Alberto Santos-Dumont -
Inventor of the Airplane
Santos-Dumont, aviation pioneer born in Brazil was educated in
France, where he spent most of his life. He was born on July
20, 1873, in the city of João Aires, present Santos Dumont,
in the state of Minas Gerais. He grew up in a coffee plantation
owned by his family in Ribeirão Preto, in the state of
by machinery since he was young, he learned to drive the farm
steam tractors as a child. Alberto was also a big fan of Jules
Verne and had read all his books before his tenth birthday. He
says in his autobiography that it was contemplating the beautiful
skies of Brazil at his plantations in the long sunny afternoons
that made him first dream of flying in airships and flying machines.
1891, the engineer Henrique Dumont, Alberto's father, fell from
his horse and became a paraplegic. He decided then to sell the
plantation and move to Europe with his wife and his youngest
son. At the age of seventeen, Santos-Dumont had money and a lot
of interest in mechanics and machines, and later, he found himself
a tutor in physics, chemistry, mechanics and electricity and
pursued these studies. But his greatest dream and objective was
addition, he received a telegram with a compliment for such a
deed, from that he considered the greatest genius of all times:
interested in aerial flight, he made a balloon ascent in 1898.
It was round and unusually small and he called it Brésil.
He then began to construct dirigible airships. Between 1898 and
1905 he build and flew 11 dirigibles. After many failures he
built one that in 1901 won the Deutsch Prize and a prize from
the Brazilian government for the first flight in a given time
(30 minutes) from Saint-Cloud to the Eiffel Tower and return.
On board of Santo-Dumont nº 6, the Brazilian inventor was
the one to make this flight receiving the prize which he shared
with his mechanics and auxiliaries, and the rest was given to
the chief of police of Paris to be donated to unemployed workers.
far as the world knew, it was the first airplane ever created
which could really fly and Santos-Dumont became a hero to the
that time, the brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright said that they
had secretly made short flights in 1903 before Santos-Dumont
started making his own flights. As there were no records of the
Wright brothers' flights, what could prove if they were lying
or not, Santos-Dumont was credited with the glory of the first
Wrights' stories of flights at Kitty Hawk and later near Dayton,
Ohio, were not believed, even in the US at the time. But, after
much controversy, the Americans and the world - even though it
remains a sore spot for Brazilians, to whom Santos-Dumont is
known as the "Father of Aviation" - accepted the rumors
that the Wright Brothers had flown a heavier-than-air craft just
shortly before Santos-Dumont.
the Wrights, are credited as being the inventors of the airplane
and unfortunately many people do not even know about Santos-Dumont.
But, although the world credits the Wright brothers as the inventors,
the idea of adding the first ailerons to the extremities of the
wings was undoubtedly Santos-Dumont's. And what is also very
important, is that Santos-Dummont never used any contraption
or catapult or wooden tracks to push his aircrafts or to help
in taking off, as the Wright Brothers did. In fact, in 1909,
the Wrights presented a more developed model of airplane, but
the first real airplane flight using a motor and without any
external help to take off was really made by the Brazilian Santos-Dumont.
had become a celebrity in Europe and had won several prizes and
he was a friend to millionaires and royalty. Santos-Dumont and
the Wright brothers never met, even though they had heard of
each other's work.
1909, Santos Dumont presented another airplane, the Demoiselle,
eight times smaller than the 14-Bis, and capable of flying at
a faster speed.
automobile was also another great passion of Santos-Dumont, who
took part in various races in Paris. He was also the inventor
of the wrist watch, in a demand of Cartier.
continued to build and fly airplanes until he fell ill in 1910,
with what was later diagnosed as multiple sclerosis. He never
took out patents of his inventions. In an interview to "Le
Matin", on October 17, 1909, Dumont declared that he did
not constructed airplanes for sale. His intention was to develop
airplanes to the world and that he would provide all information
needed to anyone who wished to construct airplanes identical
to his own creations without charging anything for that.
Santos-Dumont went back to Brazil in 1918, he bought a small
lot on the side of a hill in the city of Petrópolis, in
the mountains near Rio de Janeiro, and designed this small house
full of tricks and imaginative details. The stairs, for instance,
are built in such a way that the visitors can only start climbing
the steps with their right foot. It was a place of rest and calm
for Santos-Dumont. Today,
his house, known as "A Encantada" (The Enchanted),
is a museum.
Santos-Dumont, seriously ill and despondent, became depressed
over the use of aircraft in warfare. He could not cope with the
fact that his creation was used as the most lethal weapon of
the time. On July 9, 1932, a revolution in São Paulo ("Revolução
Constitucionalista") had begun.
continued to work on dirigibles, but finally achieved his dream
of flying in a heavier-than-air craft in October 1906, when the
14-Bis, a machine on the principle of the box kite, took off
in Paris using only its own motor, without any other help to
make it take off, flying a distance of 60 meters.
July 23, in the city of Guarujá in São Paulo, he
saw federal airplanes that were going to bombard the port in
Santos. It was Brazilians bombarding Brazilians. The inventor
of the airplane felt guilty and later that night he committed
suicide. His numerous and decisive contributions to aviation
are his legacy to mankind and his name must always be remembered.