Saturday, August 13, 2016

Dumont and Whitehead: Replicas that Fly vs Wright Bros.: Replicas that Don't

Alberto Santos-Dumont
and the 14-bis

Albert Santos-Dumont's "14-bis" replica in free flight, Brazil, 2006.

The Brazilians didn't celebrate the Centennial of Flight in 2003 like the United States did with a replica of the Wright "Flyer" I. Their gala ceremonies were three years later, in 2006, and honored their own Alberto Santos-Dumont with a replica of his pioneer plane, the "14 bis." To the cheers of the 2006 celebrants, the replica of Dumont's plane lifted up from level ground and flew like a champ. The Brazilians call Dumont the " Father of Flight," and claim that he, not Orville Wright, was "the first to fly,"

Alberto Santos-Dumont
Ten years later, in the opening ceremonies of the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics, the Brazilians again unveiled  a replica of their aviation hero Santos-Dumont's airplane, the "14-bis."

This time, in front of millions of viewers throughout the world, the replica once more proved its validity. It rose in real time from the ground of the Olympics amphitheater (top, above) and then, still aloft, but with the thrilling assist of a CGI (computer generated imagery) background, seemed to fly out of the amphitheater and over some of the greatest landmarks of Rio de Janeiro.

Most of the viewers outside of Brazil had likely never heard of this great Brazilian aviation pioneer, Dumont, or his dirigibles and powered planes. Most people don't know that the promotion of the Wright brothers in the United States as "first to fly" smacks of propaganda to the exclusion of other pioneer aviators. This sales project was initiated by Wilbur and Orville Wright and has been going on for over a century. (See former posts in truthinaviationhistory.)

So who was Alberto Santos-Dumont? He was a wealthy Brazilian, the heir of a coffee producer, who moved to Paris, and there contributed a great deal to the development of early aviation, starting with his balloons and prize winning dirigibles.

Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont invented and flew the "14 Bis" in France on October, 23,1906, before reporters or official witnesses ever saw the Wrights successfully fly.  On November 12, 1906,  Dumont flew again for a world record of 722 feet.

By 1906 or even 1908, the Wrights didn't have enough engine power to take off in a reasonable distance with their engine power alone. They needed the wind or a catapult. As for the Wrights' claim of  852 feet in 1903, who knows?

Above and below, Alberto Santos-Dumont flying his "14 bis" in France in 1906. There is no room for doubt. It was the first officially observed and documented flight in the world, verified by the FAI. (Federation Aeronautique Internationale)

 The 14 Bis fulfilled the requirements of the FAI  (Federation Aeronautique Internationale) for a powered, manned, heavier than air flight. It took off with engine power alone from level ground without the aid of gravity (a downward slope) or the wind.

The Brazilians' argument that Santos-Dumont was indeed 
the first to fly has a great deal of merit.

One reason is that an overwhelming amount of evidence does not support the Wrights' claim that they were first, to the chagrin of the following groups:

(a) Wright proponents in Dayton, Ohio, USA, where the brothers resided.

(b) The residents of North Carolina, USA, where it is claimed they made the first powered flight.

(c) The Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, where it is required by contract with the Wright family estate to support the Wright claim that they were the first to fly. 

Wright advocates like to say that by 1906, the Wright "Flyer" III  had logged over 24 miles--in one flight.. But they have a dearth of witnesses. There were absolutely no official witnesses or reporters present. Their promoter Octave Chanute, who went out on a limb to vouch for them, never saw a successful flight until 1908 (when they were still using a catapult to get into the air). In fact, they had gathered up a group of friends and family to vouch for them that they flew before then, but friends and family didn't know what a genuine flight was. Until 1908, they never demonstrated their claimed success to the public, the press, or even to potential buyers. They were trying to get governments to buy their goods sight unseen on their word only. Not to say that they weren't very convincing salesmen. But so were Barnum and Bailey! Even in the late summer of 1908, when they finally went public, they were unable to get off the ground without the assistance of their catapult, so they wouldn't have met the requirements of the FAI  for an official flight, anyway, as Dumont did in 1906. See blogpost "Is it a Flight or Isn't It" right here in truthinaviation history.

Was Dumont the first to fly? We can truthfully and without hesitation give him the title of the first in the world to be officially witnessed and certified by the FAI  as making a sustained and controlled manned, powered flight with a heavier than air machine.

But was Dumont really the very first to fly? 

That is still somewhat a subject of controversy. The title of first to achieve manned, powered, sustained free flight should likely go to

 Gustave Whitehead and the 
"Condor Number 21"

Gustave Whitehead's  powered plane named the "Condor No. 21" was designed, built, and witnessed flying in 1901, more than two years before the Wright brothers claimed powered flight on December 17, 1903.

         Replica of Whitehead's Condor #21 in free flight, October 4, 1997. This replica was built in Germany.
Success! Actor Cliff Robertson is shown here in 1986, after piloting
the Condor replica built in Connecticut.

