Wrights and Wrongs

David Jordan recalls the career of the man Brazilians claim to have been the true pioneer of powered heavier-than-air flight.

First flight of the Wright Flyer I, December 17, 1903, Orville piloting, Wilbur running at wingtip.As the world commemorates the centenary of Orville Wright’s flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17th, 1903, which is said to have inaugurated aeroplane flight, a Brazilian writer has suggested that the celebrations are three years premature. Rodrigo Moura Visoni, who has spent years researching the Wright brothers’ claim to be the first aviators, has strengthened evidence that what they flew in 1903 was not an aeroplane but a glider.

Documents collated by Moura Visoni seem to confirm that his fellow-countryman Albert Santos-Dumont has the more reliable claim as the world’s first heavier-than-air aviator.

After 1903, the Wright brothers engaged in a long period of experimentation and development in private, and though their work was reported, few could confirm independently what the brothers were claiming. Santos-Dumont was heralded as the inventor of the aeroplane when his ‘14-bis’ craft took off in Bagatelle, France, and flew for 60 metres in front of a crowd on October 23rd, 1906. Subsequent flights improved upon this: he reached 220 metres on November 12th.

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