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Alberto Santos Dumont (July 20, 1873 – July 23, 1932) was an early pioneer of aviation. He was born in, and died in, Brazil. Heir of a prosperous coffee producer family, Santos Dumont dedicated himself to science studies in Paris.

Santos Dumont designed, built, and flew the first practical dirigible balloons. In doing so he became the first person to demonstrate that routine, controlled flight was possible. This "conquest of the air", in particular winning the Deutsch de la Meurthe prize on October 19, 1901 on a flight that rounded the Eiffel Towermarker, made him one of the most famous people in the world during the early 20th century.

In addition to his pioneering work in airships, Santos Dumont made the first European public flight of an airplane on October 23, 1906. Designated 14-bis or Oiseau de proie (French for "bird of prey"), the flying machine was the first fixed-wing aircraft officially witnessed to take off, fly, and land. Santos Dumont is considered the "Father of Aviation" in his country of birth, Brazil. His flight is the first to have been certified by the Aéro Club de France and the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI).

Childhood

Santos Dumont was born in Cabangu Farm, a farm in the Brazilian town of Palmira, today named Santos Dumontmarker in the state of Minas Geraismarker. He grew up as the sixth of eight children on a coffee plantation owned by his family in the state of São Paulomarker. His French-born father was an engineer, and made extensive use of the latest labor-saving inventions on his vast property. So successful were these innovations that Santos Dumont's father gathered a large fortune and became known as the "Coffee King of Brazil."

He was fascinated by machinery, and while still a young child he learned to drive the steam tractors and locomotive used on his family's plantation. He was also a fan of Jules Verne and had read all his books before his tenth birthday. He wrote in his autobiography that the dream of flying came to him while contemplating the magnificent skies of Brazil in the long, sunny afternoons at the plantation.

According to the custom of wealthy families of the time, after receiving basic instruction at home with private instructors including his parents, young Alberto was sent out alone to larger cities to do his secondary studies. He studied for a while in "Colégio Culto à Ciênciamarker", in Campinasmarker.

Move to France

In 1891, Alberto's father had an accident while inspecting some machinery. He fell from his horse and became a paraplegic. He decided to sell the plantation and move to Europe with his wife and younger children. At seventeen, Santos Dumont left the prestigious Escola de Minas in Ouro Pretomarker, Minas Gerais, for Paris in France. Shortly after he arrived, he bought an automobile. Later, he pursued studies in physics, chemistry, mechanics, and electricity with the help of a private tutor.

Balloons and dirigibles

Santos Dumont #6 rounding the Eiffel Tower in the process of winning the Deutsch Prize.
Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution (SI Neg.
No.
85-3941)


Santos Dumont described himself as the first "sportsman of the air." He started flying by hiring an experienced balloon pilot and took his first balloon rides as a passenger. He quickly moved on to piloting balloons himself, and shortly thereafter to designing his own balloons. In 1898, Santos Dumont flew his first balloon design, the Brésil.

After numerous balloon flights, he turned to the design of steerable balloons or dirigible type balloons that could be propelled through the air rather than drifting along with the breeze (See Airship).

Between 1898 and 1905, he built and flew 11 dirigibles. With air traffic control restrictions still decades in the future, he would glide along Paris boulevards at rooftop level in one of his airships, commonly landing in front of a fashionable outdoor cafe for lunch. On one occasion he even flew an airship early one morning to his own apartment at No. 9, Rue Washington, just off Avenue des Champs-Élyséesmarker, not far from the Arc de Triomphemarker.

To win the Deutsch de la Meurthe prize Santos Dumont decided to build a bigger balloon, the dirigible Number 5. On August 8, 1901 during one of his attempts, his dirigible lost hydrogen gas. It started to descend and was unable to clear the roof of the Trocadero Hotel. A large explosion was then heard. Santos Dumont survived the explosion and was left hanging in a basket from the side of the hotel. With the help of the crowd he climbed to the roof without injury.

The zenith of his lighter-than-air career came when he won the Deutsch de la Meurthe prize. The challenge called for flying from the Parc Saint Cloudmarker to the Eiffel Towermarker and back in less than thirty minutes. The winner of the prize needed to maintain an average ground speed of at least 22 km/h (14 mph) to cover the round trip distance of 11 km (6.8 miles) in the allotted time.