In 1986, a replica of Whitehead's Condor was built by a group led by teacher Andy Kosch in Connecticut.The replica "leaped off the ground right away" said Andy. "It flew about the length of a football field, actually 330 feet," he said. Click to see the replica flying. This is nearly three times the length of Orville Wright's claimed flight of 120 feet in 1903, which is touted as the first flight in history.

Gustave Whitehead 1874-1927

The Whitehead Condor #21

Many witnesses to Whitehead's original flights are documented;
and his flight of the Condor no. 21 was also observed by a reporter, ostensibly the editor of the Connecticut paper, the Bridgeport Herald, August 14, 1901. He wrote and published a famed article about what he saw. Many of Whitehead's witnesses even signed affidavits that they had observed Whitehead in flight.  

Orville Wright declared Whitehead's 1901 flight of the Condor a "myth." See "The Mythical Whitehead Flight"by Orville Wright which appeared in the August 1945 issue of U.S. Air Services. But Wright declared Dumont's flight of the "21-bis" a "legend," too, even though it was certified by the FAI and witnessed by many-- as is easily seen in the 1906 photographs. .See "Pioneers of Flight," written by John R.McMahon, c.1930 p. 183. To cap it all, Orville Wright even declared the glider experiments of John J. Montgomery "myths," though his spectacular flights  in 1905 were witnessed by thousands, not to mention reporters, in California. See truthinaviationhistory "Lateral Control and John J Montgomery."  Montgomery was successfully experimenting with controllability, including ailerons, long before the Wrights ever got involved in aviation.

With so many  flights declared "mythical" by the Wrights, wouldn't it be prudent to explore more thoroughly the history of the earliest aviation pioneers?   The Wrights themselves had only five witnesses on December 17, 1903,-- an 18 year old boy, a beach combing farmer who just happened by, and three lifesavers, two of whom said the Wrights glided off the hill that day. But the Wrights telegraphed their father and manufactured a press release soon after in January that they took off from level ground with engine power alone. (In the press release, "Associated Press,"January 5, 1904, they said, "Each time the machine started from the level ground by its own power alone with no assistance from gravity, or any other source whatever."  That statement, obviously untrue, because the 24-27 mph wind they reported would assist a take off even if the machine had started from level ground, moves their claim into the realm of "genuine" myth or fiction..As for the famous picture of the first flight, the Wrights didn't produce it until 1908. Plenty of time to manufacture a photograph. See truth in aviation history.

Orville and Wilbur Wright

and the Wright "Flyer" I

In 2003 the United States celebrated the "Centennial of Flight" with a replica of the Wright Flyer I that was claimed to have made the first manned, powered, sustained flight in 1903. The replica failed to fly in front of thousands of spectators. It couldn't get off the ground.

Footage of the Wright Flyer I replica attempting flight December 17, 2003

This has been the story of the Wright "Flyer" I replicas. Despite spending millions of donated dollars building their "replicas," the adherents of the Wrights have never been able to duplicate what the Wrights claimed they accomplished on December 17, 1903, an 852 feet controlled flight from level ground, or even, quite probably, a hop of 120 feet. See truthinaviationhistory  Close replicas of the Wright brothers 1903  "Flyer" are incapable of free, sustained, and controlled flight.

But three years after the U.S. "Centennial" in 2003, Brazil celebrated the "Centennial of Flight in 2006 with the successful replica of the Santos-Dumont 14-bis. Below: Compare actual footage in 2006 of the "14-bis" replica taking off from level ground with wheels and the assistance of engine power alone, to the failed attempt of the Wright Flyer replica, above..

Dumont's 14-bis replica taking off at the Brazilian Centennial, 2006

So close replicas of the Wright "Flyers"  have a far different story from the successful 14-bis and Condor #21 replicas. The 1903 Wright Flyer I replicas have proven incapable of a take off without assistance and free, sustained, and controlled flight .From the performance of all of these replicas, we can only conclude that on December 17, 1903, the Wright "Flyer" I was only able to achieve one fairly long glide with the assistance of the hill, as their witnesses said, a strong wind, and perhaps 5 percent assistance from their 12 hp motor.

A Reality Check 

Above: A video of a replica of Gustave Whitehead's
 Condor #21 in flight.
This replica was built in Baviaria, Germany and flown by
test pilot  Horst Phillips

 A film of a Dumont replica taking off
with engine power alone. No hill, no wind,
no ungainly catapult.


     Below: The best "flight"  of the 1903 Wright flier replica,
 with the assistance of a wind.

Is the successful flight of a replica today proof that the original aircraft flew? What do you think?

Below: More reading
"Lost Flights of Gustave Whitehead," Stella Randolph 
"Before the Wrights Flew" by Stella Randolph

"History by Contract" below left, by Major
William O'Dwyer  and Stella Randolph                                            

"Gustave Whitehead First in Flight"
by Susan Brinchman

For even more Reading

O Dwyer