Santos-Dumont 14-bis

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For the Brazilian band, see 14 Bis (band).
Role Experimental aircraft
Manufacturer Alberto Santos-Dumont
Designer Alberto Santos-Dumont
First flight September 7, 1906
Number built 1

The 14-bis (Quatorze-bis), also known as Oiseau de proie ("bird of prey" in French)[citation needed], was a pioneer era canard biplane designed and built by Brazilian engineer Alberto Santos-Dumont. On 23 October 1906, in Paris, France, it performed the first officially witnessed unaided takeoff and flight by a heavier-than-air aircraft.[1]


In June 1905, Gabriel Voisin tested a glider by having it towed by a fast boat on the River Seine, making a flight of over 500 ft (150 m). The glider's wing and tail were made up of Hargrave cells, a box kite-like structure that provided a degree of inherent stability. This established the Hargrave cell as a configuration useful not only for kites but also for heavier-than-air aircraft.[2] Santos-Dumont was living in Paris at the time, and was one of the most active "aeronauts" in Europe, having developed a series of non-rigid airships that displayed unparalleled agility, speed, endurance, and ease of control.

In order to promote the development of heavier-than-air aviation in France, the Aéro-Club de France had offered several prizes for heavier-than-air flights in 1904, including the Coupe Ernest Archdeacon prize of a silver trophy and 1500 francs for the first flight of 25 m (82 ft) and another prize of 1500 frances for the first flight of 100 m (330 ft).[3]


Accordingly Santos-Dumont had a Hargrave-cell (box kite-like) biplane powered by an Antoinette engine built. The work was carried out in secret, known only to his team of mechanics and craftsmen. The wings, each made up of three cells, were at the back and configured with pronounced dihedral to make the aircraft laterally stable. The 18 kW (24 hp) Antoinette engine sat between the wings driving a pusher propeller, and the pilot stood in a balloon basket immediately forward. A movable boxkite-style cell at the nose, pivoted on a universal joint within it and controlled by cables was intended for yaw and pitch control. This layout would later come to be called a "canard configuration". It was constructed from bamboo and pine joined by aluminium sockets and was covered with Japanese silk.[4]

Operational history[edit]

Santos-Dumont then connected a 60 m (200 ft) long steel cable to the tops of two posts, one taller than the other, much like a zip-line or tyrolienne of today. The aircraft was hung from a rope attached to a pulley running along the cable. It was then pulled by a donkey until it rested by the taller pole, and then released and allowed to slide down the cable toward the lower pole. In this manner, the center of gravity of the aircraft was established and adjusted, and much was learned about its stability. Photographs of these tests show the vehicle being pulled up along the cable by a donkey back to the start position.

The 14bis at the Chateau de Bagatelle grounds, under the envelope of Santos-Dumont's No.14 airship.

The aircraft was transported from Neuilly, where it was built, to the nearby Château de Bagatelle's grounds in the Bois de Boulogne, where it could be tested for its initial aerodynamic behavior. In order to simulate flight-like conditions, Santos-Dumont attached the aircraft under his latest non-rigid airship, the Number 14. Due to this, the aircraft came to be known as the "14-bis". The forces imposed by the aircraft pulled at the airship's envelope in dangerous ways, nearly tearing it and only allowing limited control. The danger of such tests caused Santos-Dumont and his team to quickly abandon them, although some useful information was obtained that led to adjustments in the balance and weight distribution of the aircraft.

The first free-flight trials of the 14bis took place at the Polo Ground in the Bois de Boulogne on 21 August, but was halted by damage to the propeller. After repairs it was tried again the following day: although it briefly lifted off it was evident that it lacked sufficient power, and the engine was replaced by a 50 hp (37 kW) Antoinette. Trials resumed on 4 September without great success, and on 7 September after the propeller was damaged a new larger one was fitted. On the 13 September 1906, the wheels left the ground for 4 m.[5]

Announcements were made about Santos-Dumont trying for all the aeronautics prizes. Crowds and Aéro-Club de France observers gathered on the morning of the 13 September 1906. Not all the cylinders were firing during a first takeoff attempt, but quick repairs allowed for a second run to result in a 13 m (43 ft) long flight, reaching an altitude of about 1 m (3 ft). This did not qualify for the prizes, but earned Santos-Dumont a great deal of attention.

The 14-bis landed at a high angle of attack, and the propeller struck the ground. Repairs were made. On the 23 October, after a series of engine tests and high-speed ground runs (one of which ended as one wheel came loose, but this was quickly fixed), Santos-Dumont finally pulled the 14-bis into the air. The aircraft flew for over 60 m (200 ft) at an altitude of about 3 m (10 ft). This earned Santos-Dumont the first of the aviation prizes, 3,000 francs for a flight of 25 m (82 ft) or more.

The aircraft required more repairs, as the landing had slightly damaged it, but even so Santos-Dumont announced that he should be ready to attempt the 100 meters prize on 12 November. The 14-bis was repaired, and octagonal ailerons were added to the middle of each outermost wing cell, somewhat similar to the aileron layout later used in the Curtiss Model D. Hinged about their center of gravity, the ailerons were actuated by cables attached to the shoulders of the pilot's flightsuit, somewhat like the seat-hinged "shoulder cradle" used on examples of the 1909-10 Curtiss Model D,[6] and the hip-movement wing-warping control on the Wright Flyer, but with the octagonal surfaces pivoting about an axis going across between the outermost forward struts, not the aft set near the trailing edge of the wings.

