Thus he started to learn the secrets of engineering by merely watching how his mother´s sewing machine worked, like taking apart a radio to find out its secret. After a visit to Paris with his father, in 1891, where he was able to observe for the first time a gas motor, the proverbial light bulb shone over his head: Why not join the sewing machine’s gears and pulleys with a gas motor in order to connect them to a balloon? At that time, balloons merely floated but could not be piloted. Many thought Santos Dumont was crazy – at that time, balloons were filled with hydrogen, highly explosive, and it did not seem smart to place a combustion engine next to it – unless you wanted to commit suicide. But Santos Dumont managed to isolate perfectly the motor from the rest of the machine, and Paris became used to watching him frequently flying over its sky, like a crazy inventor ahead of its time. He was a small man (152 cm tall and weigh less than 45 kg), who nevertheless, every day, strolled over the heads of his fellow men. Inventor of the First SELF-PROPELLED AIRPLANE What did he do? Santos Dumont was 25 years old the first time he touched the clouds. He did it aboard a balloon built by Machuron Balloons. Since that time, he devoted himself exclusively to building his own balloons. The first he called Number 1, making it clear that he intended to build many more improved versions. Number 1 was elongated, like a flying cigarette. The date was September 20, 1898 (a few days earlier he had tried flying it, but he did not consider it a real flight: basically, because soon after taking off he crashed against some trees). Then Dumont decided to participate in a race, one of those races much like the ones shown in Crazy Cars, but cruising the sky. The race consisted of being the fastest in completing a circuit leaving from Saint Cloud Park, flying around the Eiffel Tower and returning to the starting point. The maximum time allowed for this prowess was 30 minutes. On October 19, 1901, Dumont won the race with his Number 6 dirigible making it in 29 minutes and 30 seconds. Dumont continued manufacturing new improved models of his dirigible. Number 7, was made specifically for racing. Number 12, looked like a helicopter. And in 1906 he built number 14, which would serve him to try his first flight with his first airplane, the 14-bis, which was connected to Number 14 for take off. Therefore, Dumont became the first man to take off aboard an airplane propelled by an aeronautical motor. As for flying, he did not go too far, barely 69 meters at a height of 2 to 3 meters, not much higher than an NBA player. And, besides, according to witnesses it made a terrific noise. A month later Dumont reached 220 meters at a height of 6 meters. Thus becoming the father of modern aviation. THE WRIGHT BROTHERS VS. SANTOS DUMONT Let the bell sound. In the first round, the Wright brothers would be ahead, they are the best known when we think of the beginnings of aviation. But, in the second round, against all odds, Santos Dumont would be the real winner by technical K.O. This is because the Wright brothers, in fact, were the first to take flight (1903). But in order to do it, they needed the help of a catapult, and their machine was actually a glider with a motor and not an airplane. Therefore they did not really fly. If we were to consider that being catapulted through the air is flying. The Wright brothers did not fly without external help until 1909, that is 3 years after Santos Dumont had already made his first self-propelled flight in front of many Parisian witnesses and journalists. CURIOSITIES Thanks to this child addicted to Jules Verne novels, who dreamt of cruising the sky, aeronautics has developed in such a way, that mankind has not only flown to every corner of the world, but in only 70 years has traveled as far as the moon. That is the reason why the International Astronomic Union has honored Dumont by naming one of the lunar craters with his name. Could the reader of From Earth to the Moon have ever imagined this? Santos Dumont believed that some day planes would be like air-mobiles and that each person would use them individually, much like The Jetsons TV series or the movie Back to the Future II. But inventions can also be used for doing evil, as he was soon to discover. Dumont was a pacifist. Therefore he was very upset when during the First World War his invention was used for destruction. For that reason, in 1926 he appealed before the Society of Nations to prevent the use of planes in the war. He was not listened to, and in 1932, depressed and tormented, he ended his life by hanging himself with his own tie. THE WRISTWATCH Coincidentally, Santos Dumont caused the idea for the first wristwatch in history to be manufactured. When Santos Dumont participated in the race around the Eiffel Tower with his Number 6, he attended a ceremony to hear the judges’ verdict at an official dinner held at the prestigious restaurant Maxim’s. Among the public, filled with famous people, was Louis Cartier, renowned jeweler. Cartier invited the pilot to his table and the following conversation took place: Why are you so surprised of your victory? – asked Cartier. Well… because up until a few minutes ago I did not know I had won. You did not know? – Inquired the Frenchman, incredulously – how is that possible? You were the hero. Did you not have a watch to know the time you had done? Yes, answered the aviator, showing a fine pocket watch – but I was unable to check it during the flight because piloting of the dirigible does not permit hands to be away from the controls at any time. Then Louis Cartier came up with a great idea. Don’t you worry. I will solve the problem for your next flight. Soon after, he presented Dumont with a small square flat watch, in gold, that could be used around the wrist held by an elegant leather belt with a buckle. Today, the Cartier Santos watch is still made with the same technology and the same quality used by Cartier to give as a gift to the first aviator in history to wear the first wristwatch in history.