What I Saw, What We Will See (1918)
by Alberto Santos-Dumont, translated from Portuguese by Wikisource
What We Will See
4023624What I Saw, What We Will See — What We Will See1918Alberto Santos-Dumont

I was in Europe in 1915, when I received an invitation from the Board of the Aero Club of America to take part in the Second Pan-American Scientific Congress, where all the countries of our continent were represented by their most illustrious children.

I took advantage of the opportunity, which was so especially offered to me, to once again express my full confidence in the future of air navigation.

I chose, for that, this theme:

How the airplane can facilitate relations between the Americas.

The topographical conditions of the South American continent, making it economically impossible to build railroads and, therefore, adequate transportation and communication, have delayed the close union, so desirable, between the states of the Western Hemisphere. Important cities, located at high altitudes, remain isolated. Some, in fact, seem to be practically out of the reach of modern civilization.

The long and painful voyage, the time it takes to steamboat, is delaying the intimate alliance of the South American countries with the United States, to whom they seem inaccessible, because they are so remote.

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A long period of travel separates us, preventing the development of profitable trade relations, which are mutually interesting, especially now that the war has disrupted the world market.

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Who knows when a European power will threaten an American state? Who can say if in the present war we won't see a European power come to take over a South American territory? Is war between the United States and a European country impossible? A close alliance between North and South America would result in a formidable force.

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I told you about commerce and the difficulty of its development, about transport and communication facilities, and about the increase of friendly relations. I am convinced that the obstacles of time and distance will be removed. The exiled cities of South America will come into direct contact with today's world. Distant countries will meet, despite the barriers of mountains, rivers and forests. The United States and the South American countries will know each other as well as England and France know each other. The distance from New York to Rio de Janeiro, which is now more than twenty days by sea, will be reduced to two or three days. With time and distance annulled, trade relations, for so long delayed, will develop spontaneously. We will have facilities for rapid communications. We will reach a more intimate contact. We will be stronger in our bonds of understanding and friendship.

All of this, gentlemen, will be accomplished by the airplane.

I don't think the time is far off when airplane service will be established between the cities of the United States and the South American capitals. With a postal service in an airplane communication between the two continents will be reduced from twenty to two or three days. The transportation of passengers between New York and the farthest points in South America is not impossible. I believe, gentlemen, that the airplane, with minor improvements, will solve the problem for which we have fought so hard.

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Is the possibility of air navigation between the United States and South America mere phantastical speculation?

I intimately believe that air navigation will be used to transport mail and passengers between the two continents. Some of you will show incredulity and laugh at this prediction.

However, 12 years ago I said that air machines would take part in future wars and everyone, incredulous, smiled.

On July 14, 1903, I flew over the Longchamps military review. It was attended by 50,000 soldiers and around 200,000 spectators. It was the first time that air navigation featured in a military demonstration. At that time, I predicted that air warfare would be one of the most interesting aspects of future military campaigns. My prediction was ridiculed by some military men: there were others, however, who immediately understood the future and immense benefits of air navigation. Among these, I am glad to recall the name of General André, then French Minister of War, from whom I received the following letter:


Minister's Office

Paris, July 19, 1903

Dear Sir,

During the review of July 14th, I had noticed and admired the ease and the safety with which the balloon you were directing was evolving. It was impossible not to notice the progress with which you have endowed air navigation. It seems that, thanks to you, it should now lend itself to practical applications, especially from a military point of view.

I believe that in this respect it can render very serious services in wartime...


Consider, however, the events since that time. Let us consider the valuable work that the airplane has produced in the present war.

Aviation has revolutionized the art of war.

Cavalry, which was of great importance at valuable times, has ceased to exist.

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In my book "My Airships", published in 1904, I said:

"... I cannot abandon this topic, however, without referring to one unique maritime advantage of the air-ship. This is its navigator's ability to perceive bodies moving beneath the surface of the water. Cruising at the end of its guide rope, the air-ship will carry its navigator here and there at will at the right height above the waves. Any submarine boat, stealthily pursuing its course underneath them, will be beautifully visible to him, while from a warship's deck it would be quite invisible. This is a well-observed fact, and depends on certain optical laws. Thus, very curiously, the twentieth century air-ship must become from the beginning the great enemy of that other twentieth century marvel—the submarine boat—and not only its enemy but its master. For, while the submarine boat can do no harm to the air-ship, the latter, having twice its speed, can cruise about to find it, follow all its movements, and signal them to the warships against which it is moving. Indeed, it may be able to destroy the submarine boat by sending down to it long arrows filled with dynamite, and capable of penetrating to depths underneath the waves impossible to gunnery from the decks of a warship."

