The First Airplane Flight over the skies of Tehran

Mankind’s first aerial flight was to take place on December 17, 1903 by the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina, USA. With this technological leap, the world was to rapidly enter the domain of aviation.

On January 4, 1914, just over ten years after the flight at Kitty Hawk, the citizenry of Tehran witnessed the first flight of the airplane over Tehran. Caught unawares and never having seen an airplane before, many citizens rushed out of their houses and workplaces into the streets as they heard the roar of the aircraft’s engines as it flew at low level over Tehran’s rooftops. Tehran curious citizenry were struck with amazement as they witnessed what probably resembled a metallic bird in flight.

The first aerial photo taken of Tehran by a balloon approximately 90 years ago (Photo: Bartarinha) (for more on this see “First Balloon Flight over Tehran”). The pilot of the Berliot 1 that first took flight over Tehran on January 4, 1914 most likely witnessed a similar panorama as he flew over the city.

The pilot circled the city environs and soon decided to land his airplane.

While the nationality of the pilot is identified as “Russian” (Babaie, Gh. [1385/2006], “History of the Iranian Air Force”, 1383/2004, Tehran: Entesharat Ashian, page 20), he was in fact an ethnic Pole by the name of “Kuzminskii”. Kuzminskii had already made exhibition flights in other countries before arriving in Iran. The airplane itself is often identified by Iranian military historians as the “Blériot” but in practice this was actually a Russian copy of the French designed Blériot XI which was to also see action in World War One.

A Russian copy of the French-designed Blériot XI known as the “Rossiya-B” (Source: Copycats Work). This Blériot XI was produced under license in Czarist Russia where it was Christened as the “Rossiya-B”. It was one of the Russian-manufactured Blériot’s that flew over Tehran.

As Tehran did not yet have an airfield per se, he decided to land his plane in the military grounds of the local barracks of the Meydan Masqh (میدان مشق) of the Persian Cossack Division (this was to subsequently become the location of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as it remains to the present). However, as the plane landed it collided with the barrel of an artillery piece parked in the grounds, damaging the aircraft. The pilot himself was unharmed. By this time, large crowds of excited and curious citizens forced themselves into the barracks, in hopes of getting a glimpse of this strange flying machine.

A color graphic of the Meydan Masqh (میدان مشق) as it would have appeared in the early twentieth century (Source: gt724).

The plane was actually unable to take off for a number of days as crowds from all across Tehran began pouring into the barracks. Equally of interest is arrival of the Blériot into Iran. Kuzminskii had bought this over into Iran in parts from Czarist Russia by way of the Caspian Sea into the northern Iranian port city of Bandar Anzali. From there, the plane was transported in kits (or sections) by automobile from northern Iran to Tehran. Once Kuzminskii arrived in Tehran, he re-assembled the airplane and took off to the city’s skies on January 4, 1914. The flight certainly did not go unnoticed by Iran’s ruling class. The very next day, the Qajar monarch, Ahmad Shah (r. 1909-1925) alongside his retinue, various government officials and high-ranking military personnel arrived at the barracks to inspect the plane and welcome its pilot.

Ahmad Shah (r. 1909-1925) (2nd from left), the last Qajar monarch of Iran, poses in front of the Blériot aircraft and its Polish pilot identified as “Kuzminskii” (at left with white Persian cap) on January 5th, 1914 (Source: Maboubeh Pouryusefi [محبوبه پوریوسفی] in Fararu). Note the attendance of Ahmad Shah’s retinue alongside members of the Persian Cossack Division (Source: Fararu). The photo, according to Maboubeh Pouryusefi of the Fararu outlet, was first published in the French “L’Illustration” newspaper. Just over seven months after the Berliot 1’s flight over Tehran, the world would be plunged into the First World War on July 28, 1914.

