Meet Ayesha Aziz, the 20-year-old woman from Kashmir, who also happens to be one of the youngest female pilots in India. Leo Oommen gets candid with her about her sky-high aspirations and her connect with the sky.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BEGIN YOUR CAREER AS PILOT?
Ever since I was a little girl, I was really ambitious and had a vision of what my life would look like. I wanted to do something unconventional. I wanted to do something that was really challenging and inspiring. I wanted to take over our patriarchal society so that I set an example for other women. At that time, it was just a thought. I had an ambition and a goal. Initially, like every child who looks up to his/her teacher, I also decided that I wanted to become a teacher when I grow up. I used to write my lessons on doors, and not on the usual blackboard. But as I grew, I found that I wanted to be a pilot, and that remained consistent throughout my life till the time I got into action and got into flying. By the fifth or sixth grade, I was convinced that I wanted to be a pilot.
WHAT WAS THE MOTIVATIONAL FORCE THAT HELPED YOU REACH YOUR GOAL?
What really motivated me was the vision that I had in my mind and how badly I needed it to become a reality. And because I hail from Kashmir, we would often travel back and forth to Kashmir, sometimes twice or thrice in a year. Kashmir became our frequent travelling destination. Airports, airplanes and pilots — these things were the objects of my affection and I was enraptured by them. It was something I always loved, and if at all I would know that I am going to be travelling to Kashmir, I would lose all my sleep in the anticipation of my flight the next morning.
WHAT WERE THE INITIAL STRUGGLES YOU FACED WHEN YOU DECIDED TO JOIN THE AVIATION INDUSTRY?
I had just completed my 10th grade and the very next month, I decided to join flying club. I truly believe that if you love something, the entire universe will help you achieve it. Since I enjoyed flying so much, I didn’t really face any struggles or complications. While I was in flying school, I was in the 11th grade and was simultaneously doing my high school education. Weekdays I attended high school and my weekends would be 9-to-5pm sessions of ground studies for flying. Managing wasn’t really difficult for me, but the only part which I found tough was adjusting socially in flying school. We were around 7-8 people in a batch of Private Pilot License (PPL), and I was the only girl. I was also very young. The rest of them were senior to me and were above the age of 35-40. They were taking up flying lessons as a hobby and not as profession. That was the only part where I realised that my friends were not of my age group and there was a huge age gap between us.
WHAT IS THE ONE THING YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT FLYING?
I find flying to be fun as it involves science and gravity. As you fly you get to admire and notice several things taking place in nature. It is the most satisfying part of aviation because I am a staunch nature lover. It is something which ticks my soul. I can sit in the aircraft for hours and keep admiring until the captain would say ‘Okay Ayesha, get back to flying, enough of admiring’. This is what feels unique about flying to me.
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH NASA.
In 2011, I got my student pilot license and within the next year I visited NASA. I made sure that I had some experience in flying and an understanding of what it’s all about. Before my trip, I flew for certain hours and those were the initial hours of flying in an aircraft all by myself. Going to NASA was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I still remember every moment I spent over there. While we were there, we got a firsthand experience in everything done by an astronaut before going to space, which included international space activity, several experiments inside the shuttle, orbital movement activity, scuba diving, area 51 activities, many kinds of walks were done like moonwalk, bunny walk, which are done by astronauts when they are up in space. We did G Force acceleration and multi-axis spin where the chair spins 360-degree as per your weight.
YOU ALSO MET SERENA WILLIAMS, WHO HAPPENS TO BE ONE OF YOUR INSPIRATIONS. HOW WAS THAT EXPERIENCE?
I met her when she had come down to Mumbai in 2013. I consider myself lucky as I did not even expect it to happen. People dream of meeting celebrities but I dreamt of meeting astronauts. When I was in the 6th grade, she had flown to space and I had admired her for it. I wanted to do something as challenging as that. I did not want the sky to be my limit but rather, I wanted space to be my limit. Meeting her was like adding another feather to my cap. I was seated in the front row and she was standing at the podium sharing her experience of going to space. I interacted and shared my thoughts with her and asked her, ‘What more do I need to do for being an astronaut?’ she replied to my question in a hilarious manner saying, “Oh you little girl, you have already achieved it all”. When I saw her in the blue astronauts’ suit, (which I got to wear as well) I could instantly feel a connection of myself to her.
WHAT WOULD YOU CONSIDER AS THE MOST CHALLENGING PART OF BEING A PILOT?
When you fly, you have to leave behind everything. You have to be faster than the machine. You require a good presence of mind, instantaneous action, one cannot afford to be monotonous. You cannot lack any flying skills when you are inside the cockpit, and you need to forget that you are man or a woman, because the machine does not know that. It is us who have that in our mind. You need to be confident as the society is a male-dominated society, and a man will always try to put you down, so it is you who has to rise up and take a stand for yourself.
WHAT MESSAGE WOULD YOU GIVE TO THE YOUTH WHO HAVE PASSION FOR AVIATION?
Be focused and consistent in what you do. There comes a time in aviation where one feels like giving up. Even when you do flying and any activities related to flying, one feels it is difficult to grasp. You cannot grasp it all in one go. It takes time to learn and during that time, do not lose hope. Not everyone is a born ace pilot, and you will have your flaws. Be goal-oriented and nothing should make you lose your focus in this profession.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS
* IF NOT A PILOT, WHAT WOULD YOU BE?
* YOUR FAVOURITE HOLIDAY DESTINATION:
* YOUR ROLE MODEL:
* FAVOURITE FOOD:
* ONE THING YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT:
THE INTERNET AND MY PHONE
Volume 6 Issue 1