Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Portugal 2016 - Centenary of the First Portugese Military Flight

ISSUE DATE: 16 July 2016
STAMP THEME: The First Portugese Military Flight
STAMP SIZE:40 x 30.6 mm

The first military flight, which took place on the 17 of July 1916 at the Military Aeronautical School, Vila Nova da Rainha, with Lieutenant Santos Leite at the controls, represents the culmination of the many efforts by individuals and collective entities that coalesced around the patriotic objective of establishing Aviation in Portugal.

The valuable contributions from different areas of society, such as the Army Engineers that kept pace with technical and scientific progress and its military applications, members of the Aero Clube de Portugal, elements of the Aeronautical Commission and aviation enthusiasts at large with their influence over government bodies, were Amore than met by the massive popular support for this new aeronautical realty with the firm goal of seeing Military Aviation flying across the Portuguese skies. The Military Aeronautical Commission, established in 1912, had ample time to undertake the studies required to adequately support the publication of Law 162 of May 1914, the founding document of the Military Aeronautical School. It was thus possible to conduct, in a phased approach, the planning and construction of infrastructure including the runway. With this background, the first national aviation school was set up in the Azambuja County, at Vila Nova da Rainha, between the Tagus River and the railway line.

In the summer of 1915, a few months after braking ground for the construction of the school, a group of military candidates was selected from those who had voluntarily offered to become pilots. Ten of them underwent flight training in the United States, France and England, aiming the future qualification as flight instructors, which was essential for the development of this new area of professional specialisation in a military context.

Among those, Lieutenant Jose Barbosa dos Santos Leite, born on the 2151 of March, 1884, at Telhado, Figueira de Lorvao, Penacova County became, on February the 11th, 1916, at the Chartres Aviation School in France, the first Army pilot to get the Military Wings at the controls of a French-built Maurice Farman aircraft, after 28 hours and 39 minutes flying time and 191 landings.
After his return to Portugal in the following May, Lieutenant Santos Leite was posted at the Military Aeronautical School where the only existing military aircraft in flying status, a Deperdussin monoplane equipped with a Gnome 50 hp engine, was stationed.

The aircraft, offered to the Ministry of War, on September the 14,1912 by Lieutenant-colonel Albino Costa, a Brazilian officer born in Cedrim, Sever do Vouga, Portugal, was formally delivered on October the 20 through the "0 Seculo" newspaper, becoming the first airplane offered to the Portuguese military authorities.

After its induction into the Army's inventory, the Deperdussin monoplane was assembled in Chelas by the Military Balloon Company - Companhia de Aeroesteiros, transported to Seixal in 1913 and finally, in January 1916, when it became possible to store it in a suitable hangar, transferred to Vila Nova da Rainha.

Due to the fact that almost four years had passed since the construction until conditions were finally met for its operation, in a period of a rapidly evolving aeronautical know-how, as a result of competition between the contenders in the First World War, the aircraft was already obsolete. As a result and contrary to the initial expectations, the flight activity of this aircraft was very low.

It was, however with the Deperdussin, that Lieutenant Santos Leite made, on July the 17`", 1916, the Military Aviation first flight, which was also the maiden flight at the brand new Vila Nova da Rainha runway. Without much media coverage, this event was fortunately recorded for posterity on the pages of Revista Aeronautica (Aeronautics Magazine), published in 1917 by the Aero Clube de Portugal.

In terms of flight training, the use of airplanes known as "rouleurs" was common at that time. It allowed student pilots, before initiating the flight phase, to practice "straights and jumps" - a take-off mn to reach about one metre high, before engine cut-off and returning to the ground - making them aware of the aircraft behaviour during take-offs and landings. Turned obsolete by contemporary technological advancement, the destiny of the Deperdussin, was to spend the remainder of its days at the Aeronautical Military School, as a "rouleur" with its wings partially clipped off.

Lieutenant Santos Leite, following a short stint as an instructor of the First Flying Course offered by the Military Aeronautical School at Vila Nova da Rainha, set off to France in December 1916, assigned to the Initial Aviation Squadron, which was being set up as part of the Portuguese Expeditionary Corps in the First World War. After a short period in the Royal Flying Corps 10th Squadron, at Chocques, Bethune, he perfected his flying techniques with advanced training at Avord, followed by combat training at Pau with Nieuport and Spad aircraft. He then qualified at the Cazaux Air Gunnery School and continued operational training at the Groupement des Division d'Entrainement - Division Spad, at Plessis Belleville. Lieutenant Santos Leite was then assigned to the 124th Squadron of the French Military Aviation stationed at La Noblette, in Marne. He flew a number of operational missions and was awarded the French War Cross and the Portuguese War Cross.

Jose Barbosa dos Santos Leite, passed away with the rank of major, on November the 30., 1928, in an air accident at Alverca airfield, flying a Breguet airplane that crashed after colliding with a captive balloon retention cable.

With reference to the location, the aircraft and the military pilot that, for the first time, braved the Portuguese skies, this philatelic edition honours the men and women who, for the last hundred years, served and serve the Country in the Military Aviation.

Stamp images thanks to CTT Correios de Portugal

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