Memories Of Flying

I was three and a half the first time I boarded a plane. So how do you remember, you’re going to ask. Well, a person can remember perfectly well experiences that left a deep impression, regardless of age.

It was 1947. Two years since the end of World War II. The Dakota-type aircraft that had been used to transport troops were out of service and had begun to be sold off to commercial airlines under the name DC3. And Turkish Airlines (or the State Airline as it was known then) was building up a fleet of these planes. We lived in Izmir. Around that time I developed a horrendous pain in my knees. Everyone ventured an opinion. Some said it was rheumatism of the joints; others made more bizarre diagnoses. My mother and father were in a tizzy, so they bundled me onto a plane and brought me to Istanbul. And that is how I came to board an airplane at age three and a half. I distinctly remember watching with amazement from the window of the DC3, which didn’t climb all that high, as the people, vehicles and houses shrank smaller and smaller, and how the outline of the map gradually took shape down below.
Later on, Heron-type planes arrived from England. For some reason people didn’t have much faith in them. In fact, it was a common joke that they flew by flapping their wings.
Then, in 1955, I flew from Istanbul to America. Pan American was the world’s biggest airline at the time. It had two planes that flew around the world, one from east to west, the other from west to east. The flight numbers were 001 and 002. If I remember correctly, 002 started out from Asia and flew to England, making a number of stops along the way, Istanbul included. Heathrow Airport London’s hadn’t opened yet, so all the planes landed at Gatwick. These world-circumnavigating Pan American planes were four-engine aircraft, quite large for their time, and were called Clipper Super Constellation. They had three seats on either side of the aisle while the DC3’s had only two.
At a time when the serving of food in-flight was just beginning, there was already a hot meal service on the Super Constellation. And the hostesses, whose numbers seemed endless, were constantly coming and going. But the interesting thing was that these ‘giant’ planes couldn’t even fly from London to New York in a single shot. A plane taking off from Gatwick, for example, had to make a refuelling stop at Shannon Airport on the west coast of Ireland. Consequently, London-New York took thirteen and a half hours, and New York-London seventeen. Indeed, if memory serves me correctly, there was even a refuelling stop at Newfoundland on the New York-London return.
As I write this, I remember how my teacher at the Faculty of Political Science in Ankara, Prof. Ahmet Şükrü Esmer, described taking ten days to come to Turkey from London during the Second World War on a sea-plane that flew along the coastline in order to avoid the war zone. Our whole class found this extremely funny and laughed uproariously. As I share these memories with you today however, I fear falling into a similar predicament some day.
When one considers that we do Istanbul-Izmir in 40 minutes, Istanbul-London in three and a half hours, and Istanbul-New York in ten hours today on Turkish Airlines, the temporal dimensions of the past naturally strike a person as quaint, if not downright comical.