On the 20th of July 1873, Alberto Santos Dumont, an important pioneer aviator, was born in Palmira, Brazil. The 6th of 8 children of Henrique Dumont and Francisca de Paula Santos traveled in 1891 at the age of 18 to Europe, where he perfected his English by spending some months in England. He also climbed Mont Blanc in France, which got him used to very high altitudes. After being emancipated on the 12th of February of 1892, Santos Dumont returned to France in 1897 and hired professional aeronauts that taught him how to fly a balloon. On the 30th of May, 1898, aboard a Lacham-bre & Macuhron he flew a balloon for the very first time. His passion for balloons was evident, having created at least 9 by 1900. Two of them became very famous, Brazil and Amérique. The first one, Brazil, was the smallest balloon to be ever built and was inflated by hydrogen. Aboard Brazil, Dumont performed more than 200 flights. According to Godin da Fonseca, Dumont was influenced to create his first balloon after watching the Paris-Amsterdam race in his tricycle.
In 1904, Santos Dumont turned his attention towards heavier-than-air flying, a year after the Wright Brothers’ first powered flight. He began with a glider, built an unsuccessful helicopter in 1905, and finally, one year later he built a rather strange-looking airplane, a biplane. Santos Dumont called it 14-bis since this airplane made its first appearance suspended from the belly of Santos Dumont No.14 dirigible. On September 13, 1906, Santos Dumont flew it without the dirigible. Later that year, he set the first aviation record in Europe by flying 220 meters in only 21,5 seconds. Santos Dumont flew the 14-bis for one more brief hoop on April 4, 1907, and later abandoned it. He turned the design around creating the 15-bis but refused to fly. His attention then turned to monoplanes but ended up creating 4 unsuccessful models. Nevertheless, the 5th – the Demoiselle – was an absolute success. It was first flown in 1909 and was tiny and quick. Pilots reported that it was a very hard aircraft to fly but Santos Dumont, in a grand gesture, offered the plans to the public with no charge. They were published all over the world and enabled young aviators to get into the air inexpensively.
Sadly, to the world of aviation, Santos Dumont never produced another airplane as successful as the Demoiselle or 14-bis. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, dropped out of aviation and ended up retiring in Brazil in 1916 where he died in 1932.
Credits: By Jules Beau – This file comes from Gallica Digital Library and is available under the digital ID btv1b8433366m
Credits: By 14-bis no campo de Bagatelle. Julho 1906 -Museu Casa Natal de Santos Dumont
Credits: By Unknown author – Review of Reviewers for Australasia, 1907 issue