across this compilation on YT.

    Good inspiration. Out of camaraderie for the love of aviation and to extend motivation I share this.
    Hadiqa Kyani’s song “Humari Inteha-e-Shauq Kya Hai…!?” Is in fact the answer to everything!

  • Dibster

    HAHA, the adaab salute!
    Amn <3Recommend

  • Muhammad Yasin

    All of us need some training about how not to curb dreams of children and how to shower our ‘dignified’ experiences in some respectable manner.
    One must pursue one’s dreams. Whether one achieves them or not, what one becomes attempting to achieve those goals, that is amazing.

  • Yousaf

    nicely written and really inspiring… yes, best of Luck to you ladies… you are not given much space in Pakistan and making your own!!

    Move on.. Recommend

  • Ali

    Oho jitnay moon utnee batein.
    Guys the girl has a dream. and all of you are discouraging het to her throat.
    I was a fighter pilot in PAF. I left myself for some personal reasons.
    My dream came true. Not because I am a boy or a girl, but I had that will to fly and face everything which comes in between. Wasting money????, yeah right man. more money is wasted on everywhere in the country. All this crap from inside and outside the Airforce just because she is daring to dream and then is willing to make it real. DISAPPOINTED I AM.
    My advice to your friend::::::

    Do everything you can to make the dream, rest leave it to ALLAH. If any woman who has reached to fighter squadron and has even done One ADA Duty, she has given an account of herself. She continues or not thats PAF and her problem and nobody elses. Just because Shez a woman doesnot mean she doesnt have the riht to that dream. Barey barey MALE cheetay are suspended, and meagre personnalities make it through. In my life in Airforce I have seen an US Navy Fighter Pilot on F-18 Hornets landing on Aircraft Carriers . I have Seen a turkish woman Fighter pilot on F-16s having betterresults in Air to Ground attacks than her husband (Also a fighter pilot)
    so cut the crap. And Dare to dream. By the way dreams and hardwork for these dreams are the spark of life. Never listen to these Earthly creatures: FLY TO LIVE, LIVE TO FLY, DO OR DIE, ACES HIGH!!!!!!!!!

    BDW I made it to the F-16s and have done wonderful flying. THankyou and Salute to Pakistan Air Force.

    Mariam plz let your friend read this. Or if its you best of luck Girl. Try, if it doesnt happen then you wont regret you ddnt try!!!!!!Recommend

  • Ali

    @ raj
    So chill man and correct if you yourself know the answer LOLRecommend

  • hina

    very trueRecommend

  • Umair Waheed Sheikh, Khayban e Hafiz,Karachi

    Atleast the PAF officers would be happy now that they can get their share of the booty!Recommend

  • Apocalypse

    some facts…
    none of those lady fighter pilots are actually flying a fighter jet…
    not because they weren’t allowed to … but because either they couldn’t or weren’t willing to…and any sane lady in their shoes would’ve made a similar decision …
    each one demanded extra rights,,, includes extra leaves, choice stations etc etc
    its costs almost a billion rupees to train one fighter pilot…
    one sortie on average costs 1 million rupees …i.e fuel and maintenance included … in most of the cases
    We are a poor country … we have limited arsenal… we can’t afford fancy flying …
    so if u were to ask me it would’ve been a big NO
    tell her friend not to waste her time… truth is sometimes brutal … and i don’t feel nice saying all of this … but its better than to later on find out that all u sacrificed for was nothing but a dead end …Recommend

  • Apocalypse

    and it would’ve been a pleasure seeing you folks there (for all the good reasons alone)… but seriously do you want to ultimately end up being a decoration item … to present when someone visits … to speak all the lies …talk of things you dont do…
    Flying is no big art … everyone can do it … but this scenario!!! i dont think its advisable …Recommend

  • Aftab

    She must follow her dream, who knows, she becomes first JF-17 pilot. Also F-7s are being replaced be JF-17s, which means they are future pilots of JF-17. As far as the matter of sex is concerned, there are many female pilots in Isreili Air Force.Recommend

  • Alina Barohi

    The ‘Top Gun’ kinda motivation doesn’t last long. Life is tougher and harder than memorizing model numbers or copying saluting styles.

    I hope, your friend finds a ‘REAL’ motivation to be a fighter pilot and I wish, she does become a fighter pilot; a good one.Recommend

  • sara usmani

    an awsome dream..hope her dream gets fullfilled..Recommend