Book Reviews, August 1962, August 1962

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“Santos-Dumont – A Study in Obsession” by Peter Wykeham. 278 pp. 8 3/4in. x 5 5/8in. (Putnam and Co., 42, Great Russell Street, London, W.C.1. 30s.)

This biography of the pioneer Brazilian aviator might seem, until one opens its pages, a specialised kind of work that only avid aeronautical students would wish to read from cover to cover. It is to the lasting credit of Air Vice-Marshal Peter Wykeham, C.B., D.S.O., O.B.E., D.F.C., A.F.C., A.F.R.Ae.S., that, although he has painstakingly included all the material such students have a right to expect, having visited Brazil and Monaco, etc., in search of authentic data, he also presents an extremely readable account of the dapper, wealthy little Aeronaut – Alberto Santos-Dumont, a man whose obsession was to fly.

I have always taken an interest in aviation history, although finding the very early period of the first airship and heavier-than-air flights tedious reading. Peter Wykeham has put all that right, and although his scholarly book is about Santos-Dumont, he fills in painlessly the facts one should know about the origin of powered flight and the controversy over who flew an aeroplane first – the Wrights or Santos-Dumont ?

Until I read this excellent book I had no idea that as early as 1903 Santos-Dumont had a small 220 cub. metre semi-rigid airship in which he could travel where he wished, landing and taking-off from restaurants, Paris streets, even arriving at the window of his apartment. It was powered by a 3 1/2 h.p. Clement engine. Indeed, Santos-Dumont can be said to have had three entirely practical means of transport prior to 1910 – this fantastic little airship, his electric brougham and his later Demoiselle monoplane.

Motor cars come quite frequently into this delightful and long-needed story of the life of Santos-Dumont. As early as 1891 he bought a Benz-engined Peugeot and took it back to Brazil. He replaced it with a de Dion tricycle and organised racing for such vehicles at the vilodrome in the Pare des Princes outside Paris. He joined in the Paris-Amsterdam race of 1897 unofficially on his tuned-up tricycle and was obviously a great motorist, because in that year he bought a new 6-h.p. Panhard in which he drove that winter from Paris to Nice in 54 hours. It was only concentration on his balloons and airships that drove him to an electric brougham (make unspecified).

Later, when his fame was established, he appears to have used a 1901 Mercedes, chauffeur-driven.

I find it interesting that time-keepers and members of the Press around 1902 employed powerful Mors cars to follow his record attempts in his airships, for at that period the Mors was one of the premier racing cars. In fact, the Paris correspondent of the Daily Express used “a big Mors racing car” in which to keep track of the disastrous flight round the Eiffel Tower by Santos-Dumont’s “No. 5,” And when “No. 6” was flown at Monte Carlo early in 1902 (can the site of the Santos-Dumont hangar at La Condamine still be located, I wonder ?) it was paced by Mr. Dinsmore’s Mors and Isidore Kahenstein’s giant Panhard; Santos-Dumont, from his lofty perch, Saw “the two racing cars thundering round the bends (along the winding corniche) in clouds of dust, as they strove to keep up.” We learn, too, of how the Farmans, Archdeacon and Bleriot came into the orbit of Santos-Dumont.

Mainly, however, this is a fascinating account of ballooning, pioneer airship building and the conquest of the air by heavier-than-air machines. I found it hard to put down, as vivid descriptions of the bravery and tenacity of Santos-Dumont, the very great acclaim accorded to him and his gradual eclipse, ending in ill-health and suicide, unfolded.

I have often pondered on the origin of starting-money in motor racing and it seems that aviators may have pioneered it, for we are told that in 1904, when asked to compete in an airship race at St. Louis, Santos-Dumont asked for a cash deposit, sufficient to warrant bringing his airship and team from France. It was refused.

“Santos-Dumont – A Study in Obsession” is a worthwhile book, refreshing after so many mediocre motor-racing biographies. Putnam are to be congratulated, along with the hard-working author. I like the dust-jacket, too. – W.B.

