Soaring with the eagles Sky’s the limit for parachuting women | Sunday Observer

Soaring with the eagles Sky’s the limit for parachuting women

On a sunny afternoon I was seated at the hangar of SLAF Ratmalana. The aerodrome was super busy with planes and helicopters landing and taking off. Two smart young women radiating with confidence walked towards me. They introduced themselves as Flight Lieutenant Piyumi Jayasundera and Flying Officer Nadika Weerasuriya, members of the elite skydiving team. The SLAF, celebrating 66 years of distinguished service to the motherland, has many achievements to be proud of, and the women skydivers are the jewels in the air force crown. At a time when most young women are on facebook these dynamic and determined ladies have overcome strict and demanding training and proudly wear the two winged para badge.

Flt.Lt.Piyumi Jayasundera is a past student of St.Paul’s Milagiriya. She told me her father inspired her to join the air force as a lady cadet in 2008. After completing her basic training she volunteered for the parachute course, conducted at Ampara.

The present Commanding Officer of this school is Squadron Leader Sampath Piyasundera. Young Nadika Weerasuriya is a product of Newstead College, Negombo and enlisted in 2011. Both ladies have specialized in EOD as well (Explosive Ordinance Disposal), a course which requires a calm mind and nerves of steel. The two lady officers lead a team of 12 other women skydivers, who were busy doing rehearsal jumps.

The women bind together as a very close team, working with dignity alongside their male skydivers and pilots. I met five of these women, all holding the rank of LAC- Leading Aircraftswoman- Amali, Hansika, Iresha, Chathurika and Madurangi.

They too volunteered for the parachute course after 6 months of recruit training. Amiable Iresha surprised me when she said she was a wrestler, having represented SLAF at many sporting events. It was very refreshing to see that the SLAF has genuinely endorsed gender equality in its daily routines, giving the women a fair chance to excel in every sphere and receive promotions.

Piyumi Jayasundera has a unique distinction; she is the first lady officer of the Sri Lanka Air Force to be fully qualified as a Jump Master, having trained in China for a duration of almost 5 months.

She inspires her team of 12 along with Flying Officer Nadika, presently stationed as an Instructor at the SLAF Diyatalawa. All women skydivers complete their basic training and do 5 qualifying jumps including a night jump.

The tough girls are capable of doing both, the HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) and HAHO (High Altitude High Opening) jumps, carrying a T-56 weapon as per operational requirement to infiltrate behind enemy lines. Piyumi explains that the exit from an MI-17 chopper is different from a Y-12 airplane. She must carefully monitor her alto meter (a watch like mechanism that displays the rapidly descending altitude) and open the chute at exactly the right moment.

As I walked out of the hangar escorted by these daring ladies I saw the rest of the male skydivers folding their parachutes with precision movements. I bumped into Squadron Leaders Vijitha Gomes and Sumedha Ritigala, two of SLAF’s veteran jumpers with real combat experience. The two officers were happy to note the contribution of their female colleagues. Vijitha tells me each parachute weighs between 10 to 13 kilograms and that all skydivers must be very fit, as skydiving in formation requires loads of stamina, an alert mind and teamwork.

The magnificent skydivers can be seen in action from March 3 to 5 at the Ratmalana Air Base. Visitors can also witness the many fixed and rotary wing aircraft at the exhibition. The women of the SLAF are an endorsement of teamwork and discipline, and a glowing example to the nation.