This primitive aircraft defeated the Wright Brothers in every way it could be 115 years ago today


To understand how far motorized aviation has evolved since its inception over a century ago, we need to understand what flight was like in its early days. Most people are well aware of the exploits of the Wright brothers in Kittyhawk, North Carolina, which were fatal in December 1903. What is less well known and much less celebrated is that soon after another man entered the aviation industry. That day, 115 years ago, that plane crashed the Wright Flyer in every imaginable way.

The aircraft in question was designed by Mr. Alberto Santos-Dumont, from a recently independent Brazil. Dumont used his wealth from a family business in the coffee trade and his cavalier attitude to engineering to become one of the few men who contributed to the early days of vehicles lighter than air and heavier than the air.

Dumont’s experience in the airship industry would become vital to his understanding of the operation of a manned fixed-wing aircraft. Whether he was aware of it or not, Dumont’s lifelong work would form part of the foundation of aerodynamics and flight mechanics science.

He started out quite humbly, with basic gliders. However, its first powered plane soon followed and was called the 14-bis (nicknamed the Bird of Prey or Bird of Prey). It used wooden wheels, as opposed to the Wright Flyer’s launch rail and catapult system.

An improved second generation of the original 14-bis became the first manned aircraft to travel over 100 meters (328 feet) and fly over 40 km / h (25 mph) in one flight on this flight.

The plane took off near Paris, France, in front of a throng of delighted spectators. Some have argued the dubious manner of the Wright Flyer’s first takeoff, that Dumont is indeed the father of modern aviation.

Whether this notion has merit or not is far beyond us to decide. What’s not for debate is that Dumont’s plane was pound for pound, the best flying machine in every way imaginable. It must have a huge thorn in the Wright brothers’ back, if nothing else.


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