Who was Alberto Santos Dumont?
Alberto Santos Dumont was a Brazilian aviation pioneer. Dedicating his life to aeronautical study and experimentation, he was the inventor of airplanes and Dirigibles. The first person to combine successfully the internal combustion engine and ballooning, Alberto was also instrumental in being the first to fly a heavier than air motor plane. “Demoiselle No. 19” was the world's first series production aircraft. Grandson of a French immigrant and the son of a coffee planter, a wealthy man that he was, devoted all his money and energy into inventions. He mentioned in his autobiography that the idea of flying came to his mind when he was enjoying the magnificent view of skies in sunny afternoons at the plantation site in Brazil. A young man of great enthusiasm and energy, he was also one of the first Parisians to invest in a gasoline-driven automobile. He used to describe himself as the first ‘sportsman of the air’. He visited the United States and got the invitation from the White House to meet with the U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. His achievement in the aviation field earned him wide recognition and he bagged several prestigious prizes, earned royalty and became friends with millionaires and aviation pioneers.
Childhood & Early Life
Dumont was born on July 22, 1873 as the sixth child of his engineer father. Born in Cabangu Farm in Southeast Brazil, he came from a family that owned a coffee plantation in Sao Paulo.
In his childhood days, he learnt to drive steam tractors and locomotive, used on his family’s plantation. Besides this, he was a voracious reader and finished reading all the books by Jules Verne.
He attended Colegio Culto a Ciencia in Campinas. Later, he studied at Escola de Minas in Ouro Preto, Minas. In 1891, after his father became a paraplegic, his family sold the plantation and shifted to Europe. As a result of this Alberto left the institute and reached Paris. Reaching Paris, he pursued his studies in subjects like physics, chemistry, mechanics and electricity under the guidance of a private tutor.
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He took his first balloon ride as a passenger. When he started to pilot balloons himself, he designed his own balloons too. He flew his first balloon design namely “Bresil” in 1898.
Next, he worked on the design of steerable balloons which are known as “Dirigible”. One can move this type of balloon through the air rather than drifting along with the wind.
From 1898 to 1905, he built and flew 11 Dirigibles. At that time, air traffic control did not exist so he used to float along Paris boulevards at rooftop level in one of his airships.
On August 8 in 1901, he encountered an accident when his Dirigible lost hydrogen gas and started to descend. As its result of this an explosion occurred but he survived the explosion without getting injured.
On October 19, 1901, he successfully made a trip by using his Dirigible “Number 6”. This flight was caught in a controversy due to a last minute rule change of the timing of the flight.
In 1905, he completed the design of his first fixed-wing aircraft and a helicopter. In the next year, he flew an aircraft by piloting the “14-bis”, a canard biplane at a height of about five meters or less. This event was the first flight that the Aero-Club de France verified. This trip won the Deutsch-Archdeacon Prize for the first officially observed flight further than 25 meters.
On 12th November 1906, he took a flight of 220 meters in 21.5 seconds. This flight marked the first world record recognized by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale.
His innovative aircraft designs included addition of movable surfaces between the wings to get more lateral stability that was seen in “14-bis” wing Dihedral, introducing developed technique in engine power-to-weight ratio and so on.
He also designed the “Demoiselle” monoplanes that he used for personal transport. A tail unit controlled the “Demoiselle” and this unit used to work both as elevator and rudder and by wing warping.
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In order to mass-produce “Demoisselle No. 19”, he worked with Adolphe Clement’s Clement-Bayard company. It was the world’s first series production aircraft. Later, he made and flew several airplanes like “N21 Demoiselle”.
In 1910, he piloted his last flight that met with an accident. Though the reason was unknown, but a PBS documentary put the blame for this accident on a snapped wire.
Awards & Achievements
In 1901, he won the 100,000 franc Deutsch de la Meurthe Prize for the first flight from the Parc Saint Cloud to the Eiffel Tower and back which took only 30 minutes for him.
Personal Life & Legacy
He became a renowned folk hero in his own country Brazil in later period of his life. His distinctive style of dressing like his high collared shirts and Panama hat gained much popularity among fashion conscious youth of that day.
According to some sources, he had special attraction towards a married Cuban-American woman namely Aida de Acosta. Until the end of his life, he kept a photograph of this woman on his desk. He was a lifelong bachelor.
In 1910, he suffered from double vision and vertigo that restricted him from driving and flying. He was also under treatment for suffering from multiple sclerosis.
As a result of suffering from a number of diseases, he developed depression and later committed suicide.
In his memory and honor, airports in Rio de Janeiro and Paranagua are named after him. His name is also associated with the city of Santos Dumont, Brazil. A highway namely Rodovia Santos Dumont in Sao Paolo is named after him.
This talented personality had a special role in popularizing wrist watch among men in the early 20th century. To solve his difficulty regarding the checking of his pocket watch during his flight performance, Louis Cartier made a watch with a leather band that could be worn on wrist.