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Emir Öngüner

Nuri Demirağ and the First Turkish Fighter Aircraft Project (Nu.D.40)

June 01, 2021
Nuri Demirağ and the First Turkish Fighter Aircraft Project (Nu.D.40)

Nuri Demirağ (1886-1957), who has an important place in Turkish aviation history, was an influential entrepreneur who is respected by the Turkish nation today with his visionary ideas. After his civil service in Istanbul and the newspaper named Türk Zaferi (Turkish Victory), which he published during his business life in the aftermath of World War I, Demirağ in fact clued how he would proceed in the future in his will that he prepared in 1925. In this will, he expressed that he would spend all his earnings, except for the needs of his family, for the development his country. Upon the establishment of the Republic, the spirit of development became prominent also in the fields of economy, education and industry. In the aftermath of 1923, Nuri Demirağ concentrated on indigenous and independent industry and took part in projects such as railway and highway contracting, factory, dam, mining business. Demirağ's concept of sovereignty is based on investing in the next generation with indigenous and independent R&D and industry. The surname Demirağ was given to his family in 1934 by the founder of the Republic of Turkey and the first President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, due to his efforts in the establishment of the Anatolian railway network With the foundation of the Turkish Aeronautical Association in 1925, the Republic of Turkey's activities in the field of aviation started. According to Demirağ, aviation was the driving force of the independent industry under the conditions of that period. The supply of aircraft to the Turkish Armed Forces started with the procurement abroad, and in time, domestic production started. Demirağ aimed to assume the civilian wing of domestic aircraft production and aimed to catch the wave of the Republic in parallel with the progress of aviation with the world. For this reason, in 1936, the Nuri Demirağ Airplane Workshop (NuDTA) was established in Beşiktaş and the necessary studies were initiated. On the other hand, the land of Elmas Pasha Farm was purchased in Yeşilköy and a large airport was built in this area. This area is today's Istanbul Atatürk Airport grounds.

Demirağ planned to undertake the civilian side of the domestic aircraft production and aimed to achieve progress in aviation simultaneously with the world. To this end, he established the Nuri Demirağ Airplane Workshop (NuDTA) in Beşiktaş in 1936 and initiated the necessary work. On the other hand, the land of Elmas Pasha Farm at Yeşilköy was purchased and a large airport was built there, which is today's Istanbul Atatürk Airport land.

Nuri Demirağ also had to develop the manpower required for the aircraft factory it established. Technicians, pilots and ground services personnel should also have been trained in addition to engineers. The important thing was to lead the establishment of institutions that will provide training at international level in Turkey (Istanbul and Sivas). There were also reports on newspapers stating that Demirağ sent students abroad for aeronautical engineering education. It is known that while he was running the workshop in Beşiktaş, he was also in contact with the School of Engineering (Istanbul Technical University) at Gümüşsuyu. All such details show how much Demirağ attaches importance to investing in human and to university-industry cooperation.

In addition to the Nu.D.36 and Nu.D.38 coded training and passenger aircraft known in Turkey, another project of Demirağ and his team, which has been recently discovered, is a clear indicator of visionary approach. Demirağ stated in various interviews that he avoided production under licenses and that he aimed to produce Turkish-type airplanes with indigenous designs, and this is one of the most evident examples that can be given to the concept of nationality in the industry. With this perspective, Nu.D.40, the first Turkish fighter jet project, the design studies of which were initiated in 1937 at the workshop in Beşiktaş, was planned to be capable of competing with those of equivalent class in Europe and America.

Since no suitable experimental setup was available in Turkey in those years for aerodynamic tests, one of the most important stages in the development process of the draft project, it was cooperated with the famous Aerodynamic Test Institution AVA in Germany. The communication process started in May 1937 continued uninterruptedly until the autumn of 1939, when the World War II began. The necessary tests deemed appropriate by Demirağ's technical team on the prototype of Nu.D.40 produced in AVA with technical drawings sent from Turkey were carried out in the wind tunnel and the related reports were sent to Turkey. Unfortunately, the fact that the communication interrupted with the start of the war had a negative impact on the project. The process was sustained due to the failure of Turkey to pay the full fee requested by AVA and long time no hear from Turkey, and the events went against both Demirağ and Turkey with the German Aviation Ministry’s involvement in the process in 1940. The fact that the related fee could not be collected as per the review made by the Ministry, it was deemed appropriate to submit the technical reports of the Turkish fighter aircraft project Nu.D.40 to Junkers and Focke-Achgelis companies and to the state archive. It was then found out that Junkers worked on a prototype similar to the Nu.D.40, but the production could not be realized due to the lack of a production license from the Ministry. As it can be seen, the conditions of war hindered Nuri Demirağ Aircraft Workshop from continuing to develop this aircraft, and Nu.D.40 was unfortunately left to its fate.

It is seen that with the first Turkish fighter jet project Nu.D.40, the design of which started in 1937, Turkey has the potential to become one of the few countries that can produce fighter aircraft in the world before World War II. The uncovering of the Nu.D.40 project, which has remained hidden on the dusty shelves of the archives for more than 80 years, reminds us once again of the importance of experimental infrastructure and corporate archiving concepts in the aviation industry. As of 2020, TUSAŞ has launched an initiative to realize this dream of Demirağ and will produce the Nu.D.40 in accordance with its original design and bring it to the Turkish skies it belongs to.

The years 1938-39 witnessed events such as the death of the famous aeronautical engineer Selahattin Alan, the death of Atatürk and the World War II. Since NuDTA was a commercial enterprise, it had to sell the aircraft it produced, as expected, and make a profit. The unfavorable circumstances in Demirağ's aviation story in fact started just there. Engineer-pilot Selahattin Alan crashed and died during his flight with his Nu.D.36 aircraft, the orders received from the Turkish Aeronautical Association were canceled and accordingly the situation started to become worse for the workshop. After the end of World War II, in 1945, the world started to proceed towards a bipolar structure. The America-oriented North Atlantic block where Turkey took side also had a crucial impact on Turkish industry and economy. The new world order after 1945 showed its influence also in Turkey. The expropriation of the airport, the closure of the workshop and a number of similar events discouraged Demirağ from his keeping on activities in the field of aviation.

Nuri Demirağ, who also treasured the concept of family, clearly stated what would make him happy with the following words: “Happiness is the taking off of thousands of Turkish-made airplanes with a hand gesture while sitting in a meadow and drinking my tea.” It is the duty of every Turkish citizen to keep his memory and vision alive in this period during the great accomplishments of the Turkish aviation industry.

For more information:

Banu Onaral, Sanayi Neferi Nuri Demirağ'ın Ekonomik Kalkınma Uzgörüsü, 21 Mayıs 2020,, son erişim: 31.01.2021

Emir Öngüner, Bir Avcı Tayyaresi Yapmaya Karar Verdim: Nuri Demirağ'ın Almanya'da Kaybolan Uçağı Nu.D.40, Tübitak Popüler Bilim Yayınları, 2020, Ankara

Fatih Dervişoğlu, Nuri Demirağ: Türkiye'nin Havacılık Efsanesi, Ötüken Neşriyat, 2007, İstanbul

İsmail Yavuz, Mustafa Kemal'in Uçakları: Türkiye'nin Uçak İmalat Tarihi (1923-2012), Türkiye İş Bankası Kültür Yayıları, 2013, İstanbul 

Necmettin Deliorman, Nuri Demirağ'ın Hayat ve Mücadeleleri, NuD Matbaası, 1957, İstanbul

Ziya Şakir, Nuri Demirağ Kimdir?, Kenan Matbaası, 1947, İstanbul 

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