THE MILESTONES OF TURKISH AVIATION MEDICINE

The Aviation history of Turks dates back to the reign of Sultan Murat IV. 163 years before balloon flights and 283 years before Montgolfier Brothers. A Turkish scientist Hezarfen Ahmet (hezarfen means the man who knew a thousand things) strapped leather wings to his arms and jumped from the Galata Tower in the European side of Istanbul, flew across the Bosphorus and landed on the Asian cost in 1620. The distance was about 1.5 kilometers. (Even though Evliya Celebi, a Turkish historian, narrated this story; there are still some doubts about this flight and nobody knows if it is a legend or fact). Hezarfen’s name had been given to an airport in Istanbul and a movie was produced based on his adventure.

In his early studies of flying, Hezarfen Ahmet was inspired by the 11th century scientist Imam Cevheri. After studying birds while they are flying, Cevheri at last believed that he could do it himself. With wings tied to his body, Cevheri jumped from the roof of the mosque. However his wings could not carry him and he crashed to the ground and died in the year of 1002. He was probably the first man killed by an air accident.

AFTER 1911: first steps

Turkish air Force was founded as a sub-unit of the Ottoman army in 1911. During the World War I, Germany sent flight surgeons (Dr. Kauer) to support the Ottoman Empire aviators. Later on, at the time of National Independence war (1918-1922), Turkish Air Force had only 16 aircrafts and 30 pilots. After the foundation of the New Turkish Republic in 1923, Capt. Yusuf Balkan (ENT Specialist) was sent to France and Italy for training, and became the first flight surgeon of Turkey in 1929. After returning to Turkey, he was the main consultant for all aero- medical examinations of aviators.

In 1932, the first regulation for pilot selection and aero medical examination standards was published. In 1934, three physicians were sent to France for a period of one and a half year. Upon returning to Turkey in 1935, they were assigned to the aero medical examination committee and started to examine all pilots and military pilot candidates. In 1940, because of the transportation difficulties, these committee members started to visit all air force bases and examine pilots on site. They have also examined the pilots of Turkish Airlines, this support carried on until the 80’s.

In 1946 four physicians were sent to Randolph Field Aviation School, San Antonio, Texas, USA. Upon returning to Turkey in 1947, they were also assigned to the aero medical examination committee in Eskisehir. (Eskisehir is a city close to Ankara, the largest military and civilian aviation facilities including the Aero Medical Center are located here.)

AFTER 1948: it’s time to start national courses

In 1948 the first Air Force Hospital was opened in Eskisehir. The hospital built in the shape of an aircraft is still the biggest Air Force Hospital in Turkey. In the same year and at the same place Col. Sweitzer and Serg. Sunders from the USA, established the first altitude chamber in this facility. Colonel and his Turkish colleagues organized the first aero medical course for army physicians in 1948. After finishing a 6 month course, including T-33 and C-47 flight, four physicians were graduated as flight surgeons. The first aero medical evacuation course was held in 1953. At the same year, altidute chamber training was given to 200 foreign pilots from Greece, Jordan and Spain, who came to Turkey for ‘Lost Sheep Operation’. Up to the end of 2005, more than thousand flight surgeons were graduated including 36 female, 38 civilian and 2 from Azerbaijan.

AFTER 1986: another milestone

After the foundation of GATA (Military Medical Academy) Department of Aerospace Medicine in 1986, the Center was connected to GATA. Aerospace medicine residency training in Turkey started and 8 military physicians became specialist so far, 5 of them are in active duty in the Turkish Armed Forces right now.

In the meantime Turkish Armed Forces Commander decided to buy F-16 aircraft from USA, and to establish a modern Physiological Training Center simultaneously. Then Air Force ordered the devices including Human Centrifuge (G-Lab), Spatial Disorientation Trainer (Gyro-Lab), Ejection Seat Trainer, Night Vision Trainer, Hypobaric Chamber and Hyperbaric Chamber, from ETC, USA. After finishing the construction of the new building next to the Air Force Hospital in Eskisehir, and completing the mounting of new devices, the new center was opened in 1990. Military pilots’ centrifuge, altitude, ejection, disorientation and night vision trainings are carried on this facility. From 1994 until now, physiological training courses were also given to the pilots from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Israel, Jordan, and United Arab Emirates.

In 1994 a panel was held on ‘G Factors on Flight Safety.’ At the same day, with a special ceremony, the auditorium was named after Capt. Fesa Bey, first Turkish pilot; the classroom was named after Dr. Yusuf Balkan, first Turkish flight surgeon; and human centrifuge training room was named after Sabiha Gokcen, first woman pilot of Turkey, first woman war pilot of the world and adopted daughter of Ataturk.

On 26-28 October 1994, NATO Flight Surgeons Refresher Course was held in the Center, with 17 foreign attendances from Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Portugal, and Spain. As of May the 1st 1995, physiological training given by the center was certified by USAF until 1998, and later extended to 2010.

2000: Turkish Aerospace Medical Association (TAMA)

In 2000, Turkish Aerospace Medical Association (TAMA) founded by a group of flight surgeons retired from Air Force. The Association had 116 members at the end of 2008. Of the 116 members, 34 flight surgeons (4 active duties in Turkish Armed Forces) and 20 AME. The others have passion for flight or aerospace medicine; composed of physicians, dentists, psychologists, nurses and pilots.

As known, aviation medicine studies started in military first, but in today’s world, civil aviation needs more support from medicine. We believe that, all aero medical efforts (from investigations etc.) reduce the accidents related to the human factors. TAMA tries to contribute civil aviation safety on medical issues in Turkey.

The honorary member of TAMA is Dr. Melchor J. Antunano (Director of CAMI).

The motto of USAF SAM ‘Volanti Subvenimus’ (we serve flight), is very beneficial to understand the mission and responsibilities of flight surgeons.

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