Last week many people watched the opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympic Games that are happening in Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil.
It was a beautiful event, which included a variety of things that represent the country: from the natives, to the Portuguese, the slaves and all the other people groups that immigrated to Brazil over time, making it such an interesting place.
Besides showing Gisele Bundchen grand entry to the tune of “Garota de Ipanema”, there was another display that caused some controversy: the simulated flight of the 14Bis, an airplane flown in front of a large audience in 1906 by Santos Dumont, a Brazilian that lived in France and is known in Brazil as the “Father of Aviation”.
As soon as that was shown on TV last week I got a text from a friend, saying: “what are they going to say next: that a Brazilian invented electricity, the telephone, the iPod…?”
Well, my fellow Brazilians, the truth is: Santos Dumont did not invent the airplane!
My American friends are now saying: Obviously not. The Wright Brothers flew in 1903, so they are the inventors of the airplane. That is why we call Ohio “The Birth Place of Aviation” or North Carolina “The First in Flight” (because that is where the brothers flew the first time).
Sorry, Americans, I will have to wipe that smirk off your face now: The Wright Brothers did not invent the airplane also (Gasp!!!).
Before you ask me to return my American passport and leave the country, please give an opportunity to explain why I am saying that.
People were flying with hot air balloons and gas filled balloons since the 1800’s. But you will say, those are not airplanes, to be called an airplane it has to be “heavier than the air”.
Ok. Thousands of years ago, people were flying attached to huge kites. Then you say: but those were attached to the ground, those were not airplanes. To be called an airplane it has to be “heavier than the air and fly without any connection to the ground”.
A paper plane does that! Ok, it has to be “heavier than air, fly without any connection with the ground and carry a person”.
What about a glider? In that case Sir George Cayley flew in 1858, in a somewhat controlled manner with his glider.
No, you say again, to be an airplane it has to be “heavier than air, without any connection to the ground, capable of carrying a person and able to maintain flight by its own means”.
In that case either Felix du Temple or Clement Ader should be considered the creator of the airplane, since they adapted engines to their machines and flew for a few meters in an uncontrolled flight in the late 1800’s. Well, than we may need to call an airplane something “heavier than the air, without any connection to the ground, capable of carrying a person, able to maintain flight by its own means, and be controllable”.
At that point we meet the Wright Brothers, whose big contribution was to develop a way to control the flight, which allowed them in the early 1900’s to fly several hundred meters in the beginning, and reach several kilometers after additional development.
That is when a Brazilian will join the discussion and say: But the Wright Brothers machine was unable to start flight on its own. It required some sort of rail, adequate winds, and sometimes a catapult. To be an airplane it has to be “heavier than the air, without any connection to the ground, capable of carrying a person, able to take of and maintain flight by its own means, and be controllable”.
That puts us at the creation of Santos Dumont, the 14Bis, which could start movement in any field, by its own means, take of and fly in a controlled manner, carrying a smiley Mr. Dumont in it, and land safely.
So, the truth is: all these men were extremely bright, and contributed tremendously to the way we fly today, but honestly: no one “invented” the airplane – it was an evolution of ideas (please don’t hold that against your Elementary school teacher).
I may get some comments on this one.