Alberto Santos Dumont

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Alberto Santos Dumont (* July 20, 1873 on the Fazenda Cabangu near Palmira in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais ; † July 23, 1932 in Guarujá / State of São Paulo ) was a Brazilian aeronaut , powered aviation pioneer and inventor , who primarily pioneered motorized aviation helped shape France in his creative country . After several trips with various self-built airships, he also carried out the world's first public powered flight in an airplane in 1906.

Santos Dumont is often referred to as the "father of aviation". The local airport of Rio de Janeiro is named Aeroporto Santos Dumont in his honor .

Alberto Santos Dumont


Alberto Santos Dumont, who always wrote to himself Santos = Dumont with an equal sign as a tribute to his Portuguese origin on his mother's side and his French-born father, was born the sixth of eight children of Henrique Dumont and his wife Francisca de Paula Santos.

The father, son of the French jeweler François Dumont, worked as an engineer on the construction of the Estrada de Ferro D. Pedro II railway line . When he gave up this job after more than ten years, he became a coffee plantation owner and a Barão do Café , a coffee baron.

Even as a child, his son Alberto was interested in mechanics and was allowed to work with the mechanic of the coffee plantation on the coffee processing machines and the narrow-gauge railway . He also enjoyed watching the tropical birds. Santos Dumont was already reading Jules Verne's adventure novels at the age of ten , especially those that describe air travel. In 1890, at the age of 17, he accompanied his family on a six-month trip to Paris . He surprised his family with a car that he had bought with his "pocket money" that he had received for visits to the Moulin Rouge and other establishments. It had been built by a certain "Monsieur Peugeot ", whose company then produced three pieces a year. Santos Dumont took the car back to Brazil; it was probably one of the very first automobiles in South America.

A year later, at the age of eighteen and already a millionaire, since his father had already paid him part of the future inheritance, his father sent him to Paris to study.

In 1892 the father realized that none of his sons would take over the plantation and sold the business to devote himself only to his family. He fell from his horse during one ride and has been paralyzed ever since. He also wanted to promote the skills of his son Alberto and that summer sent him back to Paris, with considerable financial resources, where he was studying chemistry , physics , astronomy and mechanics. After living with his French relatives for some time, he set up his own household on the corner of Rue Washington and Avenue Champs-Élysées . Even during his studies, the Brazilian found time to drive his car; with his Panhard & Levassor he made the distance from Paris to Nice in 54 hours.

Balloon rides

A few years later, around the turn of the year 1897/98, Santos Dumont visited his native Brazil. For the trip he bought a book that had just been published to read on the way. It was a description of the Swedish Andrée expedition , which disappeared without a trace on its way to the North Pole in 1897 . The book was written by Andrées balloon makers , Henri Lachambre and his nephew Alexis Machuron .

On the way back to Paris he got off the train from Lisbon at Gare d'Orléans and went to the balloon factory of Lachambre in Paris's 15th arrondissement . The very next day he carried out his first balloon ride there with Machuron. It began at 11:00 a.m. and cost him 250 francs in material expenses. The balloon had a diameter of twelve meters and a volume of 740 cubic meters.

The next day he ordered a balloon for himself. Lachambre recommended a standard size between 750 and 1000 cubic meters. However, Santos Dumont insisted on a one-person balloon. As a small, slim person, Santos Dumont asked for a volume of around 100 cubic meters. He also insisted that only extra-light materials be used. While waiting for delivery, he made no less than 25 climbs to practice and gain experience.

The following year, on July 4, 1898, Santos Dumont flew the hydrogen balloon "Brasil" in the Jardin d'Acclimatation . He rose more than 200 times with this balloon. The balloon had a diameter of six meters and a volume of 113 m³. He needed 113 m² of Japanese silk for his cover and the cover weighed 3.5 kg. The varnish weighed 10.5 kg, the instruments 4.7 kg, the iron anchor 3.0 kg and the remaining accessories 13.8 kg. So he came to a weight of 35.5 kg. In addition there were 30.0 kg loads and 50.0 kg weight of the pilot. Later, he had the idea of a 1,75  PS strong De Dion Bouton grow -Motor to the balloon, but its performance turned out to be too low.

