THE ACCIDENTAL PILOT
Thatʼs Indiaʼs only hot-air balloon woman licensed pilot.
The lights were still out in most homes, roads empty and the long stretches of fields heading to South Goa passed by in a blur. We were up at the crack of dawn excited to be on the way to an exhilarating morning. At the drop-off point, in the middle of a large field preparations for the hot-air balloon ride were on. As the two large envelopes (balloons) were getting blown up, the only lady in the crew, Ritu Yadav, strode through the set with instructions.
Not to be mistaken as ground staff, Ritu is India’s only active hot-air balloon pilot. Athletically built with long black hair, she cheerfully greeted the group. After the standard pre-flight procedures like safety and weather briefings she jumped on board. Up, up and away we went over the same fields we passed on the way there and stretches of coconut groves. People out on the road waved at us. This is just another morning at work for Ritu. The 38-year-old, who is also Asia’s only woman airship pilot, admits that she never harboured big career dreams when young. All she wanted was to be a ‘good wife to an army officer’ and a very homely girl.
Marriage to an army man Colonel Mukesh Yadav happened in 2001. Far from leading a quiet life, the union gave her the wings to fly, quite literally. During their courtship, his talks about his work in ballooning sparked an interest in her. He has seven Limca Book of World Records to his credit and his sister too was the first Indian lady to get a flying licence.
Ritu soon followed after marriage. “I got my licence from the Director General Civil Aviation for a lighter than air aircraft activity,” she says, thankful to the