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American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics


    History of Flight from Around the World


    The pioneer of aeronautics in Portugal was a Jesuit monk, Gusmao, who interrupted his studies at Coirnbra University to ask the monarchy for help in developing his flying machines. On 5 and 8 August 1709, the monk demonstrated the principle of lighter-than-air to the king, his court, and the Papal Representative Conti (later to become Pope Inocencius XIII). Gusmao put a fabric bag over a fire to collect warm air inside and let the bag fly up. In both demonstrations, one indoor and the other outdoors, the "hot air balloon" caused fires when it struck combustible objects. In one case it reached a height of 4.5 meters. In spite of the court's jokes about the events and the drawings of a "passarola" (a bird-like flying ship) it is unlikely that Gusmao went any further in this field; he instead devoted himself to other inventions, like a device to remove water from flooded ships.

    Airships and dirigibles came to Portugal through the army, after their use in France, at the end of the 19th century. The first airplanes flew in Portugal in 1909, again with French influence. The Portuguese contribution of an expeditionary force in France during World War I marked the beginning of military aviation in Portugal.

    In the period between the wars there were many notable flights. From 30 March to 17 June 1921, Gago Coutinho and Sacadura Cabral flew a Fairey hydroplane from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro in the first crossing of the South Atlantic. The longest leg, between Guinea, Africa, and Recife, Brazil, was longer than the aircraft's range, requiring fueling from a ship in the mid-South Atlantic near a group of cliffs called Fernando de Noronha. The critical task of navigating to this precise point was performed using the Aeronautical Sextant," which Coutinho developed from the naval sextant used by Portuguese navigators more than 300 years before.

    The first night crossing of the South Atlantic took place from 2 March to 18 April 1927 in a Dornier-Wall seaplane. Other Portuguese aviators had flown from Lisbon to Macau from 7 April to 20 June 1924. Other flights connecting Portugal to its colonies scattered around the world were made, all at about the same time by aviation pioneers from several nations.

    Originally provided to AIAA for its Evolution of Flight Campaign, 2003.

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