Santos-Dumont continued to delight his admirers with dramatic stunts in the ensuing years. During one exhibition, his motor caught fire, and he beat out the flames with his straw hat. Smiling down at the crowd, he waved one white-gloved hand, lifted the soot-covered Panama and serenely flew on. That same summer he parked a 40-foot dirigible on the Champs �lys�es in front of his apartment, while he stepped inside "to take a small cup of coffee."
Inspired by the Wright brothers' accomplishments at Kitty Hawk in 1903, Santos-Dumont built a T-shaped, single-engine airplane that resembled a collection of box kites. The machine's lift and balance characteristics were tested by having a progress-minded jackass pull it into the air. In 1906 this plane made the first heavier-than-air flight in Europe, but it was cursed with a serious design flaw—it flew tail first. When a similar model flipped Santos-Dumont on his head, he limped back to the drawing board. Subsequent projects included a seaplane that skipped along the Seine like a water bug and a model helicopter that failed to produce anything more than a draft in the hangar.
Santos-Dumont also developed the graceful Dragonfly, a light, inexpensive monoplane he envisioned as aviation's answer to the Model T Ford. It was quickly outmoded by faster aircraft, and in 1909 he withdrew to his country estate. There would be no more prizes, only memories of the daredevil aeronautics and heart-stopping falls. Flight would become commonplace, partly because Santos-Dumont had been willing to experience all the danger and glory of aviation's beginning.