Science: Brazil's Aeronaut

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Cheers turned to tears when Brazil's Alberto Santos-Dumont debarked at Rio de Janeiro last week. All good Brazilians believe that he invented the airplane before the Wrights. And, because the U. S. this month is honoring the Wrights' 25th anniversary of flight (to which Brazil is sending no official representative), those good Brazilians organized a celebration of their own. They insisted that Senhor Santos-Dumont quit his placid retirement in Paris for a gala demonstration in Rio. He has lived in France some 30 years, earning aeronautical reputation as a pioneer builder & flyer of dirigibles, as an early (1906) builder & flyer of an airplane; popular reputation as a feeder of Paris' poor.

When his ship nosed into Rio's mountain-shadowed harbor last week the port was reverberant with welcoming din. Airplanes cavorted about. A great passenger plane, with 14 people, half of them national notables, almost struck another machine; the pilot veered, weakened a wing, went into a tail spin; the plane splashed into the water; all 14 were drowned. Rio's din ceased. Flyer Santos-Dumont walked from his ship, head down, depressed.

But in a day or two Brazilians were clamoring for some gesture from Alberto Santos-Dumont. They wanted the United States of Brazil to thumb its collective nose at the United States of America. Senhor Santos-Dumont satisfied them—by describing an invention, his "Martian transformer," a device with which one can walk faster and with less effort. It is to be fastened to a walker's back; his strides activate it; it in turn "energizes his nervous system." He may climb mountains with as little effort as walking a sidewalk. A larger machine should enable one to walk "in birdlike flight." U. S. neurologists consider the device's description poppycock.

* In 1901 he sailed around the Eiffel Tower, won a 100,000 franc prize. His experiments he describes in My Airships, published in 1904 by the Century Co. TIME will pay $5 for a copy of My Airships.