November 19, 1882|
|Died||September 13, 1913
|Occupation||airplane designer and pilot|
|Known for||aviation pioneer|
Aurel Vlaicu was born in the village of Binţinţi (now Aurel Vlaicu) near Geoagiu, Romania. He attended a Calvinist high school in Orăştie (renamed "Liceul Aurel Vlaicu" in his honour in 1919) and took his Baccalaureate in Sibiu in 1902. He furthered his studies at Technical University of Budapest and Technische Hochschule München in Germany, earning his engineer's diploma in 1907.
After working at the Opel car factory in Rüsselsheim, he returned to Binţinţi and built a glider he flew in the summer of 1909. Later that year he moved to the Romania. With help from Romanian expatriates, he obtained financial support from the Minister of Public Education, Spiru Haret, following a number of demonstration flights with rubber-powered models.
On November 1, 1909 he began the construction of his first powered airplane A. Vlaicu Nr. I at the Army Arsenal in Bucharest. A. Vlaicu Nr. I flew for the first time on June 17, 1910 over Cotroceni airfield. On September 28, 1910, part of the Fall military exercise, Vlaicu flew his airplane from Slatina to Piatra Olt carrying a message, Romania thus becoming the second country after France use airplanes for military missions.
With his A. Vlaicu Nr. II built in 1911, he competed in the summer of 1912 at Internationale Flugwoche at Aspern near Vienna, against 42 other aviators of the day, including Roland Garros. Vlaicu won prizes for precision landing, projectile throwing and tight flying around a pole, totaling 7,500 Austro-Hungarian krone. On this occasion, he was issued the FAI pilot license number 52, although he has been flying since June 1910. On return from Aspern he flew demonstration flights in Arad, Lugoj, Hațeg, Orăștie, Vršac, Alba Iulia, Săliște, Târgu Mureș and Dumbrăveni. The year before he flew similar flights in Blaj, Sibiu, Brașov, Iași and Cernăuti.
During his short career, Vlaicu designed and built three original airplanes with flight controls in front, two coaxial propellers to counteract each other's torque, tricycle-landing gear with independent suspension with brakes on the rear wheels and cowled rotary engines. His airplanes were powered by French Gnôme rotary engines, of 50 HP (A. Vlaicu Nr. I and A. Vlaicu Nr. II) and 80 HP (A. Vlaicu Nr. III). His airplanes lacked ailerons, relying on the low center of gravity provided by the parasol wing for roll stability, while the rudder would allow skidding turns. The rudder and elevators were controlled via a steering wheel that swung sideways for rudder control.
At the time of his death, a two-seat monoplane, the A. Vlaicu Nr. III, which had been built on contract to the Marconi Company for experiments with aerial wireless radio, was only partially finished. Following his death it was completed by his friends and several short test flights were made during 1914. Further tests were hindered by the unusual controls. In 1916, during the German occupation of Bucharest, Vlaicu III was seized and shipped to Germany.
Vlaicu was posthumously elected to the Romanian Academy in 1948.
Aurel Vlaicu died on September 13, 1913 near Câmpina, on the outskirts of Bănești commune while attempting to be the first to fly across the Carpathian Mountains in his now aged Vlaicu II. He was expected to participate in the ASTRA (Asociaţia Transilvană pentru Literatura Română şi Cultura Poporului Român) festivities in Orastie, near Binţinţi.
The cause of Vlaicu's crash remains unsolved. Vlacu's friends Giovanni Magnani and Constantin Silisteanu dismissed claims of sabotage, being among the first to inspect the wreckage as they were following him in an automobile. The most plausible cause of Vlaicu's death was that the airplane stalled while landing with the engine off. As was common practice at the time, landings were made with the engine off, however this made it difficult for the pilot to make corrections to his flightpath.
He is buried in Bellu cemetery, in Bucharest.
A museum was established in his home village. and a monument was erected near Bănești where he crashed his plane.
His life was subject of a novel "Flăcăul din Binţinţi" by C-tin Ghiban (published in 1953), and of movie by Mircea Drăgan (released in 1978).
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