 

“The German Giants” by G. W. Haddow and Peter M. Grosz. 283 pp. 11 1/4in. x 8 3/4in. (Putnam and Co., 42, Great Russell Street, London, W.C.1. 84s.)

Motoring historians have been very busy for many years, indeed, since the war, but they must be careful, and even more accurate and painstaking, if they are not to continue to be outpaced by aviation historians. This sentiment is expressed after reading two of the latest works to be published by the House of Putnam in their highly commendable aeronautical section. The first of these comprehensive, informative and beautifully-produced books deals with the giant German aeroplanes of 1914-19; the other is reviewed below:

“The German Giants” gains in interest because of the very rarity of the subject and the admiration one feels on finding so many photographs and so much data about such three- to five-motor monsters as the AEG RI, .Albatros G.I, Aviatik RIII, DFW RI, Daimler GI or RI, DFW RII and RIII, Dornier RsI’ to RsIV and other Dornier projects, Junkers RI, Linke-Hofmann RI and RII, Mercur R-plane, Poll Giant Triplane, Roland RI, Schütte-Lanz RI, Siemens-Schuckert, SSW RI to RV VIII, SSW RIX, Staaken, VGO.I-RML.I, VGO.II, Union GI, Zschach flying-boat project and other R-planes. Some were seaplanes, and the engines were not in the wings in all cases, some of these enormous aeroplanes having the power plants within their fuselages, with complex drives to the propellers. These fantastic machines of the World War One period are copiously illustrated, on the ground, in the air and frequently pranged, with excellent pictures, supplemented by 3-view scale drawings, and detailed specification tables are included.

The operations they flew against England make interesting reading in retrospect and the joint authors give the full construction and delivery specifications for these R-planes and altogether the amount of concentrated information they provide on this rare subject leaves the motor-car historian rather breathless. A great book. – W.B.

 

 

“De Havilland Aircraft Since 1915” by A. J. Jackson. ,491pp. 8 3/4in. x 5 1/2in. (Putnam and Co., 42, Great Russell Street, London, 63s.)

Following the standardised layout of Putnam’s outstanding aeronautical reference books, this long-awaited work by A. J. Jackson describes D. H. aircraft from D.H.1 to D.H.129, each type and almost all type-variants being splendidly illustrated, 3-view scale g.a.s being provided, as well as detailed dimensions, performance figures and production data.

Unlike Francis K. Mason’s similar Putnam history of Hawker aircraft since 1920 no preface describing the Company appears. Instead, the author plunges straight into the wealth of type-by-type descriptions. We meet the very early D.H. “pushers,” the trim D.H. 5 Scout and those adaptations of war-time D.H. biplanes that flew on the original cross-channel passenger service. The famous “Moth” is met and analysed in all its many variants I met again the D.H.54 Highclere airliner, a favourite of my schooldays and the D.H. light planes built for the 1924 Lympne contests, Lough countless sporting, fighting and passenger-carrying aeroplanes to the Comets and Vampires of today.

Everyone who worked for, flew in, or merely watched De Havilland aeroplanes in action down the formative years should invest in this book, which, like all Putnam’s aviation titles, is a model of how history, in text and picture, should be presented. After investigation you will cease to regard 63s. as expensive; you will wonder how so much, and so many fine photographic reproductions, few of which repeat those in the same author’s “British Civil Aircraft,” can be offered at the price. – W.B.

Esso have issued an informative Guide to London Airport, which includes maps, visitors’ data, short articles on the control system and the facilities at this great airport (which has a 12-mile boundary, a population of 29,000 and last year attracted more than a million sightseers), pictures and brief specifications of 27 airliners from the 180 m.p.h. 36-seater Douglas DC-3 to the 610 m.p.h. 121-seater Convair 990 Coronado that you can see there, and colour plans of aircraft of 44 different air-lines, with details of routes flown and types in use. Obtainable from Esso Filling Stations for 1s., this Guide is essential if you intend to spend a day at Heathrow – which, if you have children) they will insist you do sooner or later.