Local hucksters were quick to seize the aircraft’s presence to sell tickets at exorbitant prices. However, as the plane was damaged it was unable to take off. Assisted by Iranian military personnel, Kuzminskii succeeded in transporting the aircraft to Tehran’s military repair headquarters which often overhauled and rebuilt military hardware such as artillery, etc. The location of this repair depot has been identified as Third Esfand street (خیابان سوم اسفند). Kuzminskki, who had engineering training, was assisted by an Iranian officer identified as Oshtodagh (اشتوداخ) who was the father of Major-General Issa Oshtodagh (تیمسار سرلشکر عیسی اشتوداخ). With the plane repaired, Kuzminskii then transferred this back to Meydan Masqh (میدان مشق). However, he subsequently decided that it was too dangerous to attempt a take-off from Meydan Masqh (میدان مشق). As a result, he decided to relocate the plane by land transport to a locale known as the “Qajar Palace” (قصر قاجار). This area featured a level ground which was suitable for take-off and landings. From this area Kuzminskii made a number of other flights over Tehran.

Maboubeh Pouryusefi [محبوبه پوریوسفی] however notes in the Fararu outlet that the plane crashed and that parts of this soon appeared on a horse-drawn wagon as it ambled down Tehran’s Ala-Dowleh street (خیابان علاءالدوله), which is present-day Firdowsi street (خیابان فردوسی). Pouryusefi notes that the wagon traveled towards Tehran’s Meydan Toopkhaneh (میدان توپخانه) district. This version of events however is not corroborated by Iranian aviation historian Babaie (Babaie, Gh. [1383/2004, Tehran: Entesharat Ashian], “History of the Iranian Air Force”).

It would not be until 1922 when Iran’s first airfields were to be developed. The first airfield was to be built in the south of Tehran. Just two years later in 1924, the foundations of Iran’s civil and military aviation would be established.

Historia de la Guerra: Anglo-Soviet Invasion of Iran in 1941

The prestigious Spanish military journal “Historia de la Guerra” has published an article on the 1941 Anglo-Soviet Invasion of Iran by Kaveh Farrokh and Javier Sánchez-Gracia (click the link below in Academia.edu for downloading the entire article):

Farrokh, K., & Sánchez-Gracia, J. (2019). La invasion Anglo-Sovietica de Iran 25 de Agostico-17 de Septiembre de 1941 [The Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran 25 August-17 December 1941]. Historia de la Guerra, 10, pp. 45-53.

Cover page of the 10th edition of the Spanish military history journal “Historia de la Guerra” published in the early 2019.

The article provides an examination of the Iranian army (see 1900-1921 and 1921-1941, artillery: 1900s-1941 and armored vehicles in 1921-1941), Air Force and Navy.

Iranian Hawker Fury no. 482 before the war (Photo Source: Matofi, A., 1999, Tarikh-e-Chahar Hezar Sal-e Artesh-e Iran: Az Tamadon-e Elam ta 1320 Khorsheedi, Jang-e- Iran va Araqh [The 4000 Year History of the Army of Iran: From the Elamite Civilization to 1941, the Iran-Iraq War]. Tehran:Entesharat-e Iman, p.1055). Just weeks after the ceasefire (August 28, 1941), two of these from the Qalemorqhi 1st Air Regiment took on five Soviet Polikarpov I-16 fighters on September 17, 1941 over the Caspian Sea. One plane flew by Captain Vassiq was shot down and crashed into the Caspian Sea. The other flown by Wing Operator Shushtari ran out fuel and crashed into the forests of northern Iran (Cooper & Bishop, 2000, pp.12-13).

The article also provides an examination of the Iranian military with respect to equipment, organization and development since the early 20th century.

The TNH light tank of the Iranian army first delivered in 1937. Note the Sherman tank (delivered to Iran after World War Two) behind the TNH (Photo Source: (Picture Source: Matofi, A., 1999, Tarikh-e-Chahar Hezar Sal-e Artesh-e Iran: Az Tamadon-e Elam ta 1320 Khorsheedi, Jang-e- Iran va Araqh [The 4000 Year History of the Army of Iran: From the Elamite Civilization to 1941, the Iran-Iraq War]. Tehran: Entesharat-e Iman, pp.1134).

