Turkey’s first female F-16 pilot Berna Şen is promoted to Colonel

A pioneering female pilot has made history again after being promoted to the rank of Colonel. Berna Şen’s promotion was announced by the Turkish Air Force Command at the end of August.

Şen joined the Turkish Air Force (TAF) 26 years ago. She entered into the Turkish history books in 2000 for flying the F-16 Fighting Falcon – a single-engine supersonic multirole aircraft regarded as one of the world’s most capable fighter jets.

She had originally thought of becoming an industrial engineer, but her life changed just before she was about to start university in 1993. Şen received a letter from the Air Force Academy inviting her to train as a pilot, an offer which she accepted, going on to graduate from the Academy in 1997.

Embarking on her career as a pilot, Şen followed in the footsteps of another Turkish pioneer, Sabiha Gökçen. An orphan who was adopted by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Gökçen became the world’s first female fighter pilot in the 1930s.

Şen decided to retire from the TAF in 2012. She was ranked a Major at the time. However, her time in the military was not quite over.

Pioneering pilot Berna Şen – the first Turkish female to fly an F16 fighter jet


The attempted coup of July 2016 led to the arrest of hundreds of pilots suspected of involvement. As a result, the TAF was left in dire need of recently retired senior personnel to step back into the fold. Şen was one of those who donned her uniform again after receiving a request from TAF Command.

Şen, now aged 44 and married to a pilot, returned as a Lieutenant Colonel in the wake of the coup primarily to focus on training new pilots. Her promotion to Colonel has seen congratulatory messages pour in via social media.