Who Was Alberto Santos-Dumont And What's His Connection With
In the United States,
almost every man, woman and child can tell you who the Wright
brothers were. But ask, "Who was Alberto Santos-Dumant" and you're
likely to get a lot of empty looks. Ask that same question of
anyone in Brazil, however, and they'll tell you right away: He
invented the airplane.
It's a common misconception, widely held in Europe just after
the turn of the century. Santos-Dumont, an eccentric aviation
enthusiast back when there wasn't a whole lot of flying going on,
pioneered personal flight. He kept a dirigible tied to a lamppost
in front of his Paris apartment. On November 12, 1906, he made the
first public powered flight in an aircraft he called the 14-Bis
(below). It traveled in controlled flight about 722 feet. Because
the Wright brothers flight was conducted in private, many Europeans
-- and damned near every single person in his native country of
Brazil -- credited Santos-Dumont with making the first flight.
It was only later that the Wright brothers proved to the world
they had accomplished the feat three years earlier.
But just try to tell that to a Brazilian. "It's one of the
biggest frauds in history," scoffs Wagner Diogo, a taxi driver in
Rio de Janeiro, of the Wright's inaugural flight. "No one saw it,
and they used a catapult to launch" the airplane. Other
Santos-Dumont experts say his truly was the first flight,
characterizing the Wright brothers' accomplishment as the first
Even in Santos-Dumont's home country of France, however, most
people acknowledge the Wright brother's due. That says a great
deal, when a Frenchman admits an American did something right.
"There's a strong nationalist issue at play here," says Marcos
Villares, Santos-Dumont's great grandnephew. "Flight was a very
important step in human history, in the history of technology.
Every country wants to claim priority."