Turkey on Thursday is commemorating one of the country’s largely unsung heroes – Vecihi Hurkus, an aviator, engineer and plane designer who passed away 51 years ago on July 16.
A group from the Aviator Vehici Hurkus Association will be commemorating the pioneering pilot in the Turkish capital Ankara, where he was laid to rest in 1969.
Bahadir Gurer, head of the Istanbul-based group, told Anadolu Agency that around 40 people every year take part in the commemoration, where people tell stories about this neglected legend from Turkey’s early years and pay their respects.
Hurkus (“Freebird” in English) was born in Istanbul in 1896.
He fought during World War I as well as Turkey’s War of Independence in the Great War’s aftermath.
According to Gurer, the Turkish aviation industry rapidly developed when young Ottomans went to Europe in the early 1900s to earn their wings in the cockpit.
“He wanted to be a pilot even when he was very young but couldn’t enroll in pilot training due to his age, so he began studying to become a mechanic,” he said.
During World War I he was sent to Baghdad, Iraq, but was brought back to Istanbul after suffering heavy injuries. After around four months of treatment, he was accepted by the Ottoman aviation school in Istanbul.
Hurkus’ first post as a pilot was to the Caucasian front against the Russians.
One of his most important achievements there was to become the first Turkish pilot to shoot down an enemy plane – a Russian one – according to Gurer.
Later he was taken prisoner and interred on Nargin Island in the Caspian Sea but managed to escape to Iran, he added.
“What we know is that after his escape, he was assigned to the protection of Istanbul before its occupation,” he said.
During the war, Hurkus had his own plane project, Gurer said, but the project unfortunately stayed just a file folder submitted to the General Staff.
His dream was manufacturing Turkey’s first airplane, he said.
“His work on this began in 1923, and he finished his project in 1924 but wasn’t allowed to do a test flight” at the young age of 24, Gurer explained.
“Nobody believed that he could make an airplane, and people were scared of an accident or loss of life,” he added.
Making Turkey’s first plane
After visiting Europe several times to see plane factories firsthand, Hurkus designed his first airplane, the Vecihi K-6, which had its maiden flight in 1925.
“He made this plane using British materials left over after World War I,” he said.
Despite the lack of an official flight permit, Hurkus first took to the skies in 1925, but afterwards got 10 days of house arrest and the loss of half his salary for insubordination, he added.
In 1930, in a remarkable feat, he put together his and Turkey’s first civilian plane with only the materials he had on hand.
“He made a Vecihi-14 plane in Istanbul in 90 days,” said Gurer.
“Hurkus drew the planes, manufactured them, and did the first test flights,” he added.
He was not only a pilot, but was also an airplane machinist, combat pilot, test pilot, and Turkey’s first stunt plane pilot, according to Gurer.
In 1932, he opened Turkey’s first civilian aviation school in Istanbul’s Kadikoy district.
“He made flights carrying banner ads over Istanbul during national holidays and important days.
“And he also founded Turkey’s first private airline company, Hurkus, when he bought planes from [national flag carrier] Turkish Airlines in 1954,” Gurer added.
In 2013, Turkey’s first training aircraft – named after Hurkus, honoring the legendary aviator – had its maiden flight.
Gurer, 69, first encountered Hurkus thanks to his family, when he was gathering family photos from an uncle who happened to live in the same neighborhood as the legendary Turkish pilot.
When Gurer’s uncle noticed that his childhood hero was largely absent from Turkey’s history books, he began writing about this remarkable life.
Gurer later found this manuscript and turned it into a book that ended up in the hands of Hurkus’ daughter, leading to the foundation of the group.
Now they have amassed some 30,000 mementos of Hurkus’ life to go on display at a planned museum to spread awareness of Vecihi Hurkus, Turkey’s first aviator, to future generations.
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