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Brazil’s claims to be ‘First in Flight’ strike Tar Heels as ‘hot air’

Friday’s opening ceremony for the 2016 Summer Olympics featured a replica of the plane that Brazilian aviation pioneer Alberto Santos Dumont invented. Brazilians claim he was “first in flight” in 1906, instead of the Wright brothers in 1903.
Friday’s opening ceremony for the 2016 Summer Olympics featured a replica of the plane that Brazilian aviation pioneer Alberto Santos Dumont invented. Brazilians claim he was “first in flight” in 1906, instead of the Wright brothers in 1903. AFP/Getty Images

Here we go again. Arguing over North Carolina’s claim to be “First in Flight.”

For years, Ohioans said the title should be theirs because Orville and Wilbur Wright lived and designed their flying machine in Dayton.

North Carolinians always countered: The Wright brothers actually tested their machine here, at the Outer Banks, and made the first powered flight from Kill Devil Hills in 1903.

Now comes Brazil, host of the Summer Olympics, crediting native son Alberto Santos-Dumont with the first powered flight.

Friday’s opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro devoted several minutes to the accomplishments of the Brazilian aviation pioneer, sending a replica of his famous biplane soaring over the stadium. The tribute didn’t last long, but it launched an explosion of debate on Twitter.

▪ One said: “So Brazil think they invented the airplane?? The Wright brothers are looking down right now and laughing”

▪ Another countered: “THE WRIGHT BROTHERS USED A CATAPULT TO HELP GET THE PLANE OFF THE GROUND AND HAD NO WITNESSES. DUMONT’S PLANE HAD NO ASSISTED DEVICE”

▪ From the First Flight Society, based in Kitty Hawk: “… it is apparent that some still cannot accept the fact that the Wright Brothers were first in flight in 1903, not in 1906 when Brazil’s Santos-Dumont flew. The Wright Brothers were making flights as long as 40 minutes by 1905!”

‘Not surprised’

“I’m not surprised at all” that Brazilians are claiming to be first, said Larry Tise, a historian at East Carolina University and author of “Conquering the Sky: The Secret Flights of the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk.”

“Santos-Dumont was the first person to fly publicly, and the world thought (he) had the first flight for a couple of years,” Tise said. “It was very confusing as to who flew first.”

But Tise said the Wright brothers “had done powered flight long before Santos-Dumont” – starting with their first on Dec. 17, 1903. But they were flying “privately and secretly,” Tise said. The famous photo of the Wright brothers after their 1903 flight was not made public until 1908, Tise said, because the brothers were afraid “other people would immediately replicate what they were doing.”

Santos-Dumont made his first powered airplane flights in 1906 and 1907, before adoring crowds in Paris. That’s when the Wright brothers realized they “had to start flying publicly as well,” Tise said. The Wright brothers flew in Paris in 1908 to great fanfare and became overnight celebrities.

But the flights had differed, Tise said. Santos-Dumont’s first flight was powered, but “how controlled it was is another question.” He flew in a straight line and “didn’t crash.” By 1905, the Wright brothers were able to “fly in a circle and land exactly where they took off.”

‘A bunch of hot air’

In recent years, Ohio and North Carolina seem to have patched up their differences while sharing credit for the Wright brothers’ feats. North Carolina license plates read “First in Flight,” while Ohio’s proclaim “Birthplace of Aviation.”

But if tweets are any indication, the dust-up over Brazil’s claims may have re-energized the Ohio versus North Carolina debate. Here are some examples:

▪  “HEY BRAZIL YOU WERENT FIRST IN FLIGHT THAT WAS DAYTON FREAKING OHIO”

▪ “Now I have some random Ohioan arguing with me that Ohio was first in flight because the Wright brothers thought about flying there.”

▪  “The Wright Brothers are literally all Dayton has, Brazil. Don’t take that from them.”

Let’s give the last word to Sam Walker, news editor for The Outer Banks Voice. In an article for that coastal newspaper, he wrote that any attempt to usurp North Carolina’s claim to fame is “just a bunch of hot air.” The headline reads: Oh no you didn’t, Brazil! We’re ‘First In Flight’!

Karen Garloch: 704-358-5078, @kgarloch

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