In spite of experiencing delays, cancellations, airport takeovers, pandemics, and erupting volcanos, I still get excited about flying. Checking off new airports and revisiting old ones is an unrelenting hobby … but just whom is that airport named after?
More and more airports are being named for people, whether they’re local or national heroes, religious leaders, or from the early days of the aviation industry.
This leads me to my first Boardingarea post on this topic. Having traveled a bit to Türkiye in the past year, I figure it would be good to start with my most-used airport of 2022.
Türkiye, Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen (SAW)
In 1925, while in her hometown of Bursa, Türkiye, Sabiha was only 12 years old when she bravely approached the recent founder of the Turkish republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, requesting to be educated at a boarding school. He adopted her, eventually giving her the surname Gökçen, which prophetically meant “belonging to the sky.”
Although she didn’t express interest at the time, when Atatürk opened the Türkkușsu Flight School in 1935 — around the time when he gave women the right to vote, among many other firsts in Türkiye — she became the first woman to receive a pilot’s license in Türkiye, and the first Turkish female combat pilot.
Subsequently, she made solo journeys to the Balkans as well as to various countries to promote Turkish foreign policy, became a lieutenant in the Turkish Air Force, and trained other cadets while Director of the Türkkușsu Flight School.
In 1955, Gökçen retired from the Air Force, and stopped flying altogether in 1964. Finally, her memoir, translated as A Life Along the Path of Atatürk, was published in 1981, to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the death of her adoptive father.
Sabiha Gökçen died on 22 March 2001, two months after her namesake airport opened.
n.b. Did you know that as of 2020, out of ~352 airports named after someone, only 15 were named for women?