By Mark Taylor
This is the second and final part of Mark’s article about the 14 Bis and Santos Dumont. To read the first part click the relevant link at the end of the article.

This year sees the centenary of the legendary 14 Bis flight, which is being celebrated in many ways and events across Brazil. Lula Inacio da Silva, Brazil’s president, launched the events in October, along with some rather pompous indignation that anyone else could be considered the inventor of the airplane. Some of the celebrations include a special coin and stamp dedicated to Santos-Dumont. A film produced by the Globo TV network, simply called 14 Bis, was also commissioned and shown at the São Paulo 30th International Film Festival. Several flights of a reconstructed 14 Bis around Brazil are scheduled, including one in Brasilia. Already mentioned in last week’s São Paulo Entertainment Guide is an exhibition at FIESP, of 60 drawings by the legendary Brazilian cartoonist Mauricio de Sousa, that tell the history of Alberto. To accompany the drawings is a reconstruction of the 14 Bis, which you can view from Av. Paulista (the exhibition finishes November 24th, and is located at FIESP. Av. Paulista, 1.313). More on the various celebrations can be viewed at this site (in Portuguese).

Alberto’s exploits didn’t stop with the 14 Bis though. He continued to apply his imagination and inventiveness, pioneering the use of ailerons in powered aircraft, having taken the design from gliders. He also examined the issue of power to weight ratio in aircraft, with a view to trying to maximise it. His last four designs were generally named the Demoiselle (Number 19 through to Number 22, pictured to the left). Alberto used it himself, but also let others freely use the design with a view to creating a new age of flight for all. The Demoiselle design evolved into a 40hp powered machine that could be built in 15 days, and had a flying speed of more than 100km/h. One particular French automotive maker designed and built the Demoiselle for whoever wanted it, for 50,000 Francs.

The latter years of Alberto’s life were unfortunately marred by various tragedies. His last flight on January 4th 1910, of a Demoiselle, ended in a crash. Then he fell ill several months later and was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Presumably as a result of the diagnosis and illness he closed his workshops, and suffered from depression. In 1911 he moved to a French coastal village where he turned to astronomy. Although his unusual accent and use of a telescope drew suspicion from the villagers, and his house was searched by French police who suspected him a German spy that was watching the French navy. Upset by the charge he burned all the papers, plans and notes he possessed, hence little of his design work is available to see today.

Some years later, although it’s not known exactly when and for what motivation, he returned to his home country of Brazil. Tragedy continued, as a dozen Brazilian scientists were killed in a seaplane crash, that they were taking with the intent of paying their respects to Alberto. The crash only added to Alberto’s depression. On his return to Brazil he bought a small lot in Petrópolis, near to the city of Rio de Janeiro. There he built a house (pictured to the right) where he continued his inventiveness but unfortunately his depression and illness worsened. It’s believed to be this, and his sadness of the use of aircraft in war, that contributed to him hanging himself in the seaside town of Guaruj, in São Paulo state, on July 23rd 1932. He was buried in the Cemitrio São João Batista in Rio de Janeiro.

The controversy and strong emotions surrounding the first controlled powered heavier-than-air craft flight has been something that has endured, that is not so much whether Alberto made his flight, but whether the Wright Brothers December 17th 1903 flight was made, and made unassisted. Although the Wright Brothers are generally accepted in many countries as being the first, there are various issues with their claim. Part surround the rails that the “Wright Flyer” (later named the “Flyer 1”, then the more well known “Kitty Hawk”) used for take-off, whereas the 14 Bis used no rails. Part also relates to the substantiation, as the flight wasn’t witnessed or photographed by the press; it was witnessed by 4 lifeguards and a boy from the village, and photos were supposedly taken famously showing the plane in flight. Also the Wright Brothers legendary shunning of publicity made independent flight substantiation difficult, something that continued to 1905, when they refused to make a “public” flight at all without a contract to sell the airplane. Even so, faithful representations of the Kitty Hawk have been made and flown proving that it could fly.

