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Alberto Santos-Dumont (wikipedia.org)
76 points by YAYERKA on May 13, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 13 comments

I looked at the Wikipedia article for the Wright flyer in 1903, to contrast and compare:


What's interesting is that the Wright brothers couldn't reproduce the flight:

"The landing broke the front elevator supports, which the Wrights hoped to repair for a possible four-mile (6 km) flight to Kitty Hawk village. Soon after, a heavy gust picked up the Flyer and tumbled it end over end, damaging it beyond any hope of quick repair. It was never flown again. [...]After a single statement to the press in January 1904 and a failed public demonstration in May, the Wright Brothers did not publicize their efforts, and other aviators who were working on the problem of flight (notably Alberto Santos-Dumont) were thought by the press to have preceded them by many years."

They did however develop the Flyer II in 1904, and their Flyer III in 1905 flew a "39-minute, 24-mile (39 km) nonstop circling flight on October 5." Arguably, controlled directional flight is a much more important feature.

But most interesting is this part of the story:

"The issue of control was correctly seen as critical by the Wrights, and they acquired a wide American patent intended to give them ownership of basic aerodynamic control, despite the brothers' (and others in pioneer aviation circles) likely complete lack of knowledge of the 1868 British patent regarding roll control for aircraft. This was fought in both American and European courts. European designers, however, were little affected by the litigation and continued their own development. The legal fight in the U.S., however, had a crushing effect on the nascent American aircraft industry, and by the time of World War I, the U.S. had no suitable military aircraft and had to purchase French and British models."

    Santos-Dumont was so enthusiastic about
    aviation that he made the drawings of the 
    Demoiselle available free of charge, 
    thinking that aviation would lead 
    to a new prosperous era for mankind.
I've always admired his open-sourcing of the Demoiselle, when disease and a failing business model lead him to retire. The drawings were published in (or through) magazines worldwide, including Popular Mechanics, and were very influential for a period of time. The airplane models were versioned (No. 19, 20...) and apparently there were even "plugins" popping up everywhere, so Demoiselle enthusiasts could upgrade their aircraft to taste.


My friend Felipe is currently finishing up a PhD dissertation that features this guy (the overarching topic is the impact of aviation technology on modern Brazil). Here's an article he wrote specifically about Santos-Dumont:


Edit: it's a long article so here are a few highlights:

"His countenance appeared on cigar boxes and dinner plates. Toy replicas of his airships moved off the shelves at a brisk pace. Even bakers joined in, selling airship-shaped cakes with the colors of the Brazilian flag. Fashionable boutiques sold clothing and accessories inspired by his meticulous and impeccable style. Louis Cartier, a friend of his, even made a special wristwatch to use during flight, so he would not have to pull out his pocket watch while handling the controls. In fact, Santos-Dumont was responsible for making the wristwatch a fashionable accessory among men...

His showmanship and desire to share the feeling of flight led him to be part of many “firsts” in aviation history. In 1903, Aida de Acosta, a wealthy Cuban-American woman of nineteen years was visiting Paris, where she met Santos-Dumont. Fascinated with flying machines, she expressed her desire to pilot the airship herself. Surprisingly, he agreed—and after a few lessons, allowed her to fly it around Paris while he followed her on a bicycle shouting instructions from below (airship no. 9 only had a 3 horsepower engine and could barely conquer a light breeze). This made Acosta the first woman in history to fly a powered aircraft of any sort, some six months before the Wright Brothers first took flight in the United States."

Regarding the wristwatch, not quite true, but almost (I'm nitpicking, really - I recently spent some time looking into this).

The wristwatch became popular with men shortly before as they were given to soldiers at the very end of 1800s. Previously seen as an accessory only for women, the use of watches in war (as it wasn't practical to pull out a pocket watch) made them eventually become fashionable.

That said, the watch produced for Santos-Dumont by Cartier did become the first widely available watch for men, and is still on sale today, in a more modern form: http://www.cartier.co.uk/collections/watches/mens-watches/sa...

Wow, I had no idea it was still being sold! Thanks for this, that's interesting. Also, good to know what an ideal gift for my friend would be if I ever hit it rich.

That claim about wristwatches not being popular among men until Santos-Dumont surprised me when I originally read it - it seems like attaching an 18th century style pocket watch to a band would've been something that became trendy earlier. Know any good articles on the topic of pre 20th century watches?

That really would make a fantastic gift for your friend, although you're right - they are rather expensive :-)

> That claim about wristwatches not being popular...

Agreed, it certainly seems obvious. I suspect at the time there may have been some advances that allowed smaller wrist watches, and that's what allowed them to take off - however that's just a guess. Women's watches at the time were quite large and elaborate, covered in jewels and such.

There's quite a good NYTimes article you might like, though it doesn't go into much detail about Santos-Dumont: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2013/10/23/fashion/wrist-watches-f...

There's also a bit more information on the Cartier Santos watch, including its modern variants, here: http://monochrome-watches.com/history-of-the-pilot-watch-par...

I just wish that our airport called Santos-Dumont here in Rio had a replica of the 14-bis or the Demoiselle in it...

Also, the fact that many americans are completely unaware of him and sometimes hostile when I tell his story makes me a bit mad... His one of the reasons I am pretty proud of being Brazilian and I believe a more positive role model than most that are around on TV these days.

I agree that Santos Dumont is great and a wonderful role model but the way this story is (was?) taught in school in Brazil is misleading. I never even heard of the Wright brothers until I went to live abroad as an adult and was caught completely by surprise.

For a fantastic bio of him and a good overview of the beginnings of aviation, read Wings of Madness, by Paul Hoffman [0]. A really fun read not only with technical details but also a lot about the personalities of the people of the time.

It must have been a blast to see Santos-Dumont "parking" his dirigible in Paris when he went to restaurants and cafés.

BTW if you ever go to Petrópolis, RJ, Brazil, you can visit his summer home. There's also a replica of the 14-bis in the city.

[0] http://www.amazon.com/Wings-Madness-Alberto-Santos-Dumont-In...


> First dogfight: Dean Ivan Lamb and Phil Rader fired pistol shots at each other while airborne around November/December 1913 ...

Weirdly amusing.

And now for some poetry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cl%C3%A9ment_Ader

I've been to his home in a town called Petrópolis in the state of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. The town is up the mountains in the outskirts of Rio and used to be a summer getaway for the Portuguese royal family.


> On 23 October 1906 he flew this to make the first powered heavier-than-air flight in Europe

Traian Vuia did it in March, same year: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traian_Vuia#Flying_experiments

He is dead and still gets 30+ points in HN. Sugoi.

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