On October 19, 1901, after several attempts, Santos Dumont succeeded in using his dirigible Number 6. Immediately after the flight, a controversy broke out around a last minute rule change regarding the precise timing of the flight. There was much public outcry and comment in the press. Finally, after several days of vacillating by the committee of officials, Santos Dumont was awarded the prize as well as the prize money of 125,000 francs. In a charitable gesture, he donated 75,000 francs of the prize money to the poor of Paris. The balance was given to his workmen as a bonus. An additional matching 125,000 francs was voted to him along with a gold medal by the government of his native Brazil.

Santos Dumont's aviation feats made him a celebrity in Europe and throughout the world. He won several more prizes and became a friend to millionaires, aviation pioneers, and royalty. In 1903 Aida D'Acosta Breckinridge piloted Santos Dumont's airship. In 1904, he went to the United States and was invited to the White Housemarker to meet U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt.

The public eagerly followed his daring exploits. Parisians affectionately dubbed him le petit Santos. The fashionable folk of the day mimicked various aspects of his style of dress from his high collared shirts to singed Panama hat. He was, and remains to this day, a prominent folk hero in his native Brazil.

Heavier than air aircraft

The November 12 flight.
Although Santos Dumont continued to work on dirigibles, his primary interest soon turned to heavier-than-air aircraft. By 1905 he had finished his first airplane design, and also a helicopter. He finally achieved his dream of flying an airplane on October 23, 1906, when, piloting the 14-bis before a large crowd of witnesses, he flew a distance of 60 metres (200 ft) at a height of two to three metres (10 ft). This well-documented event was the first flight verified by the Aéro-Club de France of a powered heavier-than-air machine in Europe, and the first public demonstration in the world of an aircraft taking off from an ordinary airstrip with a non-detachable landing gear and under its own power in calm weather, proving to the spectators that a machine "heavier than air" could take off from the ground by its own means. With this accomplishment, he won the Archdeacon Prize founded by the Frenchman Ernest Archdeacon in July 1906, to be awarded to the first aviator to fly more than 25 meters.

On November 12, 1906, Santos Dumont succeeded in setting the first world record recognized by the Aero-Club De France by flying 220 metres in less than 22 seconds.

Santos Dumont made other contributions to the field of aircraft design. He added movable surfaces, the precursor to ailerons, between the wings in an effort to gain more lateral stability than was offered by the 14-bis wing dihedral. He also pushed for and exploited substantial improvements in engine power-to-weight ratio, and other refinements in aircraft construction techniques.

The Demoiselle
Santos Dumont's final design was the Demoiselle monoplane (Nos. 19 to 22). This aircraft was employed as Dumont's personal transportation and he willingly let others make use of his design. The fuselage consisted of a specially reinforced bamboo boom, and the pilot sat on a tensionally-held seat between the main wheels of a tricycle landing gear. The Demoiselle was controlled in flight partly by a tail unit that functioned both as elevator and rudder, and by wing warping (No. 20).

The Demoiselle airplane could be constructed in only 15 days. Possessing outstanding performance, easily covering 200 m of ground during the initial flights and flying at speeds of more than 100 km/h, the Demoiselle was the last aircraft built by Santos Dumont. The June 1910 edition of the Popular Mechanics magazine published drawings of the Demoiselle and affirmed that "This machine is better than any other which has ever been built, for those who wish to reach results with the least possible expense and with a minimum of experimenting." American companies sold drawings and parts of Demoiselle for several years thereafter. Santos Dumont was so enthusiastic about aviation that he released the drawings of Demoiselle for free, thinking that aviation would be the mainstream of a new prosperous era for mankind.


Wristwatch

The wristwatch had already been invented by Patek Philippe, decades earlier, but Santos Dumont played an important role in popularizing its use by men in the early 20th century. Before him they were generally worn only by women (as jewels), as men favoured pocket watch.

In 1904, while celebrating his winning of the Deutsch Prize at Maxim's Restaurant in [Paris], Santos Dumont complained to his friend Louis Cartier about the difficulty of checking his pocket watch to time his performance during flight. Santos Dumont then asked Cartier to come up with an alternative that would allow him to keep both hands on the controls. Cartier went to work on the problem and the result was a watch with a leather band and a small buckle, to be worn on the wrist.

