Flying Blue Amazons

by Eugene Tillinger

Adopting the name of the famed mythological women warriors, Turkish women have joined the air forces. If President Ismet Inonou should put in an immediate order for two squadrons to be sent from Smyrna to Istanbul, the force might well be half men, half women, for there's no sex distinction in Turkey's air force. A bomber crew may have a woman pilot, navigator, bombardier, and a male co-pilot, radio operator, and gunners. Officially designated the Flying Blue Amazons, the women wear the same blue uniforms, enjoy the same pay, and possess actual permanent ranking with the men. At the present time, women are serving Turkey as fighter and bomber pilots, test pilots, couriers, navigators, all aircrew members, and as parachutists.

When Turkey emerged during the late 1920s as a modern republic, having shed the cloak of the medieval Ottoman Empire, a large portion of the new progressive program was equal rights for women. When the fez was abolished in 1925, when Turkish titles were abandoned, women began to play a large role in Turkey's political and social life.

Because Turkey's 18 million inhabitants are spread over a territory about three times the size of the British Isles, it is essential that every woman, as well as every man, be prepared for combat. When civilian training centers, similar to our War Training Service schools, were set up in 1932, it was natural that women should also participate in the training.

In every city and large town in Turkey, men and women over 15 can now volunteer for training in any branch of the armed services. Volunteers return to civil life after their training, but are on call if needed. Although Turkey has had compulsory military training since 1927, it wasn't until 1939 that a draft law for women was passed, making every woman as well as every man in the republic from 15 to 65 eligible for service. Many Turkish women volunteer for the special training as soon as they are 15, for then they join the service branch they're trained for — if and when they're called.

Head instructor of the Flying Blue Amazons is 27-year-old fighter pilot Sabiya Kemal, adopted daughter of the founder of the Turkish Republic, Kemal Ataturk. Since she also holds the distinction of being Turkey's first woman flier, she is much revered. Flying is a family affair, for Captain Kemal's husband is Major Ali Kemal, also a fighter pilot.

Women enlisting in the Flying Blue Amazons are spared none of the rigors of physical training. Basic training is the same for all branches, The program starts out with a scientific physical training course which includes running obstacle courses, swimming rivers with rifles, etc, comparable to our own Naval Aviation Cadet Preflight school. After proficiency is assured in this field, the potential air force members learn the old but necessary art of guerrilla fighting, followed by a stiff course in field tactics.

Following this, actual flight training begins. Starting with gliders, the student pilots advance to training planes, finally to actual combat ships.

The women parachutists of the air force are the pick of Turkey's young womanhood, all between 20 and 30 years old. Most of Europe has witnessed their expert jumps, for before 1939 the Flying Blue Amazons made a yearly tour of all the European countries, exhibiting their prowess in both jumping and flying. At Ankara, in 1936, 1200 women paratroopers made a mass jump — with only one accident. Military authorities are convinced that the female parachutists will certainly prove themselves competent in sabotaging the enemy behind the lines — if and when the occasion arises.

Though Turkey's military censorship is fairly rigid, it is known that in 1939 the total air force consisted of 370 aircraft, with approximately 4550 pilots, and a few thousand ground crew members. Today's estimate could only be speculation. But Turkey is very much air-minded. Major C Aydinalp, Air Attache to the Turkish Embassy. in an exclusive interview with an Air News correspondent, declared, "No army can expect anything but defeat without air power. Since the air forces are the backbone of victory, training is not the responsibility of the military alone, but the whole country! The crux of balance of power is air force, air force, air force."

President Inonou has expressed the belief "The Turks want an air umbrella, not to hide behind, but to fight under."

Through American and British lend-lease, the Turkish air force has acquired several Vultee V-11GB three-place attack bombers, as well as some Curtiss Hawk III biplanes. Hurricanes have also been used by the Turkish air force. At the present time, most of the air force training is concentrated in Smyrna, where there are both army and naval aviation schools.

Both the fact that Turkey's young are being steeped in air training, and that women have become such an important adjunct of the air force, seems to indicate that Turkey is definitely looking towards the future development of an air armada, in which a large percentage of the population will participate.

This article was originally published in the June, 1944, issue of Air News magazine, vol 6, no 5, p 20.
The original article includes 2 photos.
Photos credited to Eugene Tillinger, European.