Aviation Pioneers

Sarla Thakral, the First Indian Woman to Fly an Aircraft

In all fields of work, we need brave people who can take risks to take the field of work forward. This is also true for aviation and fortunately we have had many incredible aviators and pioneers in aviation who took part in the development in this industry. Especially courageous women who were ready to achieve great feats contributed a lot to this field. For instance, Harriet Quimby and Bessie Coleman are two great examples to this. However female pioneers in aviation are not limited to these very well known examples. Along with the ones that many people know about, there are also lesser known examples of female pioneers in aviation. For example, Sarla Thakral, as the first Indian woman to fly an aircraft, is one of these brave women. In this blog post we are going to talk about the life of this courageous female aviator.

Early Life of Sarla Thakral

Sarla Thakral, who is also known as Sarla Thukral, was born on the 8th of August 1914. Her place of birth was New Delhi, India. At that time, it was common for girls to get married at a young age. And this was also what Sarla was going to do.

She spent her childhood in her place of birth, New Delhi, and got her primary education there as well. Then at the age of 16, she married to a pilot named P. D. Sharma, who had many aviators in his family. So unlike many aviators whose life stories we have examined, Thakral’s interest in aviation didn’t come from within. But her husband encouraged her to get into aviation.

As a result of the encouragement that she received from her husband and her husband’s family, she started her training on aviation. Also, around the same time, she and her husband had a daughter.

Becoming an Aviator

Following the encouragement she got, she enrolled in Lahore Flying Club. Then she completed her training in 1936 and received her pilot’s license, when she was 21. At the time she had a daughter who was four years old. So along with successfully completing her aviator’s training, Thakral was also raising her child.

After receiving her pilot’s license, Sarla Thakral flew a Gypsy Moth (de Havilland DH.60 Moth) solo. As a result of this she became the first Indian woman who flew an aircraft. Besides, she did it while wearing a sari, a traditional Indian women’s clothing.

While she had accomplished a great feat by becoming the first Indian woman to fly an aircraft, she planned to do more. After her first solo flight, Thakral kept flying aircraft and eventually completed 1000 hours of flying. Consequently she received her “A” license and became one of the first women in India to do so.

In order to be able to fly commercially, she had to attain a “B” license, which required more hours to fly. So, she kept flying with her mind on her goals. However, life had another plan for Thakral and a tragic thing happened to her. Her husband, P. D. Sharma, died in a plane crash in 1939, which was an event that affected her deeply.

Although she was widowed and saddened because of her husband’s death, she decided to follow her dreams of becoming a commercial pilot. In order to get her training, she travelled to Jodhpur.

The End of Sarla Thakral’s Aviation Career and the Aftermath

Even though Sarla Thakral had the dedication and willpower to achieve her dreams, something awful happened again. When she went to Jodhpur to get commercial aviation training, World War II started and civil aviation training was suspended.

At this point, Thakral’s aviation career ended due to external factors. But this didn’t stop her from pursuing other goals. She went to Mayo School of Art and received a diploma in fine arts. Then she pursued a career in design, especially jewellery and clothing.

Following the Partition of India in 1947, she went to live in Delhi and met R. P. Thakral, whom she married in 1948, at the age of 34. As a focused and determined woman, she became a successful entrepreneur. Then on the 15th of March 2008, she died at the age of 93. Now she is remembered as an important figure in aviation.


Anon. (n.d.), Sarla Thukral, Wikipedia, Retrieved 17 March 2022

< https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarla_Thukral >

IE Author (7 March 2022), International Women’s Day| Meet The Woman Who Became The First Female Pilot of India 85 Years Ago, Indian Eagle Travel Diary, Retrieved 17 March 2022

< https://www.indianeagle.com/traveldiary/sarla-thakral-the-first-woman-pilot-of-india/ >

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