Able Seaman Padmaja “Piya’ Das RNR - Civilian Engineering Instructor

When six-year-old Padmaja 'Piya' Das looked to the skies and dreamed of being a fighter pilot for her native Indian Air Force, her civil servant father shook his head.

"You're a female and females are not allowed to fly."

Twenty years later the naval reservist has still to fully realise her dream, but her determination has taken her into the skies - and it's helped to enthuse new generations of Royal Navy and RAF engineers.

Hailing from a small village near Kolkata in India, Piya emigrated to the UK 15 years ago, studied hard and tried to join the RAF as a pilot. Twice rejected, firstly for not living in Britain long enough and the second time for failing the assessment board, she did succeed, however, in joining the University of London Air Squadron while studying aerospace engineering in the capital.


With a career as a pilot seemingly ruled out, the graduate Piya decided on the next best thing: the design and study of aircraft.

One masters in aerospace engineering and 138 job applications later - to giants of engineering, technology and innovation like BAE, Rolls-Royce, Qinetiq and DSTL - persistence paid off when Piya was taken on at HMS Sultan as a specialist instructor in mechanical and electronics engineering and engineering mathematics to the RN's air, marine and submarine engineering cadres.

"Engineering in the Royal Navy offers the biggest variety of complex equipment," she says.

"If you need to learn about engineering, then the RN is the best way to start. When you consider a Service that has the air, land, surface and submarine then the scale of challenge cannot be stretched any further.

"You receive world-class training and you gain a lot of qualifications - great when you leave and go into the civilian world."

Whilst at Sultan, Piya remained determined to serve her adoptive country and made a third (unsuccessful attempt) to join the RAF as an aerosystems officer and first attempt to join the RN as a weapon engineer officer - turned down because her assessors decided her English wasn't strong enough.

Her boss at Sultan told her not to give up and suggested the Royal Naval Reserve instead.

Eighteen months later, the 26-year-old is a qualified able seaman in the small, specialist branch of Maritime Trade Operations - the RN's crucial link with the world of commercial shipping, advising merchantmen on how to stay safe in troubled parts of the world.

By day, she teaches personnel at RAF Cosford in aerodynamics, thermodynamics, mechanical principles and engineering maths at degree level.


In what little spare time she has, Piya visits schools across Shropshire banging the drum for engineering - "to light the hopes and dreams in them which were crushed by my dad when I was a little girl. Hopefully one day I will make science and maths a fun subject rather than a difficult one."

Nor has she given up the dream of becoming a military engineer; she's just passed the Admiralty Interview Board and from September starts Royal Navy officer training.

Piya is also a member of the RNR's BAME - the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic - team, speaking to Indian, Pakistani, Bengali communities. promoting a career in the military and underlining the difference the Royal Navy makes.

"I try to promote Britishness in communities which do not feel part of the country," Piya says.

"And at weekends and on evenings and during annual leave I wear my Royal Naval Uniform with pride and do my duty to the country I fell in love with, the country of opportunity and the country which has accepted me the way I am: the United Kingdom, my pride and my honour."

Women in Engineering