The Demoiselles, 1907-1910
|We could assume Santos-Dumont
was a little crest-fallen when he, and the rest of Europe, discovered in
1908 that the Wrights had been streets ahead all
the time. As if to compensate, he intensified development of his elegant
Demoiselle ('damsel fly') monoplanes, and perhaps in deliberate
contrast to the Wrights, he made the patents freely available to all! The
prototype (No.19) had first flown in November 1907, and was of extremely
lightweight construction. Its wings were only 5 metres long, with the tail
supported on a single slender bamboo pole. The pilot sat under the wings
and engine, and controlled the machine via a combined rudder
and elevator at the rear, two rudders
at the side, and a forward elevator. There was no control in roll
other than the pilot leaning out from side to side!
1908 Santos-Dumont removed the forward elevator and side-rudders, and moved
the engine down between the pilot's legs. It was linked to the propellor
by a long belt drive. (Pictured right.) Presumably he hoped this would
improve the Demoiselle's stability - it would certainly have proved awkward
in the event of an engine fire! In any event, this 19-bis configuration
was not a success and may never have flown.
Alberto Santos-Dumont retired from aviation in 1910 and returned to Brazil in sad circumstances. He had learned that he had multiple sclerosis (a muscle-wasting disease) and would eventually loose all control of his limbs. He also became increasingly depressed at the military uses to which the aeroplane was being put. Perhaps the final straw was when Bolivia went to war with Paraguay in 1932. On 23 July 1932 Alberto Santos-Dumont took his own life.
In Brazil, Santos-Dumont is still a national hero and controversy continues as to whether he did invent the aeroplane. He was posthumously created Honoury Air Marshal of the Brazilian Air Force in 1959, and declared 'Father of Aviation' by decree as recently as 1991!
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