Thanks to inept organization and logistics, the bulk of Iranian armored vehicles were idly sitting in Tehran, instead of the critical north, west and south. This was one of the factors that greatly facilitated the 1941 Anglo-Soviet of Iran.

Iranian cavalry in the 1930s (Source: lead-adventure.de). Despite the procurement of armored vehicles and their integration into the Iranian army, cavalry remained Iran’s prime asset for rapid strikes, shock and maneuver on the battlefield (Ward, 2009, p.142). One of the few successes scored by the Iranian army against the Anglo-Soviet invasion of late August 1941, was when an Iranian cavalry patrol forced back an advancing British force near the Paltak pass (in the Kermanshah area, western Iran) on August 27, and took numbers of them prisoner.

A detailed analysis is outlined of the factors leading to the rapid Anglo-Soviet advance into Iran due to Iranian army’s shortcomings at the time, notably logistics, nepotism, etc. Resistance against the Anglo-Soviet occupation is also discussed.

“To Russia with Love”: British Supermarine Spitfires in Abadan in 1943 being prepared for delivery to the Soviet Union (Source: Lend-Lease Air Force – photo originally submitted by C-F. Geust for Lend-Lease Air Force). While often ignored by both Russian and Anglo-American historians, a major reason why the allies invaded Iran (despite her declaration of neutrality – as she had also in World War One) is that the Western allies wanted to rush as much equipment to the Russo-Soviets as possible to prevent its collapse in the face of Germany’s Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union. By December 1941, German forces could see the spires of the Kremlin, but this would be the limit of their advance in Russia.

First Balloon Flight over Tehran

After the invention of the balloon and its first recorded flight on November 21, 1783, this early flight technology was to appear in Iran 108 years later in 1891 (Babaie, Gh. [1385/2006], “History of the Iranian Air Force”, page 18), towards the end of the reign of Qajar monarch, Nasser-e-din Shah (1848-1896). Other popular sources place the date of this balloon flight a number of years earlier at 1877.

A photo of Nasser-e-din Shah (r. 1848-1896) taken in c.1895 (Photo: Tarikhirani). He was to be the longest reigning Qajar king.

As noted by Babaie, a French aviation enthusiast arrived in Iran to demonstrate the balloon in flight. Local citizens in Tehran and Tabriz and a number of other cities in Iran were indeed to witness the balloon in flight for the first time. Interestingly, a short poem was soon composed by local citizens in Tehran and Tabriz in reference to the balloon’s appearance over the skies of Iran:

شاپو بر سر فرنگی به هوا رفت    توی بالن نشست نزد خدا رفت

(A westerner/European [translation of “Faranagi”] with a chapeau [French/European hat] went to the air – [He] sat in the balloon and went to God)

Local citizens gather around a French balloon about to lift off in Tehran. This is the earliest known photograph of the first balloon flight in Iran which according to Iranian historiography occurred in 1891 with other sources claiming the year of 1877 (Photo: Pinterest).

While aloft, the balloon was to often appear to ground observers as an elephant in flight! Apparently the shape and color of the balloon in combination with the reflection of sun rays upon its surface made this appear as if there was an elephant being suspended in mid-air! The memory of this balloon flight has thus become embedded in the collective memory of the Iranian populace to this day with the following expression:

فیل هوا کرده
([he/she] has put an elephant in the air)

Many modern-day Iranians however remain unaware of the origins of this expression. Instead, citizens often use this expression in reference to one who intends to (or is attempting to) achieve incredible (or impossible) feats.

The first aerial photo of Tehran was taken by another balloon approximately in (c.)1909 during the reign of the last Qajar monarch, Ahmad Shah (r. 1909-1925):

The first aerial photo taken of Tehran by a balloon approximately 90 years ago (Photo: Bartarinha). Note the contrast with modern-day Tehran – the skies are clear, and there are also no pollutants or skyscrapers.