Development of airships

In 1901, Alberto Santos Dumont unveiled the plans for his plane to Charles Rolls , one of the pioneers of aviation (collection of the Museu Paulista of the USP).
Airship Santos-Dumont No. 9 "La Baladeuse"

Santos Dumont built a total of eleven airships between 1898 and 1906, as well as one airship each to support a helicopter flight and a motorized flight on July 19, 1906. Santos Dumont ascended with his first airship on September 20, 1898 for the first time.

He made three attempts to win the coveted German Prize . On the second attempt, however, the " Santos Dumont No. 5 " brushed the roof of the Trocadero Hotel in 1901 and caught fire. Santos Dumont was able to save himself by jumping to a windowsill and was then brought down by the fire department .

He had his greatest success with his sixth airship, the " Santos Dumont No. 6 ". With it he succeeded in the third attempt on October 19, 1901, the first successful sightseeing flight of an airship from the Paris suburb of Saint-Cloud to the Eiffel Tower over 5.5 kilometers in 30 minutes. With that he won the coveted award. He donated the 100,000 francs prize money to the workers and beggars of Paris.

On June 26, 1903, Santos Dumont drove his airship Santos Dumont No. 9 “La Baladeuse” for the first time . He often used it for excursions. So he often ended up in the middle of the street (also on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées ), tied the airship to a tree and visited a café or friends. At night he visited Maxim’s .

In addition, Santos Dumont also designed screw and hang gliders . He used the first safety in its flights, and during a visit at the former US - President Theodore Roosevelt , he first described the function of an airport .

Pilot watch

Since Santos Dumont discovered during his airship trips that it was difficult to read a pocket watch while steering the airship, he and his friend Louis-François Cartier developed the idea of ​​a wristwatch suitable for aviation purposes in 1904 . Cartier made this wristwatch for Santos Dumont and thus created one of the first pilot's watches in the world, which was named "Model Santos" after Santos Dumont.

Construction of aircraft

Santos-Dumont in his 14bis
Santos-Dumont Demoiselle

In the winter of 1905 to 1906 Santos Dumont turned to aviation with aircraft on the principle of "heavier than air". Among other things, he pursued the idea of ​​the helicopter , but could not realize it.

When in late 1905 Gabriel Voisin showed Santos Dumont flight notes by Samuel Langley , he also turned to the construction of fixed-wing aircraft.

With his aircraft " 14-bis " he managed on October 23, 1906, in the presence of the commission of the Aéro-Club de France, to carry out a successful controlled powered flight, and so that of the Aéro-Club for the first powered flight with a self-launching airplane of more than Prize money of 3,500 francs exposed 25 meters to be won. On November 12th, Santos Dumont flew 220 meters with the same aircraft and won the prize, endowed with 1,500 francs by the Chairman of the Aéro-Club de France, Ernest Archdeacon, for the first powered flight of over 100 meters. The aircraft design was based on experiences made with box kites .

With these flights, Alberto Santos Dumont was considered the first successful motorized pilot in the world at that time.

Further development

Its monoplane (5 meter wingspan), built between 1907 and 1909 , was a forerunner of the light aircraft . In September 1909, Alberto Santos Dumont designed and flew the Demoiselle , the world's first lightweight sports aircraft . He flew a speed record of 55.8 mph (89.8  km / h ) that same month  . The flight model was copied several times in the USA and Europe.

Sickness and death

In 1910 he suddenly fell ill and ended his activity as an aircraft design engineer and pilot . He moved to the Mediterranean coast and did astronomy. Due to his accent and the many telescopes he was suspected of being a German spy who observed the movements of the French navy . When his home was ransacked for this reason, he was angry and burned all his records and papers. Therefore, little is left of its constructions today.

When he returned to Brazil on December 3, 1928, on board the Cap Arcona , a tragic accident happened. Twelve Brazilian scientists on board a flying boat wanted to welcome him near Rio de Janeiro . The flying boat crashed near Cap Arcona, with no survivors.

