1906: The First European Powered Heavier-Than-Air Flight Gets Off the Ground

October 23, 1906

Brazilian aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont made the first sustained and officially witnessed flight in a powered heavier-than-air machine in Europe when he piloted his 14-bis biplane in Paris, France. Santos-Dumont came from a family of wealthy coffee producers in his native Brazil, but devoted his life instead to the study of human flight and conquering the skies above.

Santos-Dumont’s aeronautical interests brought him to France, where he spent most of his adult life. The 14-bis biplane (called “Oseau de proie,” French for “bird of prey”) built and used by Santos-Dumont featured a box-kite structure and also included a wicker basket in which he could stand while piloting that aircraft.

After a series of engineering tests and at least one high-speed ground run in which a wheel came loose and had to be fixed, Santos-Dumont took off in his biplane for his history-making flight on that Tuesday in October. A large crowd of spectators – including members of the European press – watched as he flew for a distance of nearly 197 feet (60.1 meters)  and as high as 10 feet (3.1 meters). This flight not only had an abundance of eyewitnesses but was also the first one to be formally certified by the Aéro Club de France and the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.

For more information on Alberto Santos-Dumont, please check out http://www.centennialofflight.net/essay/Dictionary/Santos-Dumont/DI41.htm.

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