Georgians were right there when ballooning began! History proves it!

In November 1783, when thousands of Parisians gathered in the Tuileries Gardens to watch the first ascensions in Montgolfier and Charliere balloons, there happened to be one Georgian in the crowd. His “Word on Aeronautics” to Czar Iraklii can be found in the manuscript department of the Georgian State Museum of History . Our fellow countryman describes these flights in detail, supplementing his story with skillful drawings. Particularly noteworthy is that in addition to such important details as the structure of the balloon, the fuel used, and so on, the Georgian tells his czar that the pilots took wine with them on the flight, whereby he relates the exact number of bottles!

Georgia became directly involved in the history of ballooning 80 years later. We find the first possible mention of this in 1864 in the Tiflis newspaper Kavkaz, No. 39, which reports: “On Sunday, 24 May, in Mushtaid Public Gardens, on a tightrope stretched across the River Kura to the mountains, at a height of 300 arshins,* G. F. Galiani’s Italian circus troupe will perform a grand air ASSANSION for all to see.”

Now it is difficult to say who this Italian Galiani actually was and what the word “assansion” (ascension, flight) meant here. Skeptics may claim the newspaper was talking about tightrope walkers or aerial acrobats.

But in 1874, another issue of the same newspaper, No. 60, published information which cannot be disputed: “On 26 May, an air balloon carrying a human passenger will be launched at 6 o’clock sharp in MOUNT PLAISIR Gardens.” Unfortunately, the newspaper does not say who this brave soul was and whether he ascended with a halter rope or whether it was a free flight.

So it is believed that the first free hot air balloon flight in Georgia was carried out by Frenchman Bede. This fact was recorded in the local press. On 10 November, 1882, Bede rose into the air in a Mongolfier balloon from Mushtaid Gardens, reached a height of 200-300 meters, and landed not far away. The Frenchman carried out several exotic flights in Tiflis. In 1882, issue No. 321 of the Kavkaz newspaper reported: “On Sunday, 5 December, in the VAZA Gardens, which are next to Mushtaid, a well-known French aeronaut, Mr. Bede, who has already gained renown with his balloon flights, will perform a THIRD FLIGHT with a LIVE DONKEY. Chevalier Bede is quite sure that the Tiflis public will come out and see this outstanding event. Entry fee - 50 k. The balloon will go up at two o’clock sharp.”

Ten years later, balloonist Ogust Gordon came to Georgia. He went up in a silk balloon from Junker Square (now Prospekt Davida Stroitelya – David the Builder Boulevard), sitting on a trapeze suspended from the balloon instead of a gondola. In the air, Ogust performed some acrobatics, then jumped down using a parachute. He was of course a daring pilot, but in Tiflis he ran into some difficulties when the local public refused to consider gusting winds a serious reason to cancel his flight. Gordon also took a donkey up into the air with him. During the flight he mounted the animal, whereby the poor donkey took fright and started up an awful braying. And it was no ordinary donkey, it belonged to Abragun, a famous Tiflis tavern owner and reveler in those days. This is related by poet and historian I. Grishashvili in his book called Literary Bohemia of Old Tiflis.

After Ogust left, Tiflis businessmen Poladov, Gumiashvili, and Bakradze decided to organize commercial ballooning in the capital. During the open-air merrymaking in Alexandrov Gardens, they followed the French example and decided to give hot air balloon rides in the company of a donkey. But it was a flop. They had no takers, no one was willing to fly in the balloon, particularly with a donkey. The donkey was sent off into the sky on its own. The balloon came down in Avlabar near Metekh Castle. When the businessmen got there, they found to their dismay that the basket was empty, the donkey had been stolen. The owner of the donkey had to be compensated for his loss. According to eyewitnesses, the businessmen had to fork out 20 rubles, which was quite a hefty sum in those days. This put an end to Georgian commercial ballooning for more than one hundred years.

In 1889, famous Russian balloonists, brother and sister Drevnitsky, settled in Tiflis for a while. They performed a whole series of daring flights. They went up in a balloon to a height of almost 450 meters and jumped down using parachutes, performing acrobatics as they descended and arousing genuine rapture among the spectators.

In 1908, a family of balloonists, the Taylors, came to Georgia. They got off to a roaring start in Batumi, and then moved on to Kutaisi. There. on 15 March, 1910, a tragedy befell them, which resulted in the death of one of the family members, pilot Hugo Taylor. The reason was unfavorable weather conditions, the unsafe state of the balloon’s covering, and the fact the pilot reluctantly yielded to the crowd’s demands to go up despite the real threat of an accident. The balloon could not reach the height of even 50 meters. A strong wind blew him toward the River Rioni, where he began his fatal fall. During the fall, Hugo received serious injuries. His life could not be saved. The whole of Kutaisi took part in the funeral procession. His grave still bears the inscription: “Balloonist Hugo Emilevich Taylor, killed 15/III-1910, 5 o’clock in the evening.”

Unfortunately, the history of ballooning in Georgia goes into limbo at this point. During the 20th century, no amateur or commercial ballooning took place in the USSR, which our country became part of as a union republic.

The contemporary stage of ballooning in Georgia began in 2005 when the Sky Travel was established and the Georgian Civil Aviation Agency  issued the Sky Travel an Aircraft Operator Certificate, i.e. the status of an airline.