History of Flight from Around the World


In 1875, Júlio Cesar Ribeiro de Souza, born in Belém, a city located in northern Brazil, started some research in aeronautics because he was impressed with the flight of certain native birds of the Amazon rain forest. he moved to Rio de Janeiro, where he published works on air navigation and presented talks on this subject to the Instituto Politécnico, an engineering faculty. he designed a dirigible, which was christened Victória after his wife. after obtaining part of the funding in Brazil, the device was constructed in Paris. attempts to place the device airborne failed both in France and in Brazil. Back in his native city, he created a workshop to produce hydrogen gas for the machines that he invented. Júlio finally succeeded with his dream of pursuing air navigation with the flight of another dirigible, called Cruzeiro, in 1886 in Paris.

drawing belonging to the patent request for the dirigible victória designed by júlio cesar de souza (1881). source: brazilian national archives

Another Brazilian, Severo Augusto de Albuquerque Maranhão, born in Macaíba, Rio Grande do Norte State in the northeast of Brazil, designed and flew the dirigible Bartolomeu de Gusmão in Rio de Janeiro in 1894. he also developed and constructed a second machine, the Pax. Two four-cylinder buchet engines with 16 and 24 hp powered the Pax, and two pusher propellers set at 50 rpm drove the aircraft. The forward and aft propeller diameters were 5 and 6m, respectively. in addition, two other propellers were placed noral to the machine's longitudinal axis for lateral control, only. a further propeller was placed below the deck and was employed to control the pitch movement of the 30-m-long aircraft. Maranhão had some insights in designing the Pax, which were not taken into account by his predecessors. one of them was the placement of the traction line coincident with the drag one to better control and handling of the aircraft. however, he unfortunately died during his flight on the Pax on May 12th, 1902 in Paris.


dirigible bartolomeu de gusmao in rio de janeiro, 1894. source: museé de l’air, france.

the dirigible pax designed by severo maranhão was constructed in paris. source: museé de l’air, france.

The aviation also changed after the Brazilian Alberto Santos Dumont. Alberto Santos Dumont was born on July 20th, 1873, in the village of Cabangu, State of Minas Gerais, Brazil. At the age of 18, his father sent Santos Dumont to Paris where he devoted his time to the studies of chemistry, physics, astronomy and mechanics. He had a dream and an objective: to fly. In 1898, Santos-Dumont went up in his first balloon. It was round and unusually small and he called it Brésil (Brazil). However, it was capable of lifting a payload of 114.4 lb, and had in its lower part a wicker basket. His second balloon, "America," had 500 m3 of capacity and gave Santos Dumont the Aero Club of Paris' award for the study of atmospheric currents. Twelve balloons participated in this competition but "America" reached a greater altitude and remained in the air for 22 hours. Between 1898 and 1905 he built and flew 11 dirigibles. Contrary to the prevailing common sense at that time, he employed in his lighter-than-air aircraft piston-powered engines with the lifting-gas hydrogen. He won the Deutsch Prize, which was conceived and granted by the oil tycoon Deustch de la Merthe, when for the first time in the history a dirigible went around the Eiffel tower on October 19th, 1901. This prize amounting 100,000 Francs stipulated a dirigible ride comprised of a flight with takeoff and landing at the Saint-Cloud field with a total duration of 30 minutes, including the going around the Eiffel Tower. In 1904, Santos Dumont came to the United States and was invited to the White House to meet President Theodore Roosevelt, who was very interested in the possible use of dirigibles in naval warfare. The interesting thing is that Santos-Dumont and the Wright brothers never met, even though they had heard of each other's work.

Alberto Santos-Dumont at the helm of one of his airships. Source: Museu Aeroespacial, Rio de Janeiro

Santos-Dumont going around the Eiffel tower with its no, 6 dirigible on October 19th 1901. Source: Museu Aeroespacial, Rio de Janeiro

Louis Cartier invented the wristwatch for his famous friend, Alberto Santos Dumont, in March of 1904. They had met and become good friends in 1900. Santos Dumont's Deustch Prize conquest was celebrated at Maxim's that evening, and at some point Santos Dumont complained to Cartier about the difficulty of checking his pocket watch to time his performance. He wanted his friend to come up with an alternative that would permit him to keep both hands on the controls. Louis Cartier went to work on the idea and the result was a watch with a leather band and a small buckle, to be worn on the wrist. Santos-Dumont never took off again without his personal Cartier wristwatch.

