The Dream of Flying

Page 12




  Gusmão and his Airship Passarola (1709)  
  Bartolomeu de Gusmão, born Bartolomeu Lourenço de Gusmão (1685 - 1724) was a Portuguese priest and naturalist born in the Portuguese colony Brazil.

He began his novitiate in at Bahia when he was about fifteen years old, but left South America 1701 for Portugal. The highly intelligent man continued to study, principally philology and mathematics. He also became Doctor of Canon Law.

In 1709 he applied to the King for a privilege for his invention of an airship. The contents of the petition have been preserved, as well as a picture and description of his airship. Gusmão’s idea was to spread a large sail over a boat hull. The hull would contain tubes through which, when there was no wind, air would be blown into the sail by means of bellows. A net was fitted over the pilot to prevent the sail to fall down on him. The vessel was to be propelled by the agency of magnets which, apparently, were to be encased in two hollow metal balls. Such kinds of magnets, however, did not exist.

The inventor seems to have built a full-size aircraft in 1709 which (of course) did not fly. The inventor namned it "Passarola" ("Great Bird"). Later he built a model to continue the trials. He also experimented, not without success, with hot-air balloons. In 1709, he managed to get a small balloon rise to the roof inside the large hall of Casa da Índia in Lisbon.

Gusmão became rewarded by the King for his experiments. He became, among other things, Chaplain to the Court. But his life ends in tragic. He got problems with the Inquisition and had to flee to Spain, where he died in a fever.
  Gusmão's airship Passarola. Image by Lars Henriksson,  
  Gusmão painted by Benedito Calixto Left: Bartolomeu de Gusmão painted by Benedito Calixto (1853 - 1927). Source: Wikimedia Commons.    


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© Lars Henriksson

Updated 2009-05-13