Everyone in America knows about the Wright Brothers and their famous flight on December 17, 1903. It was majestic and a milestone in human history.
However, it wasn't the first airship.
305 years ago mankind made his first tentative steps into space, and the hero of this story is named Bartolomeu Lourenço de Gusmão.
The Smithsonian has no listing for Gusmão in their Air and Space Museum. If you do a search for who invented the balloon, chances are you will find a listing for the Montgolfier brothers, who made their famous hot air balloon flight in pre-revolutionary Paris in 1783.
Gusmão never actually left the Earth.
However, someone had to experiment with the idea first. And that someone was Gusmão.
Gusmao was born the son of a prison surgeon in São Paulo, Brazil, in 1685. He joined the priesthood at the age of 15, but left for Lisbon less than two years later in a quest for higher learning. He completed his course of study at the University of Coimbra, devoting his attention principally to philology and mathematics, but received the title of Doctor of Canon Law. He was an inventor even before he left Brazil, although his inventions were modest.
It was a soap bubble rising in the hot air surrounding the flame of a candle that challenged the intelect of Gusmão to consider the difference between the densities of air. An object lighter than air could should then be able to fly!
"....that God would surely never allow such a machine to be successful, since it would create many disturbances in the civil and political governments of mankind. Where is the man who can fail to see that no city would be proof against his surprise,as the ships at any time could be maneuvered over its public squares and houses? Fortreses, and cities could thus be destroyed, with the certainty that the aerial ship could come to no harm, as iron weights, fireballs and bombs could be hurled from a great height."Needless to say, all of Lana's fears came true.
On April 19, 1709, Gusmão petitioned the court of King John V of Portugal to present his flying machine.
On August 3, 1709, he made the first attempt in the Hearing Room of the Palace. However, the small balloon made of paper was set on fire before it could rise in flight. Two days later, a second attempt was successful: the balloon went up about 20 palmos, to the astonishment of the assembly. Fearing the possibility of a fire, the palace servants attacked the device before it had reached the ceiling.He spent his next 10 years in the employment of the crown, working on his inventions. His dream was the Passarola [see the picture above], part glider, part balloon. It should have been a happy end to a long life. However, he was working in science in the days of the Inquisition, and that was dangerous.
Three days later, on August 8, 1709, the third trial was made in the Patio of the House of India before D. João V, queen D. Maria Anad and Habsburgo, the Papal Messenger Conti Cardinal, the infant D. Francisco of Portugal, the Marquês de Fonte, nobles and ladies of the Court and other personages. This time he had total success. The balloon had risen slowly, then started to fall, having exhausted the flame, into theTerreiro do Paço. The first lighter-than-air device having been constructed, The King was so impressed that he granted to the right any and all flying ships to Gusmão from then on. And for all those who dared to intervene or to copy his ideas, the penalty would be the death.
There were people of the Church who did not want secrets of the skies to be unfolded to mankind, but Bartolomeu persisted. Though he was ordained as a priest, he thought like a scientist. He said: "It is a harder to prove the presence of God than His absence." This led Bartolomeu to earning the ire of the Inquisition, who tried to arrest him for sorcery.Gusmão fled to Toledo, Spain where he lived in destitution, fell ill and died a few years later on November 18, 1724.