Ahmet Ali Çelikten, one of the first black pilots in aviation history


Ahmet Ali Çelikten(born İzmirli Alioğlu Ahmed; 1883–1969), also known as Arap Ahmet Ali or İzmirli Ahmet Ali, was an Ottoman aviator who was one of the first black pilots in aviation history. He was one of the few black pilots in World War I, like Afro-American Eugene Jacques Bullard, William Robinson Clarke from Jamaica (flying for Britain), Pierre Réjon from Martinique (flying for France) and Domenico Mondelli from Eritrea (flying for Italy). His grandmother was enslaved in Bornu (now in Nigeria) and brought to the Ottoman Empire.



Ottoman naval aviators of the Naval Flight School (Deniz Tayyare Mektebi) at Aya Stefanos; left to right: pilot Ahmet Ali (Çelikten), Sami (Uçan), İhsan and observer Hüseyin Kâmil (Görgün).

Ahmet was born in 1883 in İzmir, in the Aidin Vilayet of the Ottoman Empire to his mother Zenciye Emine Hanım of Nigerian descent and father Ali Bey, of African Turkish descent.He aimed to become a sailor and entered the Naval Technical School named Haddehâne Mektebi (literally “School of the Blooming Mill”) in 1904. In 1908, he graduated from this school as a First Lieutenant (Mülâzım-ı evvel). And then he went to aviation courses in the Naval Flight School (Deniz Tayyare Mektebi) that was formed on 25 June 1914 at Yeşilköy. He was then a member of the Ottoman Air Force.

During World War I, he married Hatice Hanım (1897–1991) who was an immigrant from Preveza. He became one of the first black military pilots in aviation history when he started serving in November 1916. On 18 December 1917, Captain (Yüzbaşı) Ahmed Ali was sent to Berlin to complete aviation courses. He died in 1969.

Ottoman Pilots in 1914/1915 next to a Blériot XI-2 monoplane. Ahmet Ali Çelikten can be seen next to the propeller..


To quote David Nicolle’s book, The Ottoman Army 1914–1918, “Most Ottoman aircrew were recruited from the Turkish heartland … others came from the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire as far south as Yemen, or even from neutral Iran. Captain Ahmet was a mix of Arab-African and Turkish origin and may have been the first ‘Black’ Air Force pilot in aviation history, having received his ‘wings’ in 1914-15.” The book features a photo of Ahmet in front of a Bleriot XI-2 trainer at the Yeşilköy flying school. The same photo is featured in “Over the Front”, Volume 9, No. 3, Fall 1994. Ahmet’s “wings” would seem to have been earned prior to Bullard’s earning his brevet No. 6259 on 20 July 1917, though Bullard is often cited as history’s first black military aviator.







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