European HerStory: Sabiha Gökçen

, by Feyza Nur Sahinli

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

European HerStory: Sabiha Gökçen

History is not merely a question of fact but of how it is recorded and how we interpret it. What is remembered, and how we remember it, is shaped by our socially constructed understandings of the world as it was at the time and as we know it today.

With the feminine history of our continent often sold short under the weight of enduring patriarchal structures, women’s contributions to science, art, politics and beyond are often at best overshadowed or at worst forgotten.

The following article is part of our fortnight-long feature, “European HerStory”, during which we are presenting inspiring stories of women who have contributed to Europe.

With this feature, we hope to help rectify the imbalance stemming from our collective prism of history, and inform ourselves and our readers about female achievements and innovations.

You can read the full presentation of the feature here.

Sabiha Gökçen has made her name known as “the girl of the skies” and is a legend in the piloting profession, holding the title of the world’s first female fighter pilot at the age of 23. The surname “Gökçen” was given in 1935, which means “attached to the skies”.

Sabiha Gökçen decided to fly in the sky after attending the opening ceremony of the flight school established in Ankara in 1935, called Türkkuşu. She was fascinated by the glider show and became passionate about aviation. She opted to go to “Turkish Civil Aviation School”, which was affiliated with the Turkish Aeronautical Association in 1935, to become a glider. In the gliding training she started in 1935 has been sent to the Soviet Union with 7 male students and completed her higher gliding training there. At that time females were not accepted to military schools, however, by the order of Ataturk, she was provided a personalized uniform and accepted to Eskişehir Military Air School in 1936 under the special education program for 11 months. She became a master in the use of bombers and fighter aircraft with the special training program she completed in Eskişehir, Turkey.

In 1938 she traveled all Balkan states alone with her plane, and attained the rank of chief of trainer to Türkkuşu, the school where her story began, and she trained and educated more female pilots.

Gökçen currently holds the The Guinness Book of World Records as the first female combat pilot 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.

“Humankind is made up of two sexes, women and men. Is it possible that a mass is improved by the improvement of only one part and the other part is ignored? Is it possible that if half of a mass is tied to earth with chains and the other half can soar into skies?” says Ataturk, the adoptive father of Sabiha Gökçen who prompted her and many Turkish women to soar into the skies as well as in many other fields.

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