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We see that today this prediction, made twelve years ago, when Aeronautics was just born, is entirely true.

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The airplane has proven its supreme importance in reconnaissance.

From its board, one can locate the enemy trenches, observe their movements, the transport of troops, ammunition and cannons. From aboard the airplane, by means of wireless telegraphy or signals, it is possible to direct the fire of the troops. By means of information transmitted by wireless telegraphy, large artillery pieces can specify their shots against enemy trenches and batteries......... The airplane is of greater value in defending the coasts than cruisers.

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Aviation has proven to be the most effective weapon of war in both offensive and defensive warfare. Since the beginning of the war, improvements in the airplane have been marvelous.

Who, five years ago, would have believed that airplanes could be used to attack enemy forces? That cannon projectiles could be launched with deadly effect from heights inaccessible to the enemy?

Since the beginning of the war, the equipment has improved. They have been increased in size, and some are now made entirely of steel. The engines have also improved. The most amazing development has been the development of cannons for airplanes. At first, the recoil of the cannons, when firing, was the greatest obstacle to air attacks. The constant and repeated shocks of the backfire of even small cannons, soon shook the fragile structures of the airplanes so used, putting them out of use. This inconvenience has been solved. New cannons have been invented that do not produce backfire. They consist of a tube from which two projectiles are expelled by a single explosion. At the moment of firing, one of the projectiles, a deadly steel bullet, descends rapidly toward the enemy, and the other, of sand, is discharged in the opposite direction; these two simultaneous discharges result in the absence of a counter-shock.

Imagine the power of this terrible shot from an airplane!

If the airplane, gentlemen, has proved so useful in war, how much more should it be in times of peace?

Less than ten years ago, my aircraft was considered a marvel. There was room for only one person in it; I used an engine of less than 20 HP. My record was 20 kilometers. I carried just enough gasoline for a 15-minute flight. At that time the airplane was considered a toy. Nobody believed that aviation would reach today's progress. In those days we flew only when the atmosphere was calm, usually at sunrise or sunset.

It was believed that an airplane could only fly when there was no wind. Today, there are devices that can carry 30 passengers, capable of flying in the air for hours, of covering about a thousand miles without touching the ground, powered by engines totaling more than of a thousand horsepower. One airplane has already reached a height of 26,200 feet, and has already remained in the air for 24 hours and 12 minutes, and between sunrise and sunset, 2,100 kilometers have been flown in an airplane. We no longer fear winds or storms; the modern flying machine dares in any sky and passes through storms of any speed, and can even soar above stormy regions. Even now the airplane is in its infancy. In the space of ten years it has progressed faster than the automobile.

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By means of the airplane, we are today able to travel at speeds exceeding 130 miles per hour. For commercial purposes and international communications, both railroads and automobiles have reached a point where their usefulness is at an end. Mountains, forests, rivers and seas hinder their progress. But the air provides a free and swift path for the airplane; for it there are no obstacles. The atmosphere is our ocean and we have ports everywhere!...

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I, who am something of a dreamer, never imagined what I had the occasion to observe when I visited a huge factory in the United States. I saw thousands of skilled mechanics engaged in the construction of airplanes, produced daily in numbers of 12 to 18.

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Improved by the needs and demands of war, the airplane — diverted from its destructive purposes — will prove its incalculable value as an instrument of the useful objectives of the human race. At the present time it is quite possible that any of the present great machines could make trips from New York to Valparaizo, or from Washington to Rio de Janeiro. A fueling point could easily be installed every 600 miles of the route.

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The main difficulty for air navigation is in the precarious progress of the engines. Frankly, the current engine has not yet reached what it should be. The airplane itself has developed faster than the engine.

I think, however, that soon the airplane engine will be so perfected that it will have no more imperfections than those of the best and most perfect automobiles made today.

