Let this stand in testiment to those here who would refute the undeniable truth that donkeys and aviation have been linked since man first dreamed of flight.Historians of aviation are not certain what to make of Alberto Santos-Dumont; no one ever was. He was a hero, a genius, and a visionary to some, and to others he was a laughable character who was only accidentally more than a footnote in the history of flight. Peter Wykeham’s biography of the man presents a complex picture of a man who persevered over terrific odds— thrown at him by the world and his own demons—and who “forced history to be made by sheer will.” Santos (as he was known) came to France from Brazil in 1891. He was the eighteen-year- old son of a wealthy coffee plantation owner, and showed mechanical adroitness even as a child.
In 1904, Santos experimented with gliders and helicopters, producing a machine of silk and bamboo. It did not fly, though it tossed Santos about. He went back to the drawing board and emerged in 1906 with a machine that looked like several box kites haphazardly put together. He called it the 14-bis (14-encore) because it was to be carried aloft by his No. 14 dirigible. On July 23, 1906, in a procession that looked like a major parade and included Ernest Archdeacon and other members of the Aéro Club, Santos brought his No. 14 and the 14-bis to the Bagatelle for testing. Noticing that the aircraft had been damaged during the procession, the unflappable Santos announced that the test was off and sent everyone home. He tried again on July 29, this time using a donkey (named Kuigno) to pull the aircraft- dirigible combination.
Aviators sit in the shade of their weatherbeaten, fabric-covered biplanes, exchange hangar talk and tell stories of their barnstorming days before they take to the air again and fly toward the setting sun ....
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