Arguably Brazil has also not helped in trying to approach the issue rationally, and this is where the quote from George Orwell’s 1984 quote at the beginning of the article comes to bear again. In the arguably fascist flavoured Getlio Vargas dictatorship of the early 1940s the department for “Information and Propaganda” was setup, and part of their remit was to create schoolbooks praising all things Brazilian. Part of this was that Santos-Dumont was the first to the race for flight. Although Vargas’ dictatorship ended the schoolbooks have endured, lending towards the view held by most Brazilians today. Although generally speaking the first to controlled powered heavier-than-air craft flight is still disputed all around the world, with some witnessed flights by others predating the Wright Brothers by a couple of years as well.

Those with an interest in knowing the full history may want to visit the Wikipedia entry on the First Flying Machine.

If you have a comment on Mark’s article or would simply like to contact him then email

Previous articles by Mark:

Brazil: Google Maps Gets an Upgrade
Brazil: A Guide to Fernando de Noronha Part 1
Brazil: 14 Bis Centenary Part 1
Brazil: Daylight Savings Time
Brazil: Carjacking and Theft
Brazil: Airport Delays Grow Among Crash Speculation
Brazil: São Paulo’s International Film Festival (and The Fountain)
Brazil: Single Gringo Beware!
Brazil: The House of Coffee Comes Home
Brazil: Film Review
Brazil: The Portuguese Language Museum
Brazil: Election Time! Part 2
Brazil: Election Time! Part 1
Brazil: Torrent TV
Brazil: Book Review
Brazil: Whistle-stop Salvador Part 2
Brazil: Whistle-stop Salvador Part 1
The PCC Shows a New Level of Organisation
Brazil: Metr-ettiquette
Brazil: Trading Places
Brazil: São Paulo’s Pinacoteca
Brazil: Don’t Forget, You’re in Another Country!
Brazil: PCC Violence Returns to São Paulo
Brazil: A Recycled City Part 5
Brazil’s World Cup Defeat Party
Brazil: A Recycled City Part 4
Brazil: Japanese Standard Chosen for Digital TV
Brazil: NET Petition Feedback
Brazil: A Recycled City Part 3
Brazil: Football Love
Brazil: A Recycled City Part 2
Brazil: A Recycled City Part 1
Brazil: 100 Things To Do in São Paulo Part 3
Brazil: 100 Things To Do in São Paulo Part 2
Brazil: 100 Things To Do in São Paulo Part 1
GPS in Brazil
Brazil: PCC Attacks in São Paulo
Brazil: Tips on Buying or Renting an Apartment or House
Brazil: A Critical Sensitivity
Cleanliness is next to Brazilianiness
Brazil: Manners
Brazil: No Change, No Sale
Brazilian TV
Brazil: Ubatuba
Brazil: Professional Children
Brazil: We deliver… everything!
Brazil: Terrao Itlia
Brazil: A Layman’s Carnival Guide
Brazil: Portunglish or Engluguese?
Brazil: Feira Food
Brazil: Bilhete Unico flexibility increases
Brazil: Finding Work
Brazil: U2 Ticket Chaos
Brazil: Finding Work
Brazil: Termites
Brazil: Queues, Queues, Queues
Brazil: Let’s Go Fly a Kite!
Brazil… the Film That Is
Brazil: The Bus to Nowhere
Brazil: Piracy
Brazil: Gestures
Brazil: Proclamation of the Republic
Brazilian Film Review
Brazilian Film Review
Brazil: Finados (Day of the Dead)
Interjections, exclamations and onomatopoeia in Brazilian Portuguese
Brazil: Halloween
Brazil says “No” to banning firearms
Brazil Humour: Phone Etiquette
Brazil’s Gun Referendum
Brazil: Scams
Brazil: Moby Review
Brazil: Keeping in touch via the Internet – Part 5
Brazil: Keeping in touch via the Internet – Part 4
Brazil: Avril Lavigne at Pacaembu
Moby in Brazil
Brazil: Keeping in touch via the Internet – Part 3
Brazil: Keeping in touch via the Internet – Part 2
Brazilian Film Review
Brazil: Keeping in touch via the Internet – Part 1
Brazil: First season of Lost repeated on AXN

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply