Ahmet Ali: One of The World's First Black Aircraft Pilots

Perhaps one of the very first African Muslims to pilot an aircraft in the history of aviation. Ahmet Ali Çelikten was born in the coastal city of Izmir, Turkey. The proud son of an African Muslim couple of mixed Yoruba and Turkish ethnicity. From an early age, Ahmet had dreamt of sailing the waves and navigating the mighty oceans. His break came in 1904 when he was granted a place at the naval military school.

He completed his training in 1908 and became a first lieutenant. As the events of the First World War were unfolding, Ahmet transferred his navigation skills towards aviation. In 1914 he began his air cadet training at the Deniz Tayyare Mektebi – a Flight School near Istanbul, two short years later on November 11th 1916 - he graduated from the academy and got his wings, remarkably, he was qualified several months before the first black pilots were licensed in France and America, they were Frenchman Pierre Réjon and the American Eugene J. Bullard.

In December 1917, amidst escalating military conflict, Ahmet Ali Çelikten travelled to Germany for advanced training in Berlin. He was subsequently promoted to the rank of Captain as the war continued to intensify. Ahmet would suffer the loss of his younger brother who was killed in battle.

His role grew more important during the early 1920s as the Turkish War for Independence threatened to destabilize and decimate the towns and villages of his homeland. He served at several outposts near the Mediterranean and Black Sea, mounting aerial reconnaissance patrols in order to monitor the advancing British, Italian, Greek, and French military - and in 1928, he was once more promoted, serving as vice-secretary at the air force headquarter in Konya.

A courageous and exemplary officer and aviation pioneer, Ahmet Ali received several honours including the Bahri Aircraft Medal, he is also celebrated today as perhaps the first aircraft pilot of African Ancestry. After a lifetime of high flying achievements and towering honours, Ahmet Ali Çelikten passed away in 1969.