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Wings of Madness

Program Overview

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Santos in 14bis NOVA profiles Alberto Santos-Dumont, a legendary inventor who, at the turn of the 20th century, inspired a generation of aeronauts to push the limits of their courage and imagination.

The program:

  • presents Santos's dream of making flight an everyday reality that could be experienced by anyone.

  • shows how the famous aviator streamlined and simplified dirigible design.

  • notes Santos's trial-and-error experimental method, in which he would fly his vehicle, improve it, and then fly it again.

  • reviews the vehicles Santos built and tested, including his dirigibles, as well as airplanes like the #14bis, and the Demoiselle.

  • features some of the innovations he pioneered, including a backup interior dirigible balloon to counteract changes in hydrogen gas, an efficient gas-fueled engine to power aircraft, and the use of piano wire to connect the many components of his airships.

  • chronicles the aviator's efforts to win the Deutsch Prize offered to the first airship that could cover three-and-a-half miles in a half hour.

  • presents Santos's endeavors to build a heavier-than-air craft and showcases his box-kite design for #14bis.

  • reports on the problem being faced by most flight pioneers of the time—maintaining control of the aircraft while in flight.

  • features the building and testing of a #14bis replica.

  • recalls Santos's crash landing in his Demoiselle aircraft and the injuries he sustained from the collision.

  • notes how the innovative experimenter began to suffer depression when he saw planes being used for military purposes leading him to eventually take his own life.

Taping Rights: Can be used up to one year after the program is taped off the air.

Teacher's Guide
Wings of Madness
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