The World’s First Aviation Record: 722 feet at a blazing 26 MPH!

Alberto Santos-Dumont, a wealthy Brazilian coffee heir, set the first official aviation world record in 1906, three years after the Wright Brothers took their inaugural flight. In 1905, even though most airplanes could barely get off the ground, let alone sustain any sort of forward momentum for very long, aviation visionaries founded the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, or FAI, with the stated purpose “to regulate the various aviation meetings and advance the science and sport of Aeronautics.”

Santos-Dumant made his European aeronautical debut in 1901, when he flew a dirigible around the Eiffel tower; on September 13, 1905, he became the first person to fly an airplane in Europe. On November 12, 1906, still in Paris, Santos-Dumant took off in a craft of his own design, the 14-bis, climbed to a lofty fifteen feet above the ground and flew across a field for a distance a little longer than a city block.

Here’s a picture of the airplane.

20130117_800px-Santos_-_Nov12_1906

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

He claimed he could have flown farther, but landed early because he feared his propellers might injure the boisterous crowd that cheered him on. Because the FAI had observers present, they recognized his distance of 722 feet in 21 seconds as the first-ever aviation world record. At 26 miles per hour, the record paled when compared to the land vehicle record at the time, 128 miles per hour.

In 1994, the FAI established the Santos-Dumont Gold Airship Award in honor of the aviator’s many accomplishments.

What Does the E-1 Have In Common With the B-17?

Well, beyond the obvious wings and a tail and so on, I was surprised to find that the E-1 and B-17 have an interesting design characteristic in common. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

I recently had the opportunity to do a second-in-command (co-pilot) check out in Aluminum Overcast, the B-17 that belongs to the EAA Foundation. Here’s a picture of the airplane:

B-17

Aluminum Overcast
(Eileen Bjorkman personal collection)

It’s a big taildragger, about 40,000 pounds — much bigger than anything I’ve ever flown before, but I had a great instructor, and after about eight tries I managed to make a decent landing.

The trickiest part of flying the B-17 is the throttles. Here’s a picture of the throttle quadrant:

B-17 Throttles

B-17 Throttles — What Engineer Designed This?
(Eileen Bjorkman personal collection)

The top lever connects engines 1 and 4 to move together; the bottom lever connects 2 and 3; and in the center you have control of all four throttles individually or you can grab them together. It sounds good, but 1 and 4 are on top of 2 and 3 instead of all in a row, so at first I was forever grabbing the wrong throttle.

As to what the E-1 and the B-17 have in common, they both use split flaps, which I discussed in a previous post. As you can imagine, the B-17’s flaps are considerably larger than the E-1’s flaps. I didn’t make any measurements, but I think it would be safe to say that the B-17’s flaps are probably bigger than the E-1’s entire wing! And the B-17 flaps are powered electrically, instead of the simple manual lever that the E-1 uses.

Wisconsin Aviation from the 1940s

I’ve been on hiatus for about a week with preparing for and traveling to Wisconsin for AirVenture at Oshkosh. I’m having a great time so far and will be giving the Propeller presentation on Saturday (tomorrow) at 1130. Arnold will be there to answer questions as well.

While in Wisconsin, I’ve had the chance to go to the Wisconsin Historical Society and comb through old newspaper microfilms. I’ve also visited various places where Arnold did his early flying. From both of those, I’ve gotten some great tidbits to add to my early chapters and some wonderful photos, some of which will be in this post.

First up is a photo of a painting of Donald Rock by John Steuart Curry. Those of you who have been following this for a while know Arnold spent about six years of his early childhood on the farm depicted in the painting below. The rock made an attractive landmark that pilots used for navigation in the 1930s, so Arnold saw lots of airplanes flying over all the time. The painting was done in the 1940s and it now hangs in the Chazen Museum of Art at the University of Wisconsin, which I visited on Tuesday. The farm is now a county park, and I plan to visit that on Sunday.

DR_Painting

The next two pictures are from the Portage Airport, Mael Field. I took these pictures on our visit to Portage today (more on that later). The first picture is of an old Mael Field sign and the current runway. The runway didn’t exist when Arnold flew there in the 1940s, but the picture gives you a feel for what the old airport must have looked like; just imagine all the concrete covered with grass instead. The second picture is of the hangar that Arnold helped to build in the 1940s — he figures he pounded about one-third of the nails in the hangar and it still stands today.

MaelField

PortageHangar

Next up is a corn field. Not just any corn field, but the field near Poynette where Curtis Airpark used to be. We drove to this field after we left Portage, using the same roads Arnold trundled along in Forrest Sommers’s Model A pickup truck as they traveled to work on airplanes and go fly PT-23s. The Curtis family still owns the property and a relative we spoke to said the airfield continued to exist until about 30 years ago.

CurtisAirPark

The next picture is of Arnold in Vietnam with his brother Frank. Their tours overlapped briefly in 1968, and this picture was taken during one of Frank’s visits to Tuy Hoa. Frank was a forward air controller flying O-1Es, so he was happy to get to a real Air Force Base every once in a while! This picture came out of a short article in the Portage Daily Register that Arnold’s mother had saved in a scrapbook and that my Aunt Tere has now. Arnold is on the left and Frank is on the right.

ArnoldFrank

I took the last picture today at a lunch with some of Arnold’s high school classmates in Portage. Fifteen people showed up — that’s pretty amazing after all these years. What’s even more amazing is that they all get together for lunch once a month! The other gentleman in the picture (on the left) is Laverne Griffin, a distinguished aviator who also had a career in the US Air Force. He flew RF-101s and RF-4s, so I know he has some great stories that I need to get at some point! Laverne was inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame last year, and this year Arnold is being inducted into the same place. What do you suppose the odds are that two guys from a small high school class would both get inducted into a state Aviation Hall of Fame?

GriffinEbneter

Propeller at AirVenture!

I’m taking Monday off for the Memorial Day holiday in the US, but I wanted to let everyone know I was notified Friday that Arnold and I will be giving a presentation on “The Propeller under the Bed” at AirVenture in Oshkosh! We will be presenting on Saturday, August 3, 11:30 AM – 12:45 PM at the Forum Pavilion 08/NATCA J09. I hope to see all of you there!

And please remember those who gave their lives for our freedom.

New Picture of Donald Rock

This is the best picture I’ve seen yet of Donald Rock, the rock on Arnold’s boyhood farm that pilots used as a landmark. Many thanks to my Aunt Tere for finding this gem! The boy in the picture is Arnold (is that a tie?) and the woman right behind him is his mother, Bertha. The other woman is his Aunt Mary (his father Emil’s sister).

Donald Rock