Nowadays, an airplane engine needs to be relatively light and, at the same time, withstand a lot of continuous work.

Already steel has been improved and made stronger by special processes; no one knows how far we could go in improving it still further. If inventors like Edison, Tesla, Henry Wise Wood, Spery, and Curtis, etc., devoted their energy to this subject, I am convinced that in a short time we would have a perfectly satisfactory motor.

Another difficulty, which presents itself to air navigation, is the ability to locate the airplane. It is now impossible to use the sextant in the air.

I believe that an artificial horizon, produced by means of a mirror, held in a horizontal position by a gyroscope, will solve this problem. With the application of the gyroscope, scientists have achieved wonderful results. Not only can an airplane be kept in balance today by means of a gyroscope, but also a great steamer.

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With its improved engine and precise means of guiding its course, the airplane is certainly predestined to figure as one of the most important factors in the development of commerce and in the approximation of nations that are separated by great distances.

The countries where good roads were lacking were, I believe, the first to adopt railroads . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

In the emerging countries of South America, there is no abundance of railroads.

There are cities at such altitude that the railroad could hardly reach them, and it is to these cities that the airplane will bring civilization and progress.

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I foresee a time when regular airplane routes will be made between South American cities, and I also won't be surprised if in a few years there are airplane lines running between cities in the United States and South America.

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Besides the advantages coming from the approximation of the South American countries among themselves and with the United States, there is still a point to which I call your attention. All the European countries are old enemies and here in the New World we should all be friends. We must be able to intimidate any European power that intends to go to war against one of us, not by the cannons, of which we have such a small number, but by the strength of our union. In the case of a war against a European power, neither the United States, nor any of the major South American countries, under the present conditions, could conveniently protect their extensive coasts. The protection of the Brazilian and Argentine coasts by one squadron would be impractical.

Only a squadron of large airplanes, flying at 200 kilometers per hour, could patrol these long coasts... Reconnaissance airplanes could discover the approach of the hostile squadron and warn their warships about the impending battle.

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Am I talking about impossible things?

Remember that ten years ago no one took me seriously. Now we have the opportunity to observe what the airplane has been doing in Europe, doing reconnaissance, directing battles, moving troops, attacking the enemy and defending the coasts.

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The lack of communication in ancient times was the basic origin of a disunited and warring Europe.

Let's hope that air travel will bring permanent union and friendship between the Americas.

Here I have just exposed, in summary, what I said at my Washington conference, and I have no reason to disown it. On the contrary, more and more, I believe that the future of air navigation is greater and closer. The special magazines I receive constantly talk about the problem of the Atlantic crossing. We can therefore say that the idea is in the "Air"; it is therefore perhaps a matter of months and, then, we will know that an airplane departing from the New World went to the Old in perhaps one day! We will also know that 3 or 4 daring pilots of this machine suffered a lot from the cold, rain, etc., but, dear reader, let's have a little patience; soon there will be transatlantic airplanes with sleeping rooms, lounge and also, very importantly, automatically guided by gyroscopes and driven by several engines with a large surplus of power, so that in case of failure in one of them, the others are powerful enough to keep the aircraft flying.

A bit of patience!

Whoever reads No. 1 of "Je sais tout", 1905, will see that in my article published in that issue I said: "The war of the future will be waged by means of fast air cruisers standing on inaccessible heights, bombing forts, armies and ships at will". This article was ridiculed by some in the military.

There may be some today who ridicule my predictions about the commercial future of airplanes. Those who live, however, will see.

This conference of mine in Washington was well accepted, and I believe that one of the proofs is that the Aero Club of America invited me to represent them at the Pan-American Aeronautical Congress, which was to be held in Chile. I accepted this honor and left willing to find everything in Chile: I had met Chilean society in Paris and knew it to be the friendliest in the world; I had heard about the natural beauty of Chile, so I was going to see it. I was going to see the Andes, I was going to see a lot of things, everything, except airplanes. That was my expectation. The reader can imagine my astonishment when upon disembarking and in a party they organized in my honor, more than 12 aircraft flew and the same aircraft with different pilots! Arriving in Santiago, I went to visit the airfield of the army, splendidly well chosen. In my view, the aviation officers were flying and landing with the greatest skill. My amazement was even greater when they showed me the construction plants, owned by the Army and adjacent to the Field!!

