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Alberto Santos Dumont

For Brazilians and French, Alberto Santos Dumont is the inventor of airplane.
Santos Dumont was born on July 20th 1873 in a city today called Santos Dumont, state of Minas Gerais. His father, Henrique Dumont, was an engineer and prosperous coffee farmer; Alberto was sent to Paris, to study physics, mechanics and electricity.
In 1897, Santos Dumont flew in a balloon for the first time, and decided to become an aeronaut. He designed and built his own balloons, taking a further technological step with each one; he was the first to put an engine in a balloon, creating the prototype of future zeppelins; he inovated in all technological aspects of controllable balloonism: size, shape, the kind of gas used, the lenght of chords, power and position of engines, etc. In the beginning of the 1990s, he was the biggest authority in this field in France.
On Oct. 23rd 1906, in the Bagatelle Field, hundreds of people witnessed Santos Dumont take off with the 14-bis, the first "machine" heavier than air capable of flying by their own means; 14-bis flew a distance of 60 m, at a height between 2 and 3 meters. The Wright brothers, who flew a few years earlier, had their flight witnessed by just a few people, and their machine had to be thrusted by a kind of catapult.
After the 14-bis, Santos Dumont developed models which could fly longer, higher and faster; in his last flight, in 1909, Santos Dumont was flying at 96 km/h.
With the advent of World War I, and the use of airplanes in deadly operations, Santos Dumont fell in depression, and stopped working in technology. He returned to Brazil and kept recluded in the city of Petropolis; in his house, today there is the Museum Santos Dumont. On July 23rd 1932, after seeing his invention being used in a Brazilian upheaval, he commited suicide.

In a recent book called Wings of Madness, Paul Hoffman (American, ex-editor of Encyclopedia Britannica), talks thoroughly about Santos Dumont and the dispute with the Wright brothers. Click to go to Amazon's page about the book.

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