World’s First Female Fighter Pilot
Hijri 1331-1421 (AH); Common Era 1913-2001 (CE)
Orphaned at a young age, Sabiha Gokcen was raised in poverty by her older brother and sister. Living in the city of Bursa, Sabiha attended elementary school during the Turkish War of Independence. She was ten years old when a chance encounter with Kemal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey, changed her life forever. Ataturk adopted her and brought her to Ankara to live with his other adopted children. Once in Ankara, Sabiha spent much of her time studying. When she was 23, Ataturk enrolled her as a student in a school for aviation, where she excelled. During this time, she was sent with seven other male pilots to Russia for specialized glider instructor training. She returned with an official instructor diploma and soon entered into the Military Aviation Academy in Eskisehir. As a student, she received intense training to become a bomber pilot. She graduated at the top of her class, earning her pilot’s license in 1937. Although Sabiha excelled as a pilot, gender discrimination prevented her from fighting in real combat missions. After seeking the approval of Ataturk, she was allowed to fly in the Dersim Operation, which provided air support for Turkish soldiers on the ground during the Dersim rebellion of 1937. She earned the Turkish Aeronautical Association's first "Jeweled Medal” for her performance during that mission. Thereafter a national hero, she was asked to fly in a friendship tour that took her to Athens and Bucharest among other places. When she returned to Turkey, she was appointed Chief Instructor at the Kusu Flight School, of which she was an alumna. While retiring from active military duty in 1964, she continued to fly in air shows. She died in 2001, and soon thereafter the international airport in Istanbul was named in her honor.