If you ask any Brazilian who was the world’s first true aviator, the person who invented the airplane, the name you’ll likely hear, and chances are it may be the first time you’ve heard it, is fellow Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont. There is even a city in Brazil named Santo Dumont. Interestingly enough, there’s plenty of evidence to back up all the accomplishments enjoyed by this very unique inventor and aviator.
The Santos-Dumont Archives and Artifacts
Those traveling to Brazil will want to consider stopping by a museum that’s off the beaten path. At the museum you’ll find a lot of documentation and inventions by Santos-Dumont that may fascinate you.
The museum is located at the Casa de Santos-Dumont in the city of Petropolis near Rio de Janeiro. The home is also referred to as “Encantada“. The address is Rua do Encanto, 22 Petrópolis – RJ 25685-081
The small three story home was built on the side of a hill in 1918 and served as the summer home of Alberto Santos-Dumont and today is filled with the evidence of his stunning achievements.
Alberto Santos-Dumont was born in Brazil to a father who owned and operated a very successful coffee plantation. The young Santos-Dumont grew fascinated with the plantation machinery as well as with the locomotives that his father owned and utilized to transport his coffee beans to market. This fascination about mechanics and transportation science in general would be the basis of Santos-Dumont’s future experimentation.
When the elder Dumont was dying in the latter 1800’s, he urged his son to move to France. At that time Paris France was in many ways one of Europe’s major centers for science and technology. Santos-Dumont devoted his early years in Paris to the study of chemistry, physics, astronomy and mechanics.
The young Alberto, because of his inheritance, had the time and wherewithal to experiment with his theories of manned flight. Those theories at that time meant balloon flight. Lighter than air flight had been used and experimented with for decades and even centuries previously however there was one aspect that needed to be overcome.
Controlling Balloon Flight
Dumont had the opinion that manned flight would be as common someday as the horse and buggy was at that time. The challenge however was inventing lighter than air flight that could be controlled. At that time a balloon whether manned or not was at the mercy of the prevailing winds. Dumont’s dream was to harness control of balloon flight where man could use it for everyday activities. Leave your home on your balloon and return later. That was the dream of Santos-Dumont and he successfully demonstrated that it could be attained.
Santo’s Dumont’s Airships
In the course of his early life, Alberto Santos-Dumont had several types of airships/balloons built by professional constructors. One of his finest accomplishments with his lighter than air balloons was essentially what you would say was a dirigible.
On October 19th,1901, Alberto Santos-Dumont rounded the Eiffel Tower in Paris France with his No. 6 hydrogen gas airship to the rousing cheers of the locals. He went on in this flight to capture the De la Meurthe prize. To win this prize of 50,000 francs, a pilot of any type of aircraft had to fly from the chateau at the Parc de Saint-Cloud to the Eiffel Tower and back in just 30 minutes or less in total time. The roundtrip route covered 6.8 miles. You could only hope to do this by having complete control of the airship.
Even though there were some mishaps, Santos-Dumont captured the prize with a flight that lasted only 29 minutes and 30 seconds. By the time this contest was won the purse which over time grew to 125,000 francs. The crowd was so large at the Eiffel Tower that people packed the bridges that crossed the Seine to get a better view. Santos-Dumont’s No. 6 airship was similar to his No. 5 which had crashed on the roof of the Trocadero Hotel but a bit larger. The No.6, which was finished after only about a month after the crash of No. 5, was 72 feet and 2 inches in length.
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One of the best books you can find regarding the life and achievements of Alberto Santos-Dumont is… Wings Of Madness, Alberto Santos-Dumont And The Invention Of Flight by author Paul Hoffman. Another good book is…The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont by author Victoria Griffith.
The First Flight of a Heavier than Air Aircraft
Dumonts aircraftt was called the 14-bis, also known as the Oiseau de Proie. On October 23rd, 1906 Alberto Santos-Dumont made history. This witnessed and documented flight was the first successful “unaided take-off” heavier than air flight.
Obviously there is some controversy if we compare this flight to that of the Wright brothers in 1903, three years before Santos-Dumont’s European feat.
The European group formed in 1905 that was to list aviation records and activities at that time stipulated that the aircraft that would achieve this first flight distinction would have to be able to take off unaided. In other words the aircraft would have to take off by it’s own power. The Wrights contended that their 1903 Flyer had unassisted take offs and had sustained flights three years before Santos-Dumont.
The aeronautical group, the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, suggested that both flights, the 1903 Wright Flyer and the 1906 Santos-Dumont 14-bis were both unaided flights however the Wright brothers performed theirs three years prior to Santos-Dumont.
Regardless of the decision of the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, most Brazilians will tell you that the first successful heavier than air flight was performed by their countryman Alberto Santos-Dumont.
There is no question that Santos-Dumont was an extraordinary individual who was responsible for some of the significant feats in early aeronautics.
Although you may never have heard of Albert Santos-Dumont, if your travels take you to Brazil, and in particular the city of Petropolis, a stop at Santos-Dumont’s former summer home, Casa de Santos-Dumont, would be well worth your while.
(Article copyright 2014 Trips Into History. Photos and images in the public domain)