He was still commuting back and forth between France and Brazil (he never wanted to become a French citizen), but he was increasingly afraid of public lectures. Several months of sanatorium stays followed and he began to write his memoirs . His last invention is a back-belt motor drive for skiers .

After watching a number of planes on the way to their targets in military clashes over the beaches of Guarujá at that time, he hanged himself in his bathroom on July 23, 1932, three days after his 59th birthday. Out of consideration for his merits, heart problems were cited as the cause of death in press releases on his death. He was buried in the Cemitério São João Batista in Rio de Janeiro. Theories that he suffered from multiple sclerosis and / or depression about the warlike use of airplanes could not be clarified beyond doubt until now. However, the latter in particular appears historically and technically untenable.

His summer residence A Encantada ("The Enchanting") in Petrópolis north of Rio de Janeiro , actually just a single room in a kind of hut on a mountain, whose shower he constructed himself and on whose roof he hoisted the Brazilian flag during the day and in the at night Heaven looked, can be visited publicly to this day, as can the estate of his birth.

While he has been largely forgotten in the rest of the world, he is revered as a national hero in Brazil to this day. A replica of his first powered airplane, the “14-bis”, is on display in the Museu Aeroespacial - Musal (Air and Space Museum) in Rio de Janeiro .


  • In 1931 he was elected a member of the Academia Brasileira de Letras , chair 38.
  • In 1932 Hugo Eckener threw a wreath from LZ 127 "Graf Zeppelin" over the birthplace of Santos Dumont. The airship made a small detour on its first trip to South America.
  • 1960: Namesake for Santos Peak in Antarctica
  • In 1976 the lunar crater Santos-Dumont was named after him.
  • On October 13, 1997, President Bill Clinton paid tribute to Dumont as the "Father of Aviation"
  • On January 18, 2002, a SkyShip 600 made its maiden voyage, which is named "Santos Dumont" in honor of the aviation pioneer.
  • The local airport of Rio de Janeiro Aeroporto Santos Dumont is named in his honor.
  • 2006 Brazil: R $ 2 reais silver coin to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Alberto Santos Dumont's powered flight.