On the morning of 12 November 1906, the aviation community of France assembled at the Chateau de Bagatelle's grounds to witness Santos Dumont's next attempt. As Santos-Dumont allowed the 14-bis to run down the field, a car drove alongside, from which Henry Farman dropped a plate each time he observed the wheels of the aircraft leave the ground or touch down again. The first attempt saw a 5 second flight of about 40 m (130 ft) around 40 cm off the ground, and the second saw two brief flights of 40 and 50 m (160 ft). A hurried landing due to the proximity of some trees after this second attempt damaged the wheel axles, and these were fixed during a lunch break. In the afternoon, further flights were of 50 meters and then 82 m (269 ft) (achieving about 40 km/h), this one interrupted by the proximity of a polo barrier. As the sun set, Santos-Dumont attempted one more flight. In order to ensure he would not hit spectators, who by this time were present all over the field, he pulled up flying over them. After 22 seconds, he cut the engine power and glided into a landing. He had flown for 220 meters (over 700 ft), qualifying for the second aviation prize offered for heavier-than-air-aircraft, 1,000 francs for a flight of 100 meters or more. This was the last recorded flight of the aircraft.[7] The next notable Santos-Dumont flights were made in November 1907, flying his No. 19 Demoiselle[8]

14-bis vs. Wright Flyer[edit]

14-bis on a French postcard
Photographs of Wright Flyer II, 1904 (top), and Flyer III, 1905 (bottom).

Some people, claim that the 14-bis rather than Wright Flyer was the first true airplane.[9]

For take-off the 1903 Wright Flyer used a launch rail and a wheeled dolly which was left on the ground. After 1903 the Wrights used a catapult to assist most takeoffs of their 1904 and 1905 airplanes. The Santos-Dumont 14-bis did not use a catapult and ran on wheels.

The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (F.A.I) ("International Federation of Aeronautics"), founded in France in 1905 to "regulate the sport of flying", keeping track of aviation records and other aeronautical activities in the Western world, stated among its rules that an aircraft should be able to take off under its own power in order to qualify for a record. Therefore, some claim the 14-bis must be considered the first operational fixed-wing aircraft. However the 1903 Wright Flyer made unassisted takeoffs and controlled, sustained, maneuvering flights nearly three years before Santos Dumont made his first takeoff, and the F.A.I. credit them with having made the first successful heavier-than-air flight.

Wilbur Wright wrote to Ferdinand Ferber saying:

We had already seen by the picture in the New York Herald that the plane rests on three wheels and we deduce from this that Mr. Santos Dumont, in order to effect his take-off, has first to make a run over a long level field. With the aid of the starting-off pillar that we use, Orville and I speedily go right up into the air in a much more practical fashion... We are sure to find a lot in our favor if we come to exhibit in France; but the voyage and the transportation of the machine and the pillar cost much more money than the two poor mechanics can afford to spend; also, dear Captain Ferber, if French experts, under your management, desire to come to Dayton, we will give them a demonstration of the machine in a neighboring field, flying for five minutes in a complete circle and let them have an option of the performance and release of the machine, for $50,000, cash down.[1]

Model of 14-bis, with octagonal-planform ailerons

Both aircraft made free, manned, powered flights. Authenticated written and photographic documentation by the Wrights shows that they made fixed-wing flights before Santos Dumont. Official records and motion picture documentation show that the 14-bis achieved unaided takeoff on wheels; Santos Dumont supporters claim that Flyer takeoffs were not unaided, although this is not the case with their first flights.

Specifications (14-bis)[edit]

Data from[10]

General characteristics

  • Crew: one pilot
  • Length: 9.70 m (31 ft 10 in)
  • Wingspan: 11.20 m (36 ft 9 in)
  • Height: 3.40 m (11 ft 2 in)
  • Wing area: 52 m² (560 ft²)
  • Loaded weight: 300 kg (661 lb)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Antoinette 8V V-8 piston engine, 37 kW (50 hp)


See also[edit]

14-bis Square in Petrópolis, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Related development

Santos-Dumont Demoiselle

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era


  1. ^ a b thefirsttofly (n.d.). "Santos Dumont, The First Aviator, and the Wright Brothers – End of the century-old polemic". Archived from the original on 2003-08-20. Retrieved 2008-09-14. 
  2. ^ Gibbs-Smith 1974, p.160
  3. ^ Gibbs-Smith 1974, p. 137.
  4. ^ Gibbs-Smith 974, p. 212
  5. ^ Gibbs-Smith 1874, p.218
  6. ^ Waldvogel, Robert (May 2013). "The Curtiss Model D". Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome. p. 3. Retrieved August 10, 2013. 
  7. ^ Flight, 1909, p. 12.
  8. ^ "l'Aéroplane Santos=Dumont No. 19". l'Aérophile (in French): 314. November 1907. 
  9. ^ "The Case for Santos-Dumont". Retrieved 9 May 2014. 
  10. ^
  • Gray, Carroll F. "The 1906 Santos-Dumont No. 14bis". World War I Aeroplanes, Issue #194, November 2006, pgs. 4-21.
  • Gibbs-Smith, C. H. The Rebirth of European Aviation. London: HMSO, 1974 ISBN 0 11290180 8
  • Joao Luiz Musa, Marcelo Breda Mourao, and Ricardo Tilkian, Eu Naveguei Pelo Ar ("I Flew Through the Air") 2003
  • Alberto Santos Dumont A Conquista Do Ar ("The Conquer of the Air") 1901
  • Hippolyto Da Costa, Fernando. Alberto Santos-Dumont: The Father of Aviation. transl: Soares, Hercillio A. VARIG Maintenance Base, Rio: 1973.
  • Lins de Barros, Henrique. Alberto Santos-Dumont. Associacao Promotora Da Instrucao, Rio de Janeiro: 1986.
  • Tobin, James. To Conquer the Air: The Wright Brothers and The Great Race for Flight. Free Press, New York: 2003.

External links[edit]