BANGKOK — When I first met Chatchuma Thanisaranont, I hardly recognized her without her signature olive-green flight suit adorned with mission patches, pair of aviators and bright red lips.
That’s the public image of a woman who enjoys pulling Gs in high-performance aircraft and recovering from terrifying stalls. She’s built a loyal social media following within the aviation community and actively encourages young women to consider becoming pilots. In fact, when I met her recently, she was holding a contest for one of her fans to accompany her on an observation flight.
Her nickname is “Toff,” short for Toffee. Expecting a boy, her parents had picked out “Top,” so her arrival necessitated a slight tweak. They got more than they bargained for, as today Toff lists mechanical engines, cars, trucks, jet skis, and planes among the things she’s most interested in.
“I don’t really care about beautiful things,” she says. “I just want them to be fast.”
Photo: Chatchuma Thanisaranont / Facebook
Toff’s call sign is "Redhot," derived from her choice of lipstick color.
We started our conversation comparing our favorite military aircraft: Mine: the F-104 Starfighter, “the missile with a man in it.” Toff: the supersonic Northrop F-5T Tigris operated by the Royal Thai Air Force.
“The plane, sitting in the hangar, is just so handsome. So smart,” she says, in a tone of smitten respect for the inanimate jet fighter.
A deep admiration for the F-5 started when Toff’s father, an aircraft mechanic in Korat’s Wing 1, was assigned a new role: Chief Aircraft Mechanic at the Udon Thani airbase, where a fleet of F-5s were stationed. As soon as she learned to ride a bicycle, she would pedal over to the hangar and watch her father’s team disassemble and overhaul the sleek ground-attack aircraft.
Chatchuma’s ardor for aviation is apparent and complete. That she has “the right stuff” to be a fighter pilot is in little doubt.
Only she’s not. She can’t be. Women are not allowed to fly in the Royal Thai Air Force.