Aircraft from Santos Dumont


Airship Santos-Dumont No. 1
  • The "Airship No. 1" from Santos Dumont was propelled by a propeller (pressure propeller) and already had a ballonet . When the airship rose, air was to be blown into the envelope to keep it firm and to compensate for gas losses, but the pump used was closed weak. On September 18, 1898 the attempt failed and the float was pushed into the trees and damaged by gusts of wind. During the second attempt on September 20, 1898 from the Jardin d'Acclimatation , a botanical garden west of Paris, Santos Dumont crash-landed after a successful journey at a height of up to 400 m because the gas collapsed due to the loss of gas. The airship was 25 meters long with a maximum diameter of 3.5 m and a gas volume of 180 m³. It was powered by a 3.5 hp De Dion three-wheel motor that weighed just 33 kg. The propeller was 2 meters long and the gas for the balloon contents cost Santos Dumont at the time 6,560 francs.
  • "Airship No. 2", which was very similar to the first, was also supposed to be propelled by a pusher propeller, but collapsed on May 11, 1899 before the first ascent and was pushed into some trees by the wind. It was also 25 meters long, but had a slightly larger gas volume of 195 m³ and was powered by a 3.5 hp engine.
  • On November 13th, 1899, Santos Dumont carried out a 20-minute journey with “Airship No. 3”, which was the first time around the Eiffel Tower. He made a dozen trips in his airship and set a record with 23 hours in the air. It was 20 meters long with a diameter of 7.6 m and a gas volume of 495 m³. It was driven by a 3.5 hp motor with a pusher propeller. A speed of about 19 km / h could be achieved. The ship was given the necessary rigidity by 10 meter high bamboo poles.
  • In contrast to its predecessors, Santos Dumont's “Airship No. 4” was powered by a propeller designed as a pulling propeller. The pilot was sitting unprotected on a bicycle seat. On September 19, 1900, Alberto Santos Dumont was caught in a storm before he was able to attend the "International Aeronautical Congress" with his airship. The airship was 30 meters long with a diameter of 5.1 m and a gas volume of 420 m³. It was powered by a 7 hp engine.
  • The rebuilt "Airship No. 4" with a length of 32.70 meters was unstable and was not tested.
  • The "airship No. 5" was propelled by a pull propeller, was supported by a 60 foot (approx. 18.29 meter) long keel strut with piano wire and equipped with a driver's cab woven from basket. The airship was 35.70 meters long, had a gas volume of 550 m³ and was powered by a 12 hp engine. On July 13, 1901, Alberto Santos Dumont landed this airship roughly in three chestnut trees on the Rothschild grounds . On August 8, 1901, he collided with the Trocadéro Hotel on his second attempt to win the German Prize. Santos Dumont was rescued by the fire department from a hotel window sill on which he had escaped.
No. 6 wins the German Prize
  • The first trip with "Airship No. 6" ended on September 6, 1901 again in the trees of the garden of Baron Edmont de Rothschild. One month later, on October 19, 1901, Santos Dumont circled the Eiffel Tower in Paris and won the German Prize . On February 13, 1902, he drove along the Bay of Monaco, but the trip ended with a splash in the Bay of Monaco after the hull collapsed. On May 27, 1902, he drove to London and in July 1902 to New York. The vehicle was driven by a pusher propeller. The 12 hp carburettor engine was water-cooled and provided with an oil lubrication system for working on slopes. The airship was 32.70 meters long and had a gas volume of 630 m³.
  • The "Airship No. 7" "Racer" was built in 1902 and was shown at the 1904 World Exhibition in St. Louis (USA). It was powered by two propellers, one on the front and one on the back of the engine. It was 39.70 meters long with a diameter of 7 meters and a gas volume of 1,280 m³. It is driven by a 45 kW (60 HP) engine.
  • Santos Dumont did not build “Airship No. 8” for superstitious reasons.
  • The "Airship No. 9" "La Baladeuse" (German: "The Wanderer") was about 10 meters long, had a gas volume of 215 m³ and had the appearance of a fat cigar. It was powered by a 3 hp Clément engine at a maximum speed of 24 km / h (15 mph). The maiden voyage took place on June 26, 1903. Also on that day, Santos Dumont took a child with him for the first time on another flight. A few days later, in June 1903, the first female pilot ever flew alone in an airship. To celebrate the successful construction of “La Baladeuse”, Santos Dumont organized a typical air dinner at the Elysée Palace Hotel. The “La Baladeuse” could land and take off anywhere. For example, it ended up at the Arc de Triomphe , on the Avenue Champs Élysées or on the Rue Washington. He tied his airship to a tree or to a corresponding device, similar to how the cowboys had tied their horses in the Wild West, and visited a café or friends. During this time Cartier and Princess Isabel were admirers of Santos Dumont and his "La Baladeuse".
  • 10 people could fly with the “Airship No. 10” (1904) “Omnibus”. The airship was 47.60 meters long with a diameter of 8.50 m and a gas volume of 2,230 m³. It only underwent a few tests and was never loaded with 10 people.
  • No. 11 and 12 were a glider and a helicopter (see paragraphs below)
  • "Airship No. 13" (1905) was built to support flights with a helicopter . It was combined with a hydrogen balloon and was powered by a hot air generator.
  • "Airship No. 14" (1905) was built to pull the powered airplane into the air. It was powered by a 14 hp engine. The first flight took place on July 19, 1906.
  • "Airship No. 16" (1907) was a cross between an airplane and an airship. The fuselage had been provided with additional wings, the elongated float above it had a volume of 190 m³. The vehicle was devastated before the first take-off.


The unmanned monoplan glider “No. 11 “was built by Alberto Santos Dumont in 1905. It was towed in a speedboat to reach the speed necessary to lift off the surface of the water. Unfortunately the glider hardly got out of the water. The work was nevertheless useful to Santos Dumont. He was later able to use the results in his helicopter project.