It seemed that I was back in the suburbs of Paris!! One of the officers present, with the greatest naturality in the world, invited me to fly to Valparaizo, which was 150 kilometers away, and to go there, it was necessary to pass over part of the Andes; I accepted, and an hour and a half later we were there!

The work, the skill, the capacity and the success of these friends of ours from the Pacific is only exceeded by their modesty, for it is true, they never missed a moment to ask me for advice, sometimes about the installation of a nautical airfield, sometimes about hydroplanes; when in the mills, about material, national woods, possibilities of improvements, etc. They want to perfect themselves and have given me the honor of believing me a specialist in the art.

From there I went to Argentina, where again I found a great enthusiasm for aeronautics and also a great result obtained; there, however, aviation is greatly facilitated by the country's topography. I don't know how many pilots there are there, but it is the most common thing to find young men of high society who have a pilot's license.

I must here pay a compliment to our friends in La Plata who, being able to easily find a good site for an airfield, 10 minutes from Buenos Aires, have chosen it a few hours away from the city, to have it optimal, forcing the officers and disciples to live and stand there at sunrise, which is class time!

There I also saw a course for observing officers!

There was, between Argentine and Chilean aeronauts, a sporting rivalry, in which they strove to see who would cross the Andes first. It was a difficult race, from whose realization many honors would come to the South American Aeronautics.

Two Argentineans, Messrs. Bradley and Zuloaga, have made this crossing.

I have always been a supporter of the approximation of Brazil and Argentina and, sure of interpreting the feelings of my countrymen, I greeted them on behalf of the Brazilians, on the occasion of their arrival in Buenos Aires, coming from Chile by air.

From this speech I transcribe here some phrases in honor of this bold undertaking of these two sons of our friendly people:

Bradley, Zuloaga:

I greet you:

To you, who yesterday were greeted by condors, my greeting is insignificant.

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Today, when we cross the seas, we think of Columbus.... Tomorrow, the navigators of air, when crossing the Andes, will remember the names of San Martin, Bradley and Zuloaga and will say: "Here, twice, the Argentines were the first to pass through".

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In his "Legend of the Centuries" Victor Hugo says:

"Car, devant un héros, la mort est la moins forte."

You have proved that the poet was right. Bravo!

I can assure you that twenty million Brazilian hearts have applauded you.

Great interest, therefore, in Chile and Argentina; in the United States this interest is almost delirious.

After having seen the extraordinary interest that all the countries I've traveled have in aeronautics, and seeing the absolute contempt with which it was regarded among us, my outraged patriotism spoke louder than my timidity, and twice I addressed Mr. President of the Republic.

Two years ago, I made Your Excellency aware of the danger of not having, either in the Army or in the Navy, a corps of aviators. A year ago, I wrote a critique and presented an example to Your Excellency.

In these notes, I said: I read that the government will, again, take possession of Afonsos Field, where the Central Aviation School of the Army will be installed, and that the Navy will transport his School to Governor Island.

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First we will deal with the Afonsos Field. Two years ago the Army, I believe, recognizing the little practicability of this field, abandoned it........ The Aero Club installed its Aviation Field there. Invited by the board of this club, years ago, to visit and give my opinion about the field, I said I found it more than bad: I found it terrible. I advised them to look for a large plain, or better yet, that the Club should be concerned first with nautical aviation, since nature has given us a unique nautical airfield in the world. The Aero Club did not follow my advices.

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I am very sad to read that the Government is going to take possession of that land again to install the central aeronautical field there!!! The French were lucky to find good fields near Paris, but the advantages of an optimal field are so great that they went to install their new fields almost at the end of France, in Pau, where they found huge "landes". I am sure that, in the South, we must have plains similar to those of Pau, where it will be possible to work without danger, neither for the future aviator, nor for the airplane, and where the teaching will be infinitely faster, thanks to being able to use "Pingouins" for the teaching of beginners.

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A beginner, who familiarizes himself with one of these aircrafts, will need few lessons to fly. In the United States the aviation schools are very far from the capital; they are wherever there are good fields.

As for the Naval School, I believe that it is not bad on Enchadas Island.

