Alright, this woman was truly awesome!
Sabiha Gökçen was the world’s first female fighter pilot at age 23 in Turkey. She was an orphan who was adopted at 12 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey. He was on a trip when she approached him and asked him for help with attending boarding school. And he did just that.
As her adoptive father worked to modernize Turkey, one of his biggest priorities was aviation and he presided in the opening of a Military Aviation Academy. Gökçen was present at the opening ceremony and was fascinated by the skydivers and parachutists. When asked by her father if she would like to do that too, she replied that she was ready to start training right away. Her father informed the director of the school that Gökçen would be his first female student.
However, it wasn’t long before Gökçen realized she was better off flying aircraft and earned her pilot’s license instead. Afterward, she was sent to the Soviet Union for advanced training, where she made her first solo flight in 1936, an achievement spread in the press as an example of the new freedoms available to Turkish women but later returned after she learned the news that her sister Zehra had died.
Because women were not accepted by the Turkish War Academies, Gökçen was provided with a personalized uniform by her father and attended a special education programme at the flight school. After receiving her flight diploma, she trained to become a war pilot at the First Airplane Regiment for six months. She recalled in her memoirs that her father “tested her by asking her to press a gun against her head and pull the trigger,” and “she did not flinch.”
Gökçen trained on bombers and fighter planes, flew in military flight exercises over the Aegean Sea, and took part in her sole combat mission in 1937. Because she had not flinched at the firearm test, her father allowed her to participate in the bombing of the Dersim rebellion. “She was given a gun—which was loaded this time—to defend herself if her plane crashed and she fell into rebel hands.” Instead, she managed to bomb the home of an insurgent leader, killing him and 50 ‘bandits’, before returning to base safely, becoming the first Turkish female air force combat pilot.
In 1938, Gökçen made a five-day flight around the Balkans until her plane was sidelined by mechanical problems. This was a peace mission broadcasted in newspapers across Europe. Later that year, she was appointed Chief Trainer of the Türkkuşu Flight School, where she trained four female aviators. Throughout her career, she flew 22 different types of aircraft for more the 8,000 hours, 32 hours of which were active combat and bombardment missions.
Gökçen is recognized as the first female combat pilot by The Guinness Book of World Records and was selected as the only female pilot for the poster of “The 20 Greatest Aviators in History” published by the United States Air Force in 1996. In early 2001 Istanbul’s second international airport of Istanbul was named in her honor.
Check in tomorrow for another awesome woman!