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by Roy Cochrun
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“Night Witches” May Appear Again in Russian Air Force

A women’s flying regiment may be formed following the example of the aviation units of the times of the Great Patriotic War, Russian Federation commander-in-chief, General of the Army Vladimir Mikhaylov, declared to journalists.

“We have very many gild in the Russian defense sports and technical organization who pilot airplanes well,” he said. - “It is possible to create an aviation unit and an aviation formation following the example of the so-called “night witches” of the times of the Great Patriotic War. There are no complications in this.”

“If they work such wonders in aerobatic maneuvers, then they will be able to fly too on modern jet airplanes,” Mikhaylov noted. According to him, “It is one and the same thing in loading and flight endurance,” ITAR-TASS reports.

General Mikhaylov was taking part in the ceremonies on the event of the 60th anniversary of Victory and of International Women’s Day, which was taking place at an air force officers’ club in the village of Zarya near Moscow.

“The nine brave – that’s how our colleagues called us. And the Germany called us ‘night witches.’ We flew on night bombing missions in plywood slow-moving U-2 airplanes,” said a participant of the festivities, retired Lieutenant Colonel Rufina Gasheva.

Sixty years ago, Marshal Konstantin Rokossovskiy awarded Hero of the Soviet Union stars to nine female flyers of the 46th Night Short-Range Bombing Regiment of the 4th Air Army, including to Lieutenant Gasheva. Among those awarded also was the commander of her crew, Nadezhda Popova. “And the title was conferred posthumously to my former commander, Ol’ga Safinrova, by the same decree. On the night of 30 April – 1 May 1943, our U-2 was shot down after returning from a mission. We bailed out and managed to get back to our side one-by-one. As the infantrymen reported to me, Ol’ga was blown up on a mine,” Lieutenant Colonel Gasheva recalls.

By March 1945, Rufina Gasheva had 823 night sorties, and 848 for the whole of the war.

The Night Witches

Three female aviation regiments took part in the Great Patriotic War. The women flew on Yak-1 and Yak-9, Pe-2 and Po-2 airplanes while performing combat missions similar to “male” aviation units. However, participation at the front of the female air regiments was not caused by any kind of military necessity, but was more a result of the initiative of individual persons (for example, the well-known female flier Raskova) and propaganda considerations.

After victory in the war, the female regiments were disbanded.

There were no female fliers in Germany during the Second World War. The only example is the German Hanna Reisch, who flew on the Me-163 fighters, the only woman in the Third Reich awarded the Iron Cross first and second class.

And in the U.S. there was the “Women’s Air Reserve,” which never was activated.

There was also a female squad in North Korea’s air force. It fought in the summer-fall of 1950 on Yak-9P and Yak-9U fighters. However, under the conditions of the numerical and qualitative superiority of the United States Air Force, only the commander Thya Sen Hi ((phonetic)), who cross-trained and then fought in a MiG-15, escaped unharmed in the violent battles.

Women were able to fly up to the ‘90s in the U.S. only on tankers, liaison airplanes, etc. However, a decision was adopted under President Clinton on the full equal rights of female military personnel who now can be pilots of combat airplanes and take part in military actions, the newspaper Aviator writes.

It is fully possible that U.S. female pilots were participating in air strikes on Yugoslavia in the spring of 1999.

In 2002, an F-16C fighter flew into the air salon in Berlin which was piloted by 28-year-old aviatrix Audrey Taylor. Lieutenant Taylor was a mechanic at first, and now has been serving for several years in the 555th USAF squadron (by the way, an F-16C airplane of this squadron was shot down by Serbian air defense personnel on 2 May 1999m, and the American command has recognized this.)

There are ever fewer female pilots in modern Russia. Right now fewer than 50 representatives of the fair sex sit at the controls of military and civilian airplanes. Such data has been cited in Aeroflot’s history museum. For example, of 6,840 Aeroflot female employees, only one, Ol’ga Gracheva, pilots airplanes.

According to Valentina Kotlyar, who has flow more than 6,000 hours on the An-24, the last graduation of female pilots occurred at the Kremenchug civil aviation school 25 years ago. Right now a girl can learn to fly an airplane only at paid clubs, ITAR-TASS says. 

And the fact that the pilot’s profession demands specific features of character and even forces one to make some sacrifices plays its own role. “It isn’t easy for the woman who chooses the career of a flier to have a family,” they said at the museum. At the same time, diligence and intuition are peculiar to all of them.

Women have played by no means a final role in the history of domestic aviation. Thus, air force Colonel Marina Popovich set 101 world records in various types of airplanes, and polar aviation navigator Tamara Afanas’eva is the holder of 9 world records on the Mi-26 helicopter.

((The U-2 and Po-2 were the same airplane, a Polikarpov-designed bi-plane originally intended as a trainer.))

Source: 04.03.05, NEWSru.COM