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My opinion is, therefore: for the Army, the choice of a vast field in the South of Brazil, or even the field of Santa Cruz. For the Navy, I believe a base should be chosen for its hydroplanes, as close as possible to the city of Rio, where the officers and students live. I take this opportunity to appeal to the leaders and representatives of the Nation to give wings to the National Army and Navy. Today, when aviation is recognized as one of the main weapons of war, when every European nation possesses tens of thousands of aircrafts, when the American Congress has just ordered the construction of 22,000 of these machines and is already drafting a law ordering the construction of a new, even larger series; when Argentina and Chile have a splendid air fleet of war, we, here, still do not face this problem with the attention it deserves!

Rio de Janeiro. 16 November 1917

His Excellency thanked me and told me that in the future, if he ever needed my advice, he would let me know.

My airship park, which was in St. Cloud, was a tenth of a square kilometer. When I started flying I looked for a bigger one, which was the one in Bagatelle: it had about a square kilometer. Soon after my flight of 250 meters, I saw that this camp was too small, so I went to Issy-les-Moulinaux, — more than a kilometer square, — but surrounded by houses; I saw the defects. I then went to St. Cyr, a military camp of only a few square kilometers, but adjacent to large plains.

You can see, therefore, that I give immense importance to an Aviation Field; success in training aviators depends on it: I am sorry that the Aero Club, of which I have the honor to be Honorary President, has not followed my advice to abandon, many years ago, the Afonsos Field; I am sorry that it has not made use of the hangar I built at Praia Vermelha Beach, next to the most beautiful of aerodromes — Guanabara Bay.

I know that the Aero Club is now going to abandon the Afonsos.

It is time, perhaps, to set up a real school in a suitable field. It is not difficult to find it in Brazil. We have, for this, excellent regions, flat and extensive, favored by optimal atmospheric conditions. First of all, however, it is necessary to break with our prejudice of measuring by square meters an airfield and look for it in the outskirts of big cities.

In France, a field is said to be so many tens of square kilometers; in England and the United States, they speak of square miles; in Chile and Argentina, they speak of square leagues; here, in this immense and privileged Brazil, they speak of "square meters". We must consider, first of all, that even in the hypothesis of a million square meters, this would only be one square kilometer, only 1/36 of a square leagues! A modern airplane, flying at 200 kilometers per hour from the center of such a large field, would be outside the perimeter of the airfield in less than 9 seconds!

Outside the airfield, it is in a dangerous area, especially for beginners.

Let's not talk about the disadvantages of students living far from the fields. They need to sleep near the school, even if this requires adequate facilities, because the proper time for lessons is, admittedly, at daybreak.

Our Government possesses, two hours from Rio de Janeiro, the splendid and vast field of Santa Cruz, with nearly two square leagues, absolutely flat.

Ground where there are termites or other irregularities will not be suitable.

Bordering the Central do Brasil line, especially in the vicinity of Mogi das Cruzes, you can see fields that look good to me.

The army's re-enlistment camp in Rio Grande do Sul should be ideal.

I feel perfectly at ease to speak with such frankness to my countrymen, to whom my opinion, however, seems less valuable than to North Americans and Chileans. I feel at ease because it is inspired by my patriotism, never doubted, and never by my interest. I have never been seduced by an official or paid position, because I want to lead the life I have led until now, dedicating my time to my inventions.

For twenty years I have lived for aeronautics, I have never taken privileges, I have always flown side by side to my atelier just to verify an invention that I have never tried to benefit from.

I think that from all points of view it is preferable to bring teachers from Europe or the United States, rather than sending students there.

I'm sure that the Brazilian boys who would go abroad to learn the art of aviation would become splendid and courageous aviators. However, let's not forget that not every aviator is a good teacher. To teach an art is not enough to know the technique, but it is also necessary to know how to teach it.

It's possible that, among 4 or 6 boys who will study in Europe, one will find a good teacher; this, however, is only a probability. More correct and safer, therefore, would be to choose, right away, some good teachers, among the many that there are in Europe and the United States, and hire them to teach aviation here, in our territory.

The airplanes must be ordered from the best European or American manufacturers, whose models have already been established by the experiences of the war.

