Ahmet Ali Çelikten: The First Black Pilot in the world

Most of us have heard or read about the first black pilot in World War One, the African-American pilot Eugene Bullard. But little do we know about the black Ottoman pilot serving in the Ottoman Air Force. His name was Ahmed Ali Efendi, also known as Arab Ahmed Ali.

Some sources say that his family took refuge in the Ottoman Empire because of ongoing hostilities in Nigeria, while other sources claim his grandmother came as a slave to the Ottoman Empire from today’s Nigeria. Ahmed Ali himself was born in Izmir, in Western Anatolia around 1883.

In the Ottoman Empire, unlike in Europe or America, black people had equal rights as the other citizens of the Empire and could attend schools and academies. They served in the army, navy and the air force, and even the Sultan’s Palace.

Ahmed Ali Efendi studied in Istanbul and eventually went to the Naval Flight School. He then enlisted in the Ottoman Air Force and served as a pilot during World War One. He earned his wings as early as 1915 which makes him the first black pilot in the world. His younger brother died at the Battle of Gallipoli.

Ahmed Ali Efendi studied for a brief period in Berlin. He married during World War One. He volunteered and was deployed to Konya and Izmir after World War One in preparation for the Turkish Independence War.

He served the Turkish Republic after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and participated in the Turkish Independence War between 1919 and 1923. His two sons followed their father and also became pilots serving both in the military and civil air fleet. Ahmed Ali Efendi died in the year 1969 in Izmir aged 85. Today his descendants continue to live in Izmir, Turkey.

Contributed by Mükremin Ümit Gül

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