The history of aviation

Displaying pictures and mini-texts, telephone cards and postage stamps recount the history of Turkish aviation.

Postage stamps are without a doubt the most collected items in the world. A hobby that begins in childhood, at the school desk, an experience that is perhaps a catalyst for other collections to be put together later in adulthood. All over the world philatelists by the millions collect these colorful little pieces of paper that travel the world on letters, forming clubs, exchanging stamps, organizing auctions. Today’s stamp collectors prefer to focus more on thematic collections. Animal stamps, flower stamps, sports, medical, outer space stamps, and countless others. And among them all, stamps on aviation and airplanes constitute one of the most important themes.

Through the tiny pictures and texts printed on them, postage stamps offer rather important information about the history of planes and aviation. In addition to postage stamps, a completely different kind of collection has developed all over the world in the last twenty years. The objects of this new passion for collecting are telephone cards. It’s possible to find a number of themes from sports and architecture to musical instruments and national costumes depicted on these cards. And as with stamps, aviation is again one of the most popular themes. Many countries have used the themes of aviation and of airplanes, each one more graceful than the last, on their telephone cards. Turkey too is prominent among the countries that treat this theme; indeed, going even farther, Turkey has issued the world’s longest series of aviation-based telephone cards, thus introducing to the world through the line drawings on the cards the 157 different types of aircraft used by the Turkish Air Force from its inception to date. Let us have a look now at the pictures on Turkish stamps and   telephone cards and see what type of planes were first used in the history of Turkish aviation.

The first winged flight was carried out by the American Wright Brothers on 17 December 1903. Airplane construction and aviation continued to develop rapidly from that date. Coming to Paris in 1907, the Wright Brothers staged demonstrations and carried out test flights with motorized planes, pioneering the rapid development of aviation in Europe as well, primarily in France. Five years later, following a decision taken by the Ottoman government in 1911, the Turks made their first forays into aviation at an ‘Aeroplane Station’ set up at Safraköy near Ayastefanos (today’s Yeşilköy), where the foundations of the history of aviation in Turkey were laid.

Through the efforts of then-War Minister Mahmut Şevket Paşa, it was decided in 1911 to establish an Aeroplane Station at Yeşilköy, and set up a commission to be sent to Europe for study and for the training of young officers as pilots. Süreyya (İlmen) Paşa was appointed to head the commission. Feza Bey and Kenan Bey, Turkey’s first two officers to be sent to France that same year to be trained as pilots, were followed by others, a total of eight to France and seven to England, among them young officers like Fethi, Fazıl, Mehmet Ali, Salim, Mithat Nuri whose names are inscribed in gold in the history of Turkish aviation. 

The decision to purchase Turkey’s first airplanes was taken in 1912 following long, detailed investigations in France and Germany by the commission headed by Süreyya Bey. The eleven Deperdussin, REP and Blériot type planes brought from France in the first consignment were followed by four Bristols ordered from England, and to these were added one Mars and one Harlan-type plane purchased from Germany. In another decision taken by the War Ministry, white crescent and star motifs were painted on a red field on the tail sections and under the wings of the planes. Diversity was the watchword in the purchase of these aircraft, which were among the most highly regarded and durable of their period, and the success of the Ottoman Aviation Authority resulted in an effective strategy regarding the planes to be acquired in future purchases. Enormous importance was given to aviation despite the fact that the Ottoman State in its later periods was mired in a serious economic and political crisis, and the first small fleet that was formed chalked up significant victories in the Balkan Wars. Immediately following the Balkan Wars a Parseval-type air balloon was also purchased from Germany to be added to the fleet as a symbol of Ottoman prestige.

Following these early aircraft and the first trained pilots, the Ottoman Air Force made great strides and acquired valuable experience, in the process opening its first aviation school at Yeşilköy in order to train new pilots in Turkey. In the wake of this school, another flight school, the Sea Plane School, was immediately opened, and within a short time the first long-range flights, such as Edirne-Istanbul and Istanbul-Cairo, were undertaken as well as the first deliveries of mail  by air. In May and June of 1914, a total of eleven Maurane-Saulnier and Caudron-type planes were imported from France for training new pilots. One Curtiss F and one Nieuport were also purchased for the Sea Plane School.

After the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the Dardanelles became the scene of one of the bloodiest conflicts in world history. The Ottoman Air Force used a variety of new planes in this war. Among the new aircraft purchased from their German ally were Ponniers, Rumplers, Fokkers, Pfalz, Halberstadts and Albatross planes, as well as Gotha W-13 type sea planes.

The new parliament formed in Ankara by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk on 23 April 1920 was the harbinger of a spanking new country, and the Republic of Turkey was founded following a three-year War of Liberation. During this great independence struggle, apart from old planes such as the AEG, Aviatik and Fiat Paradiso’s abandoned on the air fields of Anatolia, the Turkish air force also made use of several new planes which it received as donations. As the French were withdrawing from Adana in November 1912, they left behind ten Bréguet-type aircraft, and twenty SPAD-XIII-type planes were purchased from Italy at the beginning of 1922. There were however neither spare parts nor materials. Nevertheless, the pilots that flew these and the total thirty-eight planes already in hand achieved remarkable success in winning the great victory.

With the founding of the Republic, aviation too developet apace. Modern, new airports were built, new planes purchased and, of course, with the establishment of civil aviation the first steps were taken towards the founding of Turkish Airlines.