To sum up, I think that we won't have real aviation until we have a large field, of square leagues, or even a small one, of a few kilometers, surrounded, however, by large plains that, although they don't belong to the school, offer good ground for the descent of the aircraft in case of need. We also need teachers experienced in the art of teaching aviation and that live, with the students, near the school.

I have already been made to feel that I don't fly anymore and, in the meantime, I still want to give advice. Nevertheless, I have given it with the utmost sincerity and frankness, certain that those who listen to me will remember that I was not only an aviator, but that it was necessary for me to study, think, invent, build, and only then fly! In the United States, Wright, Curtiss, etc., were pioneering aviators, they have not flown for 10 years and are now in charge of the organization and construction of aeronautics. In France, Bleriot, the Farmans, the Moranes, etc., were pioneer aviators, have been no longer so for many years, and are also used by their Governments for the construction and organization of air navigation. Clement, Delauney, Marquis de Dion, Renault, etc., were all "chauffeurs", but are now considered the inventors of motorsport and are in charge of its construction and organization.

These gentlemen were "chauffeurs" or "aviators", as I also was. I am not anymore, and neither are they; but, the gift of inventors, the aptitude of organizers and builders, and this knowledge of the needs of the art that they invented and practiced, remained to them, and their governments have known how to take advantage of it.

The title of aviator that they keep giving me, without me deserving it, for 10 years now — the last time I flew an airplane was in 1908 — also has, for me, another unpleasant side, and that is to disappoint friends and admirers in the cities I pass through.

The first day, great joy; but when they are warned that I didn't bring an airplane and won't fly, there is great disappointment.

I quote a case that happened lately: I arrive in a small town in the interior of the country and meet a close friend from school. We hadn't seen each other for 30 years. It was a great pleasure for both of us to meet. I propose walks on foot or on horseback, during which we would talk about ancient times. My friend objects, because he is no longer of an age to climb mountains on foot, and even riding a horse is already unpleasant for him! During our rides in "chariot", my friend, who is very witty, made me laugh telling anecdotes of our childhood; however, at a given moment, he stops and says: — We've laughed enough; now let's get serious: the townspeople and I, are very unhappy with you; because you come to spend a few days here and you don't make a flight! What would it cost you to send a telegram and have your "barrel organ" come? You would play the crank and show us what you can do!

— Well, dear friend; you already feel tired to make long walks on foot or on horseback; I, who am your age, with the difference I've led the most agitated life a man can lead, risked it hundreds of times, and seen death up close on several occasions; well, do you think I should still practice this "sport", the most difficult of all and which requires extraordinary nerves and cold blood?! No! It's not a "barrel organ",[1] and it is because we, who entered the fight at the end of the last century, recognized the difficulties of aviation, the need for the aviator to have splendid nerves, complete and unconscious contempt for life, which can only be found in youth, and, also, this other gift of youth: the ambition for glory and enthusiasm, I repeat, it was because we recognized all this and we no longer find ourselves in these conditions that we stopped being aviators.

It is, therefore, a great tribute that we pay to the aviators of the present.

My friend, a little confused, replies: — "It's not our fault, they had announced that the aviator Santos-Dumont was in town..."

I, for whom the time for flying has passed, would like, however, that aviation was for my young countrymen a true sport.

My most intense desire is to see true aviation schools in Brazil. To see the airplane — today a powerful weapon of war, tomorrow an excellent means of transportation — flying over our immense regions, populating our skies, where Father Bartolomeu Lourenço de Gusmão first raised his eyes.


The Enchanted
Morro do Encanto — PETRÓPOLIS — 1918
Por céus nunca d’antes navegados
Por céus nunca d’antes navegados
  1. At the last minute I received a special issue of "L'Illustration" about Aviation: ... No squadron without ground... We first go to the penguin... A squadron of planes, even at the front, can have its area anywhere... One should never facilitate too much the two critical moments of the flight: the departure and the landing... trees, telegraphic lines, houses too close force it to go up or down too fast, risking uselessly the accident... It is necessary to be young, solid and healthy...
    The old ones, those who have been flying for three or four years, do not reside anymore at the height nor at the duration... GETTING ON A PLANE IS GOING FAST
    These sentences from L'llustration seem to have been written to confirm what I have been saying for over 2 years and also as a response to the friend from the country town.