Santos Dumont also designed a helicopter, the picture of which was displayed on the cover page of the periodic "La Vie au Grand Air" of January 12, 1906. Due to technical difficulties to put such machine airborne, Santos Dumont pursued his dream of flying with a winged aircraft, instead. In 1906, Santos-Dumont took the nacelle of his dirigible balloon no. 14 and added to it a fuselage and biplane wings, whose cellular structure resembled the kites still found nowadays in Japan. An Antoinette V8 engine of 24 hp power was installed ahead of the wings, driving a propulsion propeller; the airplane flew rear-first and was denominated 14-bis (since it was descendent of the dirigible balloon no. 14). It had a wingspan of 12 m and 10-m-long fuselage, and had a tricycle fixed landing gear. Santos-Dumont developed what has to be called the first flight simulator, using winches and gears to let the 14-bis roll down a plan, while he learned how to control the plane. On 21 August 1906, Santos-Dumont made his first attempt to fly. He did not succeed, since the 14bis was underpowered. On September 13th, with a reengined 14bis (now with a 40 or 50 hp power engine which he obtained through Louis Bréguet), Santos Dumont made the first flight of 7 or 13 m (according to different accounts) above the ground, which ended with a violent landing, damaging the propeller and landing gear. On October 23th, 1906 his 14Bis biplane flew a distance of 60 meters at a height of 2 to 3 meters during a seven-sec-long flight. Santos Dumont won the 3,000 Francs Prize Archdeacon, instituted in July 1906 by the American Ernest Archdeacon, to honor the first flyer to achieve a level flight of at least 25 m. Before his next flight Santos-Dumont modified the 14-bis by the addition of large hexagonal ailerons, to give some control in roll. Since he already had his hands full with the rudder and elevator controls (and could not use peddles since he was standing), he operated these via a harness attached to his chest. If he wanted to roll right he would lean to his right, and vice versa. One witness likened Santos-Dumont's contortions while flying the 14-bis to dancing the samba! With the modified aircraft, he returned to Bagatelle on 12 November. This time the Brazilian made six increasingly successful flights. One of these flights was 21,4 sec long within a 220 m path at a height of 6 m. The Brazilian always used his Cartier wristwatch to check the duration of his flights. The flight experiments with the 14Bis took place at Le Bagatelle (air)field in Paris. Santos Dumont did not employ any catapult or similar device to place his craft aloft. As far as the world knew, it was the first airplane flight ever and Santos-Dumont became a hero to the world press. The stories about the Wright brothers' flights at Kitty Hawk and later near Dayton, Ohio, were not believed even in the US at the time.

The dirigible no. 14 and the 14Bis during trials to evaluate its flight characteristics. Source: Museu Aeroespacial, Rio de Janeiro

The first sustained flight of a fixed-wing craft took place on October 23th, 1906 in France. Source: Museu Aeroespacial, Rio de Janeiro

The Brazilian aviation pioneer continued with his experiments, building other dirigible balloons, as well as the aircraft no. 19, initially called Libellule (later changed to Demoiselle) in 1907. It was a small high-wing monoplane, with only 5.10 m wingspan, 8 m long and weighing little more than 110 Kg with Santos Dumont at the controls. With optimum performance, easily covering 200 m of ground during the initial flights and flying at speeds of more than 100 km/h. Dumont used to perform flights with the airplane on Paris and some small trips for nearby places. The Demoiselle was the last aircraft built by Santos Dumont and the type suffered several modifications from 1907 to 1909. Santos Dumont was so enthusiastic about the aviation that he released the drawings of Demoiselle for free, thinking that the aviation would be the mainstream of a new prosperous era for the mankind. Clément Bayard, an automotive maker, constructed several units of Demoiselle. Dumont retired from his aeronautical activities in 1910. Alberto Santos Dumont, seriously ill and disappointed, it is said, over the use of aircraft in warfare, committed suicide in the city of Guarujá in São Paulo on July 23, 1932. His numerous and decisive contributions to aviation are his legacy to mankind.

The 14Bis flying on 12 November 1906. The new ailerons are clearly visible. Source: Museu Aeroespacial, Rio de Janeiro

The successful Demoiselle monoplane, which Santos Dumont employed as private transport. Source: Museu Aeroespacial, Rio de Janeiro

On the 7th January 1910, the first airplane constructed and designed in Brazil took off for its maiden flight in Osasco, São Paulo. The aircraft was conceived by the Frenchman Demetre Sensaud de Lavaud and was very similar to the Bleriot designs. The first flight was only 6-sec long. Afterwards, several other flights followed and the airplane, known as São Paulo, attracted huge crowds during its flights exhibitions. The aircraft was 100% Brazilian-made (even the propellers and the engine were manufactured by Mr. Lavaud). It was the first of several other designs developed in Brazil and the event took place long before the country could see aircraft serial manufacturing.

