Sabiha Gökçen is the world's first female fighter pilot. Born in Bursa, Turkey in 1913,
she was orphaned early in life. Fortune began to smile on her in 1925, when the founder
and President of the new Republic of Turkey, Kemal Atatürk, took her under his wing. He
gave her the name Gökçen ("related to the sky") and brought her to Ankara for more
education. She completed her education at Üsküdar Girls College in Istanbul. In 1935, with
war clouds over the horizon in Europe, the Turkish Aeronautical Association opened the
country's first civil aviation school. Atatürk participated in the opening ceremony and
named the school Türkkusu (Turkish Bird).
He enrolled Gökçen as the first female student.
It was a revolutionary move in an Islamic country. Following initial glider training, she
attended advanced training in the USSR with seven male Turkish students. All hoped to
teach flying. Gökçen was an apt pilot and within a year returned to Turkey bearing her
glider instructor's diploma. In 1936, she went on to military flight school in Eskisehir.
Gökçen endured more than a year of rigorous basic and advanced training. Successful again,
she earned her pilot wings in 1937. Flying extensively in French-built Breguet XIX and
American-built Curtiss Hawk biplanes, Gökçen earned a place in history as the
world's first combat-ready female pilot.
In 1937, she took part in maneuvers in Turkish
Thrace and on the country's Aegean coast, and in combat operations in Eastern Anatolia. In
the Dersim Operation, the First Air Regiment moved to Elazig to provide close air support
for Turkish ground forces combating a foreign-provoked rebellion. Gökçen and other male
pilots flew daily shifts. Her performance was superior, both as a pilot and observer. For
this she was awarded the Turkish Aeronautical Association's first "Jeweled Medal." In
1938, she was invited to tour several nations of southeastern Europe. On 16 June, she
began a 5-day tour flying a Vultee-V bomber. From Istanbul, she flew to Athens and
Thessalonika in Greece, and then to Sofia, Bulgaria.
At her next stop, in Belgrade, the
Chief of Yugoslavia's General Staff awarded her the "White Eagle," the country's highest
military decoration. Her last stop was Bucharest, Romania. On this tour, she had flown
nearly 2000 miles over the rugged mountains of the Balkans. Next, Gökçen was named Chief
Instructor at the Türkkusu Flight School, where 3 years before she had earned her glider
wings. In the 1950's, Gökçen made two trips to the United States, and in 1990 she was
invited to India. She retired from active flying in 1964, having flown a long list of
aircraft from France, Great Britain, Germany, the United States, and Turkey. The
Fédéderation Aéronautique Internationale awarded Gökçen its Gold Medal in 1991 for
outstanding achievements in aviation.
She is a member of many international associations,
including the Ninety-Nines, the premier organization of American female aviators since
1925. There are statues of her at Türkkusu and at Headquarters, Turkish Air Force. The
Turkish Aeronautical Association published her book, My Life Following in Atatürk's
Footsteps, on the 100th anniversary of Atatürk's birth.
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Sabiha Gökçen is one of the world's most noted female pilots. The adopted
daughter of Kemal Atatürk, she has the honor of being the world's first,
combat-ready, woman pilot at the age of 23. After much training, Sabiha Gökçen
participated in the Thrace and Aegean Maneuvers and the Dersim Operation with
First Air Regiment in 1937. During these operations, Sabiha Gökçen performed
in a superior manner in her tasks, both as flier and observer. Upon invitation
of the Balkan countries, Sabiha Gökçen began a Solo Friendship Tour (Vultee-V
type bomber} on 16 June 1938. During this 5 day tour, she flew from Istanbul
and visited Athens (460 nm), then Thessalonike (230 nm), Sofia (125 nm),
Belgrade (240 nm), and finally Bucharest (250 nm). Following her tour, Sabiha
Gökçen was appointed the Chief Instructor of the Türkkusu Flight School, where
she had earned her wings 3 years earlier. She had almost 500 hours of flight
time when she retired from active flying in 1964.