Women take to the sky with Serbia's Army

11/04/2011

Serbia's military boasts its first three women combat pilots.

By Biljana Pekusic for Southeast European Times in Banja Luka -- 11/04/11

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Sandra Radovanovic (left) and Ana Tadic are Serbia's first women combat pilots. [Biljana Pekusic/SETimes]

First-class Sergeant Sandra Radovanovic, 22, is the first woman to fly the Serbian Army's Super Galeb G4. While many of her peers are just learning to drive cars, Radovanovic is manouvering a fighter plane at the speed of 700km/h, at an altitude of 4,000m.

Radovanovic made history as the first female pilot in Serbia. She is in her final year as a cadet at Military Aviation, the military academy in Belgrade. Three years ago, she boarded a plane for the first time in her life.

"Until the entrance examination I had never travelled by plane," Radovanovic says with a smile, "That first plane ride was decisive -- will I be admitted to the academy, or not; not only did I fly, but I jumped with a parachute!"

Besides Radovanovic, there are two other women combat pilots in the Serbian Army.

Ana Tadic, 22, also flies the Super Galeb G4, and Anja Krneta flies the combat helicopter Gazela. The three women were admitted to the Military Aviation in 2007, when the academy opened its doors to women.

"I will never forget the moment when I first broke away from the runway," Tadic says, "Beside me, on the plane, was my teacher, but manouvering the strong, large 'bird' was up to me. It is a wonderful feeling that cannot be compared to anything else."

Along with the three women, there are six men attending the the fourth year of military aviation. Their colleague, Nemanja Ruzic, failed the flying test in his third year at the academy, and will turn to one of the five other academic programmes.

"Of course, it was hard because I failed. But my mom was happy!" Ruzic says. "She made a cake and called relatives and friends to celebrate -- she was happy that I would not be engaging in work she considers dangerous."

"My parents had hoped that I would not even pass the entrance exam," says Tadic.

"Parents always fear for us, and we never tell them when we fly, only later," Radovanovic laughs.

She does, however, admit having jitters herself.

"When I enter the cabin, the only thing I think is do the best I can. Jitters are gone; we fly, Super Galeb and I. I work on maneouvers and think about landing."

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Captain Nikola Stankovic is always with the nine young pilots.

"All are hard-working, motivated, they don't need to be forced to learn, but are prepared and well-practiced. I take note of everything they do; we have a friendly relationship, they are my future colleagues," Stankovic says.

The military academy has a 160-year-old history -- and growing interest from candidates for admission. Last year, 1,259 candidates applied for 244 openings.

Since 2007, when Sandra, Ana and Anja were admitted, no other women have suceeded in becoming a cadet.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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