Santos Dumont never took off again without his personal Cartier wristwatch, and he used it to check his personal record for a 220 m (730 ft) flight, achieved in twenty-one seconds, on November 12, 1906. The Santos Dumont watch was officially displayed on October 20, 1979 at the Paris Air Museum next to the 1908 Demoiselle, the last aircraft that he built.

Later years

Santos Dumont bought one of the very early Le Zebre cars, now on display at the São Paulo car museum.

Santos Dumont continued to build and fly airplane. His final flight as a pilot was made in Demoiselle on January 4, 1910. The flight ended in an accident, but the cause was never completely clear. There were few observers and no reporters on the scene.

Santos Dumont fell seriously ill a few months later. He experienced double vision and vertigo that made it impossible for him to drive, much less fly. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He abruptly dismissed his staff and closed his workshop. His illness soon led to a deepening depression.

In 1911, Santos Dumont moved from Paris to the French seaside village of Bénerville where he took up astronomy as a hobby. Some of the local folk, who knew little of his great fame and exploits in Paris just a few years earlier, mistook his German-made telescope and unusual accent as signs that he was a German spy who was tracking French naval activity. These suspicions eventually led to Santos Dumont having his rooms searched by the French military police. Upset by the charge, as well as depressed from his illness, he burned all of his papers, plans, and notes. Thus, there is little direct information available about his designs today.

In 1918 (some sources report 1916), he left France to go back to his country of birth, never to return to Europe. His return to Brazil was marred by tragedy. A dozen members of the Brazilian scientific community boarded a seaplane with the intention of paying a flying welcome to the returning aviator on the luxury liner Cap Arcona. Instead, the seaplane crashed with the loss of all on board. The loss deepened Santos Dumont's growing despondency.

"A Encantada", the house of Santos Dumont
In Brazil, Santos Dumont bought a small lot on the side of a hill in the city of Petrópolismarker, in the mountains near Rio de Janeiro, and in 1918 built a small house there filled with imaginative mechanical gadgetry including an alcohol-fueled heated shower of his own design. The hill was purposefully chosen because of its great steepness as a proof that ingenuity could make it possible to build a comfortable house in that unlikely site. After building it, he used to spend his summers there to escape the heat in Rio, and affectionately called it A Encantada (The Enchanted), after its street, Rua do Encanto (Enchantment Street). The house has its stairs designed in a curious way, each tread alternately hollowed in the right and left, like an alternating tread stair: it allows that the stairs be steep enough to fit the little room available in the house, but still enable people to climb it comfortably.

Private life

Santos Dumont, a lifelong bachelor, did seem to have a particular affection for a married Cuban-American woman named Aída de Acosta. She is the only person, other than himself, that he ever permitted to fly one of his airships. By allowing her to fly his No. 9 airship she most likely became the first woman to pilot a powered aircraft. Until the end of his life he kept a picture of her on his desk alongside a vase of fresh flowers.

Death

Alberto Santos Dumont – seriously ill, and said to be depressed over his multiple sclerosis and the use of aircraft in warfare – is believed to have committed suicide by hanging himself in the city of Guarujámarker in São Paulomarker, on July 23, 1932. He was buried in the Cemitério São João Batistamarker in Rio de Janeiromarker. There are many monuments to his work, and his house in Petrópolismarker, Brazil is now a museum. He never married or had any known children.

Legacy

Santos Dumont Coffee.


