In the year 1883, the Nigerian-Turkish couple Zenciye Emine Hanım and Ali Bey were living in the city of Izmir, in the Aidin Valley of the Ottoman Empire. The couple produced a baby boy named Ahmet Ali Celikten. Stories exist stating that Ahmet’s grandmother was a Nigerian slave serving as a concubine to the Ottoman ruler, which also serves as the story of the origins of Ahmet’s family living in Turkey. Zenciye Emine Hamin is said to be a Yoruba woman and Ali Bey was said to possibly be of Arab and Nigerian or Somalian and Turkish origins. As a young boy, Ahmet dreamed of becoming a sailor. In 1904, Ahmet enrolled in the Haddehane Mektebi Naval Technical School, four years later he graduated as a First Lieutenant. As the world was nearing its first world war, Turkey needed an Air Force to compete against its enemies, the Yeşilköy Naval Aircraft School was founded in 1914, and Ahmet was among the first class of cadets to enroll in the school. Ahmet was able to continue his military education and Turkey was able to build its air force. Ahmet graduated from the aircraft school on November 11, 1916, making him the first black person to become a military pilot. Other men given credit are Eugene Bullard and Pierre Réjon. I will cover these two men at a later time.
Izmirli Alioğlu Ahmed is the birth name of Ahmet Ali Celikten, he changed his name during the time he graduated from aircraft school. Ahmet graduated a month before the start of World War I, becoming the first black military piolet, and one of less than 10 black pilots fighting in the war. During the War, Ahmet married a Greek woman named Hatice Hanim, the couple produced five children, and two of their sons became pilots. I do not have information about Ahmet’s battles during World War I, but I do know he received advanced-level flight training in France and Germany, and he was also promoted to Captain. Following his promotion, he was appointed to serve for the Izmir Naval Aircraft Company. World War I ended in 1918, but the war in Turkey was not over.
The Turkish War of Independence began in the 1920s and Ahmet chose to participate in the war. He volunteered to help steal airplanes from the Konya Military Air Base, in Konya, Turkey, he also volunteered to use the stolen planes to monitor any aircraft activity over the Black Sea. Ahmet was rewarded for his skills and ability to carry out his missions. He was appointed as the undersecretary of the Konya Military Air Base and was awarded the Bahri Aircraft Medal. Ahmet Ali Celikten not only became the first black military pilot in the world, but he was able to work with the 2nd and 3rd black men to become military pilots. He retired from the military in 1949, inspiring many more black people around the world to become pilots. He also greatly influenced his family to become pilots. In addition to his two sons becoming pilots, his wife his sister, two daughters, a niece, nephew, and sister-in-law, all became pilots. Ahmet died in 1969, but his influence on black pilots will never be forgotten. He was able to overcome barriers to literally fly high. Ahmet Ali Celikten, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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