“Every time I fly, I feel like I’m fulfilling my destiny.” So says 32-year-old Semin Öztürk Şener, Turkey’s first female aerobatic display pilot, who is known for captivating audiences by performing complex aerobatic maneuvers such as loops, rolls, vertical climbs and stalls.
Born and raised in the European side of Istanbul, Öztürk Şener experienced her first aerobatic training flight at the age of 12, when her father Ali İsmet Öztürk, Turkey’s first civilian aerobatic pilot, took her up in a 1942 Boeing PT-17 Stearman, a two-seater biplane.
That experience had a profound effect on her: “Maybe at that time I didn’t recognise it,” she tells Runway Girl Network, “but now I realise that somehow that flight gave me the message: ‘women can do it too.'”
In her teenage years, she continued flying with her father, whilst attending the Saint-Michel French High School and thereafter, Istanbul University. During Öztürk Şener’s second year at university, she received her private pilot license from Ayjet Flight School in Istanbul. She went on to successfully complete aerobatic flight training at California’s Tutima Academy of Aviation Safety.
In 2015, Öztürk Şener soloed in her eye-catching red and white Pitts Special S-2B, an iconic aerobatic biplane with a 260hp Lycoming engine capable of roll rates in excess of 300 degree/sec and high-G advanced aerobatic maneuvers. As the first female aerobatic pilot in Turkey, she now flies in airshows around the world.
Before every show, Öztürk Şener goes through a one-month training camp, completing two to three flights a day. She must also prepare her body, adhering to both a balanced physical fitness regimen and a strict diet to care for her blood pressure — an important consideration for the G-force changes she experiences when she flies.
Various aerobatic maneuvers, like tumbles and flips, require an abrupt change in attitude and acceleration. Öztürk Şener must also cope with the limits of her aircraft under challenging and adverse weather conditions by applying highly specialised precision flying strategies.
“Every day I fly, I’m looking at the ultimate application of physics. Each second of every flight depends on my physics background,” she notes.
But despite the challenges, Öztürk Şener loves her job. “It’s a completely addictive sport. Flying a series of aerobatic maneuvers with my plane is an amazing feeling. There is something absolutely special about this experience. When I’m back on the ground, it’s hard to shake the adrenaline out of my body.”
She suggests that aerobatic flying is not as dangerous as people generally assume, as these specialised pilots are trained to take calculated risks. “I am already trained for this. Even if I do all my inspections, I should always be ready and keep an eye on emergency landing spots.”
Noting that aerobatic flying “is not just my profession, it’s my life and even my hobby” she suggests that women should not see gender as a barrier in this male-dominated field. “Women can fly as well as men. So, when you are a woman who’s competent in a role, that actually matters.”
Indeed, her mother also has a pilot’s license and they used to fly as a family all the time. “Sometimes I would fall asleep in the back seat of [the] Cessna. The engine sound was my favourite lullaby then. That’s how I met aviation,” Öztürk Şener confides. Years later, she and her mother performed a flight together with the Pitts S2-B plane in Eskişehir city.
Öztürk Şener has performed more than 30 display flights with her Pitts S2-B plane at home and abroad. She last performed at the Istanbul Airshow in 2022. Going forward, she is planning aerobatic flights in several countries, and intends to bring international recognition to Turkish women in aviation.
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All images credited to Semin Öztürk Şener