In 1950, the Government of Madras asked Usha Sundaram and V Sundaram to purchase de Havilland Dove — one of Britain’s most successful postwar civil designs.
After buying the aircraft in England, the following year, they co-piloted the aircraft from London to Bombay via Paris, Karachi, and Baghdad.
The journey was completed within 27 hours, setting a world record for an England-to-India flight on a piston-engined Dove. The record remains unbroken today.
Thus, Usha holds the title of the first woman to fly Indian skies after the
nation became independent.
She was only 22 years old then.
“My mother took to the skies at a young age, soon after she married my father in July 1941,” says Suresh Sundaram, the couple’s son.
When the illustrious couple was not setting world records, they were busy being trusted co-pilots of several Indian dignitaries.
The duo was chosen as the personal pilots of the Maharaja of Mysore’s plane. Among the many passengers they ferried were Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel.
Usha also achieved the marvellous feat of ferrying people stranded in Pakistan after the Partition, despite the tense environment in the sub-continent at the time.
In 1952, she took
from professional flying to care for her three children. She and her husband would continue flying recreationally
till his death.
In 2001, recounting her flying days, the late Usha said, “There should be no gender bias in the field of aviation. A woman’s ability with aircraft is at par with a man’s.”