Night Witches' Return? Russian Women May Soon Serve as Fighter Pilots


Russian women seeking a career in military aviation now have the opportunity to serve in any capacity, including as fighter pilots, the deputy commander-in-chief of the Russian Aerospace Forces has confirmed.

“During the training process, we will see who is capable of doing what in order to send women to the kinds of aviation which correspond to their talents and abilities. If a woman can fly a fighter jet, this possibility will be considered,” Aerospace Forces deputy chief Lieut. Gen. Andrei Yudin said, speaking to Russian media on Wednesday.

Yudin explained that all would-be pilots undergo a series of special tests during training, including testing of their psychological and cognitive abilities. Rigorous testing is carried out at multiple levels, including during entrance exams, and continues during training. These tests determine a pilot trainee’s suitability to a particular area of the air force.

Up to now, female military pilots had only been allowed to serve in transport aviation.

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu made the decision to allow women to train as military pilots in 2017, with the first batch of female trainees enrolled at the Krasnodar Higher Military Aviation School the same year. In the two years since, 31 women were said to have enrolled in studies at the flight school, with a fresh batch of recruits to be admitted in 2019. The admissions procedure is deliberately made to be demanding, with only 16 women among over 200 candidates making the cut during the first year.

Servicewomen from the Aerospace Forces made their first appearance at a Victory Day Parade on Red Square in Moscow earlier this year.

The USSR was one of the first countries in the world to allow women to serve as military pilots. During the Second World War, pilot and navigator Marina Raskova convinced the Soviet high command to allow for the creation of three volunteer female air regiments, including the 586th Fighter Aviation Regiment, the 587th Bomber Aviation Regiment, and the 588th Night Bomber Regiment. The latter unit was dubbed the ‘Night Witches’ by Wehrmacht troops for its members’ habit of carrying out surprise low-altitude raids behind enemy lines in the dead of night, with the eerie sound resembling that of a sweeping broom being the only noise soldiers would hear before being hit.

During the war, women flew over 30,000 sorties, with nearly three dozen of them earning the title Hero of the Soviet Union, the country’s most prestigious honour. Many received the title posthumously.

Women continued to be recruited into the air force, albeit on a much more limited scale, after the war, with Valentina Tereshkova, the world’s first woman cosmonaut, and Svetlana Savitskaya, the first woman to perform a spacewalk, both inducted as air force pilots to join the Cosmonaut Corps.

Marina Popovich, another cosmonaut trainee, later made a name for herself as a decorated military test pilot, setting over a hundred aviation records while flying over three dozen aircraft. She earned the nickname “Madame MiG” in the Western press after breaking the sound barrier aboard a MiG-21 fighter jet in 1964.

© Sputnik / Виталий Тимкив

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