Alberto Santos-Dumont was a wealthy Brazilian aviation pioneer who came to Paris, France, at the age of 18 to live and study. He attempted his first balloon ascent in 1897 and had his first successful ascent in 1898. He began to construct dirigible airships powered with gasoline-powered engines in 1898 and built and flew fourteen of the small dirigibles. In 1901, he flew his hydrogen-filled airship from St. Cloud, around the Eiffel Tower, and back to St. Cloud. It was the first such flight and won him the Deutsch Prize and a prize from the Brazilian government. In 1902, he attempted to cross the Mediterranean in an airship but crashed into the sea.
Alberto Santos-Dumont at the helm of one of his airships.
- © 2001 National Air and Space Museum,
After the Wright brothers' flights in 1903, Santos-Dumont began to experiment with heavier-than-air machines. He constructed a vertical-propeller model, and, in 1906, built a machine, the 14-bis, on the principle of the box kite. In October 1906, he won the Deutsch-Archdeacon Price for the first officially observed heavier-than-air powered flight in Europe, flying his canvas and bamboo biplane. In November 1906, he flew 725 feet (220 meters) in 21 seconds. In 1909, he produced his "Demoiselle" or "Grasshopper" monoplane, the precursor to the modern light plane.
He returned to Brazil in 1928. He became depressed over the use of aircraft in war and committed suicide in 1932.