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History - Ottoman Air Branch

The Ottoman air force (Osmanli hava kuvvetleri) was one of the oldest combat aviation organizations in the world. Efforts on aviation were started in 1909 in the Ottoman Army and these efforts were developed in 1910. A research team was sent to Europe and another one to the International Aviation Conference held in Paris in the same year. By the end of 1910, a final decision was made and some officers were deemed appropriate to be sent to Europe to receive training as aviation personnel. However, in spite of this important decision taken by the high command level of the Turkish Army pertaining to aviation, the required funding couldn't be provided due to the financial constraints encountered in the country at that time, and the actions required by the subject directive couldn't be taken in 1910.

Mahmut Sevket Pasha, Minister of War, who anticipated the future importance of aviation in terms of national defense continued to be closely interested in this subject, and Captain Fesa from cavalry and Second Lieutenant Yusuf Kenan from engineering corps who had scored the best in the examination made on 28 June 1911 were sent to the Flight School of Bleriot Aircraft Company in France, in July 1911, to receive flight training. The Ottoman Minister of War, Mahmut Sevket Pasa, instructed Lt. Col. Sureyya Bey, a Turkish officer, to establish an aircraft station and aircraft commission in Istanbul. In 1911, Staff Lieutenant Colonel Sreyya (Ilmen) assumed the responsibility of establishing the aviation organization and the first formal aviation establishment of the Ottoman Army was inaugurated with the name "Aviation Commission" within the 2nd Branch of the Scientific Detachments, Fortification General Inspectorate, Ministry of War.

Wilbur and Orwille Wright brothers successfully flew the first powered aircraft on 17 December 1903, which is considered to be the beginning of the modern and high technology aviation. Eight years later, in 1911, the Turkish Military Aviation Organization took its place among the world's first aviation organizations almost in the same years along with the USA, France, the U.K., Germany, Italy, Austria and Russia who established their military aviation organizations between 1909 and 1912.

Volunteer Army officers were sought for pilot training and the first two were sent to France. Because of this, many aviation terms in Turkish derived from French. On 21 February 1912, Captain Fesa completed his flight training successfully and returned to his country upon receiving the 780th and the 1st pilot wings awarded by France and the Turkish Army respectively, while Yusuf Kenan Bey returned receiving the 797th pilot wings. Eight Turkish officers were also sent to France for flight training in the same year and the two aircraft purchased from France were delivered to Fesa and Yusuf Kenan in Istanbul on 15 March 1912. So, in early 1912, the Turkish Army had its first pilots and aircraft, and through the inauguration of the Air School (Flight School) in Yesilky (Istanbul) on 3 July 1912, the Turkish Army started to provide in-country training for its pilots. Following the inauguration of the air school, one of the most important steps towards developing and strengthening the Turkish military aviation, that is to say, the efforts on aviation gained speed, number of personnel increased and aviators started to perform active unit duties with the establishment of air companies (aircraft companies) in the units within a short time.

The first Ottoman encounter with hostile military aircraft was in 1911 when Italy invaded Libya, which was then part of the Ottoman Empire. During the war with Libya, the Italians used aircraft for reconnaissance and bomb attacks on Ottoman military units. The Ottoman Army, therefore, had the distinction of being the first ever to be aerially bombed. However, they also had the honor of being the first to force down a war plane and capture a pilot.

The first airfield was established in the village of Yesilkoy in Istanbul. Today, it is Ataturk International Airport. Two hangars were built, and the two officers who had gone to France returned with two Deperdussin aircraft, one military and the other a trainer. There was close cooperation with France. The French aircraft company REP sold and gave additional planes to the Ottomans, who in turn, sent more officers to that company for training. Officers were also sent to the Bristol Aircraft School in England. British and German aircraft were also purchased. In April 1912, the two Deperdussin aircraft made fly-bys in Istanbul as part of the ceremony commemorating the anniversary of Sultan Resat's accession to the throne.

The young Ottoman Air Force almost immediately saw action in the Balkan War of September 1912 to October 1913. In the first phase of 1912-1913 Balkan War, the Turkish Aviators, not having adequate level of experience, were unable to perform at the desired level, but in the second phase they were quite successful. Although too small to be effective, the Air Force, with some 17 planes, provided valuable reconnaissance services. One Ottoman pilot, Fethi Bey, became legendary for his many exploits. It was during this war that the first balloon company was established at Yesilkoy. Additional aircraft were bought from France. These included seaplanes for which a school was opened at Yesilkoy.

Upon the termination of the Balkan War, efforts were initiated towards developing and improving the Ottoman Aviation, which was re-named Kuvai Havaiye Subesi (Air Force Branch) in 1913. The 13th Field Air Navigation Branch was established, affiliated to the General Headquarters due to the increasing number of aircraft at the end of 1913 and aviation affairs were transferred to this branch. The title of the subject branch was changed as "The Inspectorate of Aviation" in November.

In parallel with these efforts, new aircraft were purchased and in June 1914 the Naval Air School was established in Yesilky. The first US aircraft sold to the Ottoman Empire was a Curtiss seaplane which was brought to Istanbul by an American pilot in 1914. After the war, as a demonstration of Ottoman power and prestige, Fethi Bey and another Turkish pilot, Nuri Bey, set out in February 1914 in two French planes, on a flight from Istanbul to Cairo. The flight included a number of hops around the Mediterranean. In addition, these planes carried Turkey's first air mail. Unfortunately, Fethi Bey crashed near the Sea of Galilee and was killed. Nuri Bey was later killed when he crashed into the sea near Jaffa. Afterward, a third plane piloted by Kemal Bey and Salim Bey was sent to finish the trip. It reached Cairo in May 1914.




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