The helicopter with two rotors "No. 12 ”was built by Alberto Santos Dumont in 1905. He started several attempts in 1905 and 1906. The helicopter never took off, not even with the help of his“ Airship No. 13 ”, as the engine was unsuitable and Santos Dumont had no other suitable one either Engine could find at this time.

Powered aircraft

The "14-bis" on an old postcard

Alberto Santos Dumont flew the powered aircraft “14-bis” for the first time on July 19, 1906, together with his “Airship No. 14” as support. On August 23, 1906, he repeated this combined flight. The "14-bis" had a wingspan of 10 meters and a length of 12.20 meters. It weighed 290 kg and was powered by a 50 hp engine. It reached a maximum speed of 41.7 km / h.

Without the help of “Airship No. 14”, Alberto Santos Dumont flew the powered aircraft “14-bis” for the first time on September 13, 1906, eleven meters. On October 23, 1906, he flew fifty meters in the “14-bis” and won the Archdeacon Prize with a prize of 3,500 francs for the first powered flight over 25 meters. The " Oiseau de proie " ("bird of prey") or the "Classico certificamente" for the world's first powered flight over 100 meters was celebrated in the world press. On November 12, 1906, it flew 220 meters in just under 21.2 seconds (41.292 km / h) and again won the Archdeacon Prize with a prize of 1,500 francs. At that time, the press celebrated Alberto Santos Dumont as the world's first powered pilot. On November 12, 1906, Alberto Santos Dumont showed his flights in Bagetelle near Paris, where the monument was erected in his honor from 1910 with the inscription: “Here, November 12, 1906, under the control of the Aero-Club de France, Santos led Dumont presented the world's first record-breaking powered flight, duration: 21.2 seconds, distance 220 meters. "

The motorized aircraft "No. 15 ”was built in 1907 and could not confirm the success of its predecessor. On March 27, 1907, the powered aircraft collapsed before it could take off. The aircraft lost its balance during takeoff.

The wing airship "No. 16 “, a cross between an airship and a powered airplane, fell apart when it first attempted flight when it touched the ground in July 1907.

The motorized aircraft "No. 17 “(1907) was started but never finished.

The seaplane "No. 18 “was built in 1907. Santos Dumont made several attempts, but failed to lift off the water (the river Seine ). He then decided to devote himself to a safer and smaller variant of powered aircraft. It is the beginning of the light and sport engine aircraft.

Further developments

Santos Dumont No. 19

The light aircraft No. 19 was 7.90 meters long and had a wingspan of 5.50 meters. The airplane, made of bamboo, was powered by a 13 kW (18 hp) Dutheil-Chalmers engine. The engine weighed only 24.5 kg when dry and was located above the pilot's head. Alberto Santos Dumont hoped to win the Grand Prix d'Aviation (1 km flight) of Henry Deutsch and Ernest Archdeacon with his light aircraft No. 19 , but failed. On November 21, 1907, he flew 122 meters with his No. 19 . The prize was finally won by Henri Farman on January 13, 1908.

The sport engine airplane No. 20, the " Demoiselle " (Eng .: Fräulein, but also: Libelle ), became one of the most successful and most built powered airplanes of its time. Santos Dumont built his Demoiselle in 1909. There are still the further developed versions No. 21 and No. 22. However, they were all carried under the name Demoiselle. They were driven by a water-cooled Duthiel-Chalmers boxer engine with a Holzluftschraube, the 18 kW (25 hp) at 1100 min -1 made. The aircraft was 7.90 meters long and had a wingspan of 5.5 meters. Santos Dumont was urged to patent the machine from some quarters, but he refused. He said it was a gift to the people and that he would rather end up in the poor house than collect royalties for copying his invention. In September 1909, Santos Dumont set a speed record of 88.35 km / h with a pre-production model, but this was not officially recognized. At the Clément-Bayard car manufacturer in France, the machines were built in a kind of series. In Europe, the motorized machine cost 7,500 francs. The inventor Tom Hamilton built them to Hamilton Aero Manufacturing in the USA and sold them without a motor for $ 250; the Chicago Company offered them all for $ 1,000. Alberto Santos Dumont's last flight ended on January 4, 1910 with an accident of his Demoiselle, which he never talked about. In June and July 1911 he was recognized in Popular Mechanics magazine for developing the # 20 and # 21.

