In the early years of aviation, there were many pioneers that came from the usual well-developed nations, like Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh from the U.S., the Montgolfier Brothers in France, Kingsford Smith in Australia and so on… what if I tell you that a humble peasant from rural Banat, Romania (in those days part of Austria-Hungary), would inspire many aviators and change the course of aviation forever? Today we are celebrating Traian Vuia, born 150 years ago at this article’s writing.
The adventures of young Vuia
Born in Surducu Mic on the 17th of August 1872, Traian Vuia has always expressed interest in physics and aviation since a tender age. Kites were his favourite toy and he was obsessed with this hobby, trying to improve their performance and make them fly higher and longer. He attended schools in the region and got an Engineering Diploma at the Budapest Polytechnic and a PhD in Law. He had to “divert” his focus on law because he ran out of money, and while being a lawyer was very profitable, being an inventor was not. But the dream of developing a heavier-than-air aeroplane was still alive.
The time in France and the Vuia 1
He then went to Paris, the world’s capital of inventions and science at the time, in 1902. He asked all the major institutions, scientists, and aviation pioneers for support, but everybody thought that Vuia was a fool for even thinking that his “Automobil-Aeroplan” would ever become a reality: “Heavier-than-air flight is just a dream!” they yelled at him. But with an iron will of power, he patented the machine by his 31st birthday, in 1903, number of patent 332.106.
On March 18, 1906, his dream finally took off. In Montesson, he flew the “Vuia I” the first ever machine capable of flying under its own power. The aircraft was equipped with its own engine and 4 pneumatic tyres (the 2 in the front were steerable), and variable incidence wings. After a takeoff run of 50 meters, he flew at a height of 1 meter for a 12-meter-long flight. The whole stunt ended up with the engine locking up after running at full power for 5 minutes but was considered a major success. Another flight was attempted in August 1906, this time the length of the flight was 24 meters and the height was 2.5 meters.
He then proceeded with the invention and design of the “Vuia I Bis”, a highly experimental aircraft now featuring an elevator, and the “Vuia II”, for that era, a really powerful aircraft derived from the Vuia I Bis, featuring a 25hp ICE. Only one attempt was made of flying the aircraft, in 1907, when he flew for 20 meters, but crashed on landing and sustained injuries. After these attempts, no other documented flights took place.
Thanks to those achievements, today some civilian aircraft (that are all self-propelled, heavier-than-air machinery like Vuia’s) can fly at 16000 meters (51,000ft) high and for 13,000,000 meters (7,000nm). Plus, nowadays a plane is technically not considered taken off if it doesn’t reach a height of 9 meters (30ft). This all stems from the experiments of Traian Vuia.
Late-life and death
After the “Car-Plane”, Traian Vuia went on to build two experimental helicopters and invent steam and gas-driven generators still used nowadays.
He led in France the Romanian Resistance during WWII, but his efforts are not documented.
Terminally ill, he came back to his native Romania in 1950, where he died in September, after a lifetime of adventure.
Had you heard Vuia’s story before? Tell us your thoughts about his pioneering inventions in the comments!