  • Santos Dumontmarker is a small lunar impact crater that lies in the northern end of the Montes Apenninus range at the eastern edge of the Mare Imbriummarker
  • The aviator gives his name to the city of Santos Dumontmarker, in the state of Minas Geraismarker, Brazil. In this municipality is located the Cabangu farm, where he was born. The Faculdades Santos Dumont is a group of private higher learning colleges in the city.
  • The city of Dumontmarker, in the state of São Paulomarker, near Ribeirão Pretomarker is so named because it is located where it used to be one the largest coffee farms in the world, between 1870 and 1890. The farm was owned by Alberto Santos Dumont's father. It was sold in 1896 to a British company, the Dumont Coffee Company.
  • The airport for domestic flights of Rio de Janeiromarker is also named after him (see Santos Dumont Regional Airportmarker)
  • The Rodovia Santos Dumont is a highway in the state of São Paulo.
  • The Brazilian Air Force (Command of Aeronautics) awards the Santos Dumont Medal of Merit to important personalities in the world of aviation. The state government of Minas Gerais has a similar medal.
  • The Réseau Santos Dumont is a cooperative university network between France and Brazil, instituted by the French and Brazilian Ministries of Education in 1994, with 26 universities in each country.
  • The American Office of Naval Research of San Diegomarker, Californiamarker named one of its research airships as the 600B Santos Dumont.
  • The Historic and Cultural Institute of Aeronautics of Brazil has instituted the Santos Dumont Annual Prize of Journalism to the best reports in the media about aeronautics.
  • The Lycée Polyvalent Santos Dumont is a lyceum in Saint-Cloud, France
  • Tens of thousands of streets, avenues, plazas, schools, monuments, etc., are dedicated to the national hero in Brazil.
  • He is mentioned as a pioneer of aviation, specifically in the area of dirigibles, in the 1984 novel by Robert A. Heinlein entitled Job: A Comedy of Justice.
  • The official Brazilian Presidential Aircraft, an Airbus Corporate Jet tail number FAB2101, was named Alberto Santos Dumont.
  • A popular Chilean rock band of the 1990s adopted the name Santos Dumont.[23550]
  • A short story by H.G. Wells, "The Truth About Pyecraft", includes a reference to Santos Dumont and his skill as an aviator.
  • The aviator gives his name to a boutique Aircraft Management and Consultancy Company, Santos Dumont, founded in May 2004 (http://www.santosdumont.com)


See also

Alberto Santos Dumont footage starts at 21 seconds in this 1945 newsreel on various firsts in human flight ().


References

Notes
  1. "M. Santos Dumont Rounds Eiffel Tower." New York Times, October 20, 1901. Retrieved January 12, 2009.
  2. Hansen 2005, p. 299.
  3. Les vols du 14bis relatés au fil des éditions du journal l'illustration de 1906.The wording is: "cette prouesse est le premier vol au monde homologué par l'Aéro-Club de France et la toute jeune Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI)."
  4. Santos-Dumont: Pionnier de l'aviation, dandy de la Belle Epoque.
  5. JInes. Ernest. "Santos Dumont in France 1906-1916: The Very Earliest Early Birds." earlyaviators.com, December 25, 2006. Retrieved: August 17, 2009.
  6. "Aviation Pioneer Scored A First in Watch-Wearing." New York Times, October 25, 1975. Retrieved: July 21, 2009.
  7. FESJ - Fundação Educacional São José at www.fsd.edu.br
  8. Airship Santos Dumont to Conduct Test Phase at www.news.navy.mil
  9. Saint-Cloud


Bibliography


  • de Barros, Henrique Lins. Santos Dumont and the Invention of the Airplane (PDF). Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Ministry of Science & Technology and the Brazilian Centre for Research in Physics, 2006. ISBN 85-85752-17-3.
  • de Mattos, Bento S. "Santos Dumont and the Dawn of Aviation." AIAA paper # 2004-106, 42nd AIAA Aerospace Sciences Meeting and Exhibit, Reno, Nevada, January 2004.
  • de Mattos, Bento S. "Short History of Brazilian Aeronautics." AIAA paper # 2006-328, 44th AIAA Aerospace Sciences Meeting and Exhibit, Reno, Nevada, January 2006.
  • Garrett, Charles Hall. "A Builder of Successful Air-Ships". The World's Work: A History of Our Time, VIII, May 1904: pp. 4737-4739.
  • Hansen, James R. First Man: The Life of Neil Armstrong. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. ISBN 978-0743256315.
  • Hoffman, Paul. Wings of Madness: Alberto Santos Dumont and the Invention of Flight. New York: Hyperion Press, 2003. ISBN 0-7868-6659-4.
  • Santos Dumont, Alberto. My Airships. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1973 ISBN 0-486-22122-9.
  • Waugaman, Elisabeth P., ed. Dê Asas aos Seus Sonhos / Follow Your Dreams: The Story of Alberto Santos Dumont), (bilingual, Portuguese/English). Rio de Janeiro: Prometheus Press, 2005. ISBN 85-99240-02-1.
  • Winters, Nancy. Man Flies: The Story of Alberto Santos-Dumont, Master of the Balloon. New York: Ecco Press, 1997. ISBN 0-88001-636-1.
  • Wykeham, Peter. Santos Dumont: A Study in Obsession. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1962. ISBN 0-405-12210-1.


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