In 1899 in São Paulo the Strength of Material Laboratory of the Engineering Faculty Escola Politécnica was created. In the first years of its existence, the Laboratory performed tests with materials mostly employed in the civil construction. In 1926, the Laboratory evolved itself into the Laboratory for Material Testing also gaining research attributions and in turn gave later birth to the Instituto de Pesquisas Tecnológicas (IPT). The interest of IPT in aviation appeared from studies looking for application areas of wood in engineering. A report containing properties of numerous wooden elements, result of an extensive and systematic research, was published by IPT and was worldwide acknowledged. In 1938, Frederico Brotero and Orthon Hoover designed a monoplace aircraft of wooden structure. The first one of the four prototypes of the aircraft was constructed in the IPT facilities and finished in Rio Claro, a city located in the countryside in the State of São Paulo. The airplane was nicknamed Bichinho de Rio Claro (Rio Claro's mascot) but later it gained the IPT-0 denomination. The plane brought some aeronautical innovations, among them high-lift devices at wing leading edge, which became a standard feature for aircraft types developed later by IPT. The first prototype of IPT-0 was equipped with a 60-hp engine. The wing ribs and the fuselage were composed of freijó (Cordia goeldiana), a moderate-weight wood type, which was researched by IPT. The skin of IPT-0 was made of IPT-manufactured plywood. Bichinho was in operation until 1988. The experience gathered by making plywood elements for Bichinho enabled a creation of a unit for plywood manufactured at IPT, which started production in 1940. In 1943, engineers at IPT designed a new aircraft with more powerful engines ranging from 65 to 80 hp. Three prototypes had been constructed, each of them with a different motorization. All aircraft presented outstanding flight characteristics. In 1948, the Divison of Aeronautics of the IPT was created, originated from the Section of Aeronautics. The IPT designed a glider for primary instruction, the Gafanhoto, which was designated IPT-1. A public-domain report was published by IPT containing the required information to build the glider. The IPT-2 aircraft, also a glider, was nicknamed Aratinga and performed its maiden flight in July 1942. IPT built 17 different types of aircraft along its aeronautical activities.

(photograph) First prototype of Bichinho.
Source: Instituto de Pesquisas Tecnológicas, IPT

In early 1951 Prof. Heinrich Focke moved to Brazil. He was head of the former Focke-Wulf Flugzeugbau AG, which designed and manufactured the Fw 190, considered by many specialists one of best fighters of the World War II. At Centro Técnico Aeroespacial (CTA), Prof. Focke conducted some ground tests with a vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, the Convertiplano. The BF-1 Beija-Flor helicopter was a Prof. Focke design from 1956, at this time still working at CTA. A two-seater, the Beija Flor had its 225hp Continental E225 engine fitted in the nose, with a short coupling to the rotor pylon, which was mounted centrally in front of the crew. An open structure tubular steel tail boom carried a pair of tail surfaces and a small tail rotor. The prototype flew on 1st January 1959, and performed an extended flight-testing campaign until it was damaged in an accident. It is thought that further work on the Beija Flor was then abandoned. A group of engineers working at IPD, an institute belonging to CTA, designed and built the twin-engined Bandeirante, an all-metal aircraft conceived to transport 20 passengers and that was able to operate at unpaved airfields. The Bandeirante was later manufactured by Embraer, which designed stretched civil and military versions of the type.

At the end of the 80s, the CTA adapted an aeronautical piston-powered engine to use ethanol as fuel. A Brazilian made T-25 Universal military trainer aircraft equipped with this engine successfully flew in 1989. Currently, there is research being conducted to introduce this kind of engine to agricultural airplanes.





Convertiplano’s fuselage and engine workbench. Source: Centro Técnico Aeroespacial.

The Beija-Flor Helicopter. Source: Centro Técnico Aeroespacial


(Photographs)The aeronautical activities of IPT and CTA led to necessary knowledge and the education of specialized people to support the modern Brazilian aircraft industry, which was born in the 60s and early 70s. Currently, Brazil has the fourth largest commercial aircraft manufacturer in the world, which has significantly contributed to the development of the regional aviation worldwide with comfortable, modern, and efficient designs.

Originally provided to AIAA for its Evolution of Flight Campaign, 2003. By Bento Silva de Mattos

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