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Santos-Dumont 14-bis

The French 14-bis is famous for being the first flying heavier-than-air machine in Europe. Many people, especially in France, considered it to be the worlds first fully functional aircraft because, unlike the Wright Flyer three years before, it could get airborne all by itself and not with the aid of catapults, slopes or favourable winds.

It is also an early example of a so called canard-aircraft, meaning one that has its fin and stabiliser fore of the main wing and not aft.


Many "aeronauts" gathered in and around Paris at the turn of the century. Flying was a commodity and in 1905 the French aviation authorities began offering prizes to further encourage progress. Gabriel Voisin and Louis Bleriot worked together to build a motorised aircraft based on a boat-towed glider, and Ferber, Chanutte and the Wright brothers were also experimenting with gliders.

Alberto Santos-Dumont had been constructing innovative airships for quite some time, and
soon got himself into the race. While visiting Cote D'Azur and watching a speedboat competition, he became aware of the Antoinette-engine, designed by Léon Levavasseur. It was very powerful as well as being lightweight, and Santos-Dumont realised that it could be used to power an aircraft.

To simulate flying conditions, tests were carried out with the aircraft strapped underneath Santos-Dumont's latest airship, number 14. These hybrid-airship tests were far from safe and were abandoned after a short time, but that is how the aircraft got its name, 14-bis.  

14-bis was built in secrecy, only the constructors and workers directly involved knew what was going on. The airplane was to be powered by an Antoinette engine of 50 hp with a pusher-propeller. The engine was placed between the wings, in front of it was the pilot's compartment - where the pilot would fly standing up - and fore in the nose was the fin and stabiliser in one, box kite-like arrangement.

After many attempts and short hops the 14-bis finally flew several hundred meters, and thereby Alberto Santos-Dumas won the prize for the first really working aircraft in Europe. This was in Bagatelle, France on October 23, 1906.


A replica of a 14-bis lands at Broa Fly-in 2007 in Itirapina in Brazil, Alberto Santos-Dumont's native country. First a couple of other aircraft pass by but after about 20 seconds the 14-bis shows up from the right.