Svetlana ProtassovaPilot : MiG-29 Fulcrum - Russia's only female fighter-pilot
July 14, 1999
Svetlana Protassova, Russia's only woman fighter-pilot, faces the hostility and discrimination of a masculine world and lives in a hotel room on wretched pay that is usually late.
But when she takes off in her MiG-29 all that drops behind her and she revels in the freedom of the skies. "For that I am prepared to forget my living conditions," she said.
Based at Borissoglebsk, a small town in the south-western Voronezh region where the water supply is uncertain, she is paid just 1,600 rubles (64 dollars) a month, the same as any other fighter-pilot with the rank of captain.
"I've just received April's pay," she said. "That's why I have to eat in the canteen. The monotony of pasta and tinned food every day makes me sick."
Aged 33, with a slim figure, long hair and a deep voice, Protassova "knows what she wants and can overcome any obstacle to achieve her aim," said the deputy commander of her squadron, Nikolai Strelnikov.
He described her as a skilled pilot, but couldn't help adding: "She often uses tears to get her way."
The comment was typical of the attitude in the air force, Protassova indicated. "The commander often comes up behind me and asks why I don't get a hair cut," she said.
"Then he adds 'Oh, it's you, I thought it was a real officer.'"
"I must prove I'm just like the rest all the time," she said. "All the flying exercises I do as well as the men."
In her last year at high school Protassova applied to every flying school in Russia only to be turned down. Finally she signed on at the Moscow Aeronautical Institute and learned to fly in an aviation sports club.
After joining the air force and posted to Kubinka air base near Moscow, she thought she would at last be taking the controls of a fighter. "But they treated me as part of the decor and wouldn't let me near a warplane," she recalled.
Undaunted, for two years she wrote letter upon letter to the commander of the air force, Pyotr Deynekin, and even managed to lobby him personally. Finally she was posted to Borissoglebsk to learn to fly the redoutable MiGs.
She will always remember her first flight in the Russian fighter, on April 4, 1996. "It was fantastic," she said, then added: "It's just like driving a car, really, only there are a few more buttons and levers."
Protassova has found an ally in the media, too.
"After the first article about me I was at last allowed to fly almost every day, and I was the only one to have enough fuel, which the rest of the squadron chronically lacked."
Asked if she would bomb Belgrade, for instance, if ordered, she replied unhesitatingly: "Of course. In the air force orders must be carried out."
Protassova said it was easier to live with such a belief, adding: "And it's good for one's career."
©1999 Agence France Presse
Svetlana Protassova : MiG-29
Svetlana Protassova, the only woman flying a MiG-29... He described her as a skilled pilot, but couldn't help adding: "She often uses tears to get her way." The comment was typical of the attitude in the air force, Protassova indicated. "The commander often comes up behind me and asks why I don't get a hair cut," she said. "Then he adds 'Oh, it's you, I thought it was a real officer.'" "I must prove I'm just like the rest all the time," she said. "All the flying exercises I do as well as the men."
Specification MiG-29 'Fulcrum-A'
Designed in 1972 to replace the aging MiG-21 and MiG-23, the Fulcrum represented a revolutionary devlopement in Soviet fighter aircraft performance. Though lacking the sophisticated electronics and "fly-by-wire" systems of contemporary Western aircraft like the American F-16 Falcon and the F-15 Eagle, the MiG-29's agility and maneuverability make it their equal in term of performance.
In addition, the MiG-29 incorperates a unique forward looking infrared target aquisition system which allows the Fulcrum to aquire and engage targets with heat seeking missiles or its internally mounted cannon without being detected by radar-detecting threat warning recievers.
To take advantage of the MiG-29's incredible turning ability, the pilot is equiped with a helmet mounted target designation reticle which can be used to designate and engage targets outside of the fighter's forward plane of travel. Entering service in 1984 as the Fulcrum-A, the current production model is the Fulcrum-C, which incorperates a redesigned fuselage and increased internal fuel capacity. http://www.military.com