Born on November 19th 1882, Aurel Vlaicu was a Romanian engineer, inventor, airplane constructor and pilot. He was born in Bintinti in Transylvania and was a high school colleague of Petru Groza (politician). He went to university at the Technical University of Budapest and Technische Hochschule München in Germany, ending up earning his engineer’s diploma in 1907.
Between 1907 and 1908, Vlaicu served in the Austrian-Hungarian Navy and on September 1, 1908, he started working as an engineer at Opel. He then left that job in March 1909 and returned to the town he was born. Together with his brother, he built a glider which first flew in the summer of that same year. In October of 1909, Vlaicu got major financial support from Romanian – Transylvanian expatriates to build his first powered airplane, following various demonstration flights with rubber-powered models for the Romanian government officials and journalists. He named his first powered aircraft the A. Vlaicu Nr. I, and he began its construction at the Army Arsenal in Bucharest with funding from the Romanian Ministry of War. The aircraft first flew on June 17th, 1910 over the Cotroceni airfield. He then started the construction of A. Vlaicu Nr.II in December of 1910 on a budget. Its first flight was in April 1911. Between the 23rd and the 30th of June of 1912, Vlaicu competed with that aircraft at the International Flight Week in Aspen-Vienna against 42 other aviators, including Roland Garros. Vlaicu won various prizes for precision landing, projectile throwing and tight flying around a pole.
Later, Vlaicu constructed the A. Vlaicu Nr. III. It was a two-seat monoplane having an 80hp Gnome Gamma engine. Overall, throughout his life, he built three airplanes and one glider. His airplanes did not have ailerons, relying on just rudder and elevator for control, via a steering wheel mounted on a tiller. The wheel controlled the elevators while the sideways motion of the tiller controlled the rudder. Also, the low centre of gravity provided by the parasol wing allowed for the lateral stability that this type of control system requires.
Sadly, on September 13, 1913, Aurel Vlaicu died while trying to be the first to fly across the Carpathian Mountains in his now old A. Vlaicu Nr. II. The cause of death remains unknown but his friends dismissed claims of sabotage since two of them were the first to arrive at the crash site since they were following the airplane on a car. The most plausible cause of his death was that the airplane stalled while landing with the engine off, as that was a common practice at the time. The problem with this practice is that it made it difficult for the pilot to abord a misjudged landing. Nowadays, on June 17th, Aurel Vlaicu’s first flight is celebrated as the National Aviation Day of Romania