FOUNDED IN 2011 ON THE 100TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE TURKISH ARMED FORCES, SOLOTÜRK QUICKLY TURNED ITSELF INTO ONE OF THE WORLD’S TOP FLIGHT DEMONSTRATION TEAMS. WE SPOKE RECENTLY WITH CAPTAIN SEDAT YALIN AHBAB, ITS FIRST DEMONSTRATION PILOT.
Do the demonstrations you do with SOLOTÜRK have any counterparts in the world? If so, what is the SOLOTÜRK difference?
Right now the Dutch and Belgian Armed Forces have teams doing single-plane demonstrations with the F16. They’ve been at it for about thirty years. Despite getting a very late start, we’ve also taken our place among those teams. In 2011 we took part in one of Europe's largest military air show, the 40th Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT), in the UK, where we performed our first demonstrations abroad. Among the 29 countries represented there, we took the prize for best flight demonstration based on the votes of spectators and the social media. Apart from that, we’ve also come away with words of praise from all the events abroad in which we’ve taken part. To hear that we are “the best solo demonstration I’ve ever seen” from spectators who have been going to air shows for 20-25 years is nothing short of extraordinary.
Some of the moves in these acrobatic demonstrations are extremely tricky. Perhaps only a couple people in the world can execute them. Are they also part of your repertoire?
What is important in the demonstration package you perform is not so much the difficulty of the maneuvers but the order in which you execute them. Think of it like a dance. You may be able to execute some very beautiful moves from a standing still position, but if you can’t connect them smoothly then naturally they are not so beautiful. The same is true of us. That’s why choreography takes precedence over everything else. But there are a couple of maneuvers that nobody but us can perform in the whole world. Our takeoff, for example, has now entered the literature as the “SOLOTÜRK Takeoff”.
You have a thirteen-man team. What sort of division of labor do you have prior to going out on a demonstration, say from the time you decide to do a demonstration up to the actual show?
First Lieutenant Emrah Bayrı is our Press and Public Relations Officer. Invitations are extended from provinces around Turkey and from international organizations through the Governor’s Office by following the steps on the communications section of our internet website. These invitations don’t come to us directly but to the Turkish Air Force. They are then relayed to us through 1st Lt. Bayrı. The invitations are first examined in their technical aspects. Then the Air Force puts together a show calendar. We handle only technical support and comments.
How did you come up with the name SOLOTÜRK?
That part is actually quite interesting. Teams abroad don’t have names. The Royal Netherlands Air Force F16 Demo Team, for example, goes just by that; it doesn’t have a name. But we thought we should be known as something. We let the Air Force personnel know that we were looking for a name. The minute we heard the name SOLOTÜRK we liked it and adopted it. Plus, there’s no need for it to be translated into English. The name says it all.
THE SOLOTÜRK DIFFERENCE
One of Capt. Sedat Yalın Ahbab's most frequently encountered questions regarding the Turkish Stars has to do with the famous SOLOTÜRK difference. Capt. Yalın's reply is terse: "They exhibit unity and harmony in the air by maneuvering eight planes in concert as if they were one. We bring spectators a demonstration of the striking power of the Turkish Air Force's high-performance F-16's."
THE BEST PART OF THE JOB
The primary founding purpose of SOLOTÜRK was that it be a gift to the Turkish nation on the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Air Force. Other factors in the formation of a demonstration team were to instill a love of aviation in Turkish young people and to give people confidence. Consequently, says Capt. Yalın, the team takes the most pleasure from its shows in Turkey. Echoing him, 1st Lt. Emrah Bayrı adds, “We exist for our people and our nation. We are the guardians of the skies.”