My Airships/Chapter 15

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AND now, 19th October 1901, the air-ship "Santos-Dumont No. 6," having been repaired with great celerity, I tried again for the Deutsch prize and won it.

On the day before the weather had been wretched. Nevertheless, I had sent out the necessary telegrams convoking the Commission. Through the night the weather had improved, but the atmospheric conditions at 2 o'clock in the afternoon—the hour announced for the trial—were, nevertheless, so unfavourable that of the twenty-five members composing the Commission only five made their appearance—MM. Deutsch (de la Meurthe), de Dion, Fonvielle, Besançon, and Aimé.

The Central Meteorological Bureau, consulted at this hour by telephone, reported a south-east wind blowing 6 metres per second at the altitude of the Eiffel Tower. When I consider that I
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was content when my first air-ship in 1898 had, in the opinion of myself and friends, been going at the rate of 7 metres per second I am still surprised at the progress realised in those three years, for I was now setting out to win a race against a time limit in a wind blowing almost as fast as the highest speed I had realised in my first air-ship.

The official start took place at 2.42 P.M. In spite of the wind striking me sidewise, with a tendency to take me to the left of the Eiffel Tower, I held my course straight to that goal. Gradually I drove the air-ship onward and upward to a height of about 10 metres above its summit. In doing this I lost some time, but secured myself against accidental contact with the Tower as much as possible.

As I passed the Tower I turned with a sudden movement of the rudder, bringing the air-ship round the Tower's lightning conductor at a distance of about 50 metres from it. The Tower was thus turned at 2.51 P.M., the distance of 5 kilometres, plus the turning, being done in nine minutes.

The return trip was longer, being in the teeth of this same wind. Also, during the trip to the Tower the motor had worked fairly well. Now, after I had left it some 500 metres behind me, the motor was actually on the point of stopping. I had a moment of great uncertainty. I must make a quick decision. It was to abandon the steering wheel for a moment, at the risk of drifting from my course, in order to devote my attention to the carburating lever and the lever controlling the electric spark.

The motor, which had almost stopped, began to work again. I had now reached the Bois, where, by a phenomenon known to all aeronauts, the cool air from the trees began making my balloon heavier and heavier—or in true physics, smaller by condensation. By an unlucky coincidence the motor at this moment began slowing again. Thus the air-ship was descending, while its motive power was decreasing.

To correct the descent I had to throw back both guide rope and shifting weights. This caused the air-ship to point diagonally upward, so that what propeller-force remained caused it to remount continually in the air.

I was now over the crowd of the Auteuil racetrack, already with a sharp pointing upward. I heard the applause of the mighty throng, when
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suddenly my capricious motor started working at full speed again. The suddenly-accelerated propeller being almost under the high-pointed air-ship exaggerated the inclination, so that the applause of the crowd changed to cries of alarm. As for myself, I had no fear, being over the trees of the Bois, whose soft greenery, as I have already stated, always reassured me.

All this happened very quickly—before I had a chance to shift my weights and guide rope back to the normal horizontal positions. I was now at an altitude of 150 metres. Of course, I might have checked the diagonal mounting of the air-ship by the simple means of slowing the motor that was driving it upward; but I was racing against a time limit, and so I just went on.

I soon righted myself by shifting the guide rope and the weights forward. I mention this in detail because at the time many of my friends imagined something terrible was happening. All the same, I did not have time to bring the air-ship to a lower altitude before reaching the timekeepers in the Aéro Club's grounds—a thing I might easily have done by slowing the motor. This is why I passed so high over the judges' heads.

Qn my way to the Tower I never looked down on the house-tops of Paris: I navigated in a sea of white and azure, seeing nothing but the goal. On the return trip I had kept my eyes fixed on the verdure of the Bois de Boulogne and the silver streak of river where I had to cross it. Now, at my high altitude of 150 metres and with the propeller working at full power, I passed above Longchamps, crossed the Seine, and continued on at full speed over the heads of the Commission and the spectators gathered in the Aéro Club's grounds. At that moment it was eleven minutes and thirty seconds past three o'clock, making the time exactly twenty-nine minutes and thirty-one seconds.

The air-ship, carried by the impetus of its great speed, passed on as a racehorse passes the winning-post, as a sailing yacht passes the winning-line, as a road racing automobile continues flying past the judges who have snapped its time. Like the jockey of the racehorse, I then turned and drove myself back to the aérodrome to have my guide rope caught and be drawn down at twelve minutes forty and four-fifths seconds past three, or thirty minutes and forty seconds from the start.

I did not yet know my exact time.

I cried: "Have I won?"

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And the crowd of spectators cried back to me: "Yes!"

. . . . . . . .

For a while there were those who argued that my time ought to be calculated up to the moment of my second return to the aérodrome instead of to the moment when I first passed over it, returning from the Eiffel Tower. For a while, indeed, it seemed that it might be more difficult to have the prize awarded to me than it had been to win it. In the end, however, common-sense prevailed. The money of the prize, amounting in all to 125,000 francs, I did not desire to keep. I, therefore, divided it into unequal parts. The greater sum, of 75,000 francs, I handed over to the Prefect of Police of Paris to be used for the deserving poor. The balance I distributed among my employees, who had been so long with me and to whose devotion I was glad to pay this tribute.

At this same time I received another grand prize, as gratifying as it was unexpected. This was a sum of 100 contos (125,000 francs), voted to me by the Government of my own country, and accompanied by a gold medal of large size and great beauty, designed, engraved, and struck off in Brazil. Its obverse shows my humble self led by Victory and crowned with laurel by a flying figure of Renown. Above a rising sun there is engraved the line of Camoëns, altered by one word, as I adopted it to float on the long streamer of my air-ship: "Por ceos nunca d'antes navegados!"[1] The reverse bears these words: "Being President of the Republic of the United States of Brazil, the Doctor Manoel Ferraz de Campos Salles has given order to engrave and strike this medal in homage to Alberto Santos-Dumont. 19th October 1901."
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This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.

The author died in 1932, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

  1. "Through heavens hereto unsailed," instead of
    "Por mares nunca d'antes navegados" —
    "O'er seas hereto unsailed."