Historical data

  • September 20, 1898 first flight with his "Airship No. 1".
  • November 13th, 1899 first 20 minute flight with his "Airship No.3" and first bypassing the Eiffel Tower. He made a dozen trips in his airship and set a record with 23 hours in the air.
  • On October 19, 1901, Alberto Santos Dumont circumnavigated the Eiffel Tower in Paris with his “Airship No. 6” and won the German Prize .
  • October 23, 1906 first certified powered flight with its "14-bis" with a range of fifty meters and wins the Archdeacon Prize for the first powered flight over 25 meters.
  • November 12, 1906 first certified powered flight with its "14-bis" with a range of 220 meters and wins the Archdeacon Prize for the first powered flight over 100 meters.
  • September 1909, the "Demoiselle", the first sports engine airplane.

Alberto Santos Dumont flew his first dirigible airship in 1899, carried out the first certified public powered flight in 1906, and flew the first sports powered airplane in 1909. He also had at least the idea of ​​the airport in 1902 and the use of a seat belt on his flights.


  • Marcio Souza: The flying Brazilian. Berlin 1990 (semi-fictional biography; German)
  • Captain Ferber: Aviation. 1907.
  • Paul Hoffmann: Wings Of Madness: Alberto Santos-Dumont And The Invention Of Flight . Hyperion, 2003, ISBN 978-0-7868-6659-5 .
  • N. Winters: Man flies: the story of Alberto Santos-Dumont, master of the balloon. The Ecco Press, New Jersey 1997.
  • A. Clarke: O Homem eo espaço. José Olympio Editora, Rio de Janeiro 1969.
  • RS Fleury: Santos Dumont. Melhoramentos, São Paulo no year
  • F. Hippólyto da Costa: Santos-Dumont, história e iconografia. Ministério da Aeronáutica, Natal 1982.
  • Instituto Cultural Itaú: Santos-Dumont. São Paulo 1996.
  • F. Jorge: As lutas, a glória eo martírio de Santos Dumont. Nova Época Editorial, São Paulo 1973.
  • A. Santos-Dumont: O que eu vi, o que nós veremos. Hedra, São Paulo 2000.
  • A. Santos-Dumont: Eu naveguei pelo ar. Nova Fronteira, Rio de Janeiro 2001.
  • HD Villares: Quem deu asas ao homem: Alberto Santos-Dumont, sua vida e sua glória. Empresa Gráfica da “Revista dos Tribunais”, São Paulo 1953.
  • Günter Schmitt, Werner Schwipps: Pioneers of early aviation. Gondrom, Bindlach 1995, ISBN 3-8112-1189-7 .
  • A. Santos-Dumont: In the realm of the air. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart and Leipzig 1905 ( )

Web links

Commons : Alberto Santos-Dumont  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. American Scientist: Text passage from the book Wing of Madness ( Memento from August 19, 2014 in the Internet Archive ), accessed on April 29, 2012.
  2. Alberto Santos Dumont Airport in Rio , accessed April 29, 2012.
  3. Santos Dumont's "Demoiselle." (PDF) Details of the smallest known flyer in the world. In: FLIGHT, OCTOBER 2, 1909. , August 5, 1932, pp. 603-606 , accessed August 17, 2014 .
  4. Biobibliography on the website of the Academia Brasileira de Letras . Retrieved August 8, 2013 (Portuguese).
  5. ^ Remarks by President Clinton and President Cardoso. The White House, October 13, 1997, accessed on August 17, 2014 (English): "You have given us [...] explorers from Alberto Santos Dumont, the father of aviation [...]."
  6. ^ Paul Hoffmann: Wings Of Madness
  7. Santos Dumont - Uma Polemica Interminável: Os Primeiros Passos. Retrieved March 22, 2012 (Portuguese).