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(Pioneer airman: 1881 - 1922)

by João Sodré

Translated by Ivan Costa-Pinto

Sacadura Cabral (photograph)



1881: Sacadura Cabral is born.

1897: He enlists in the Navy.

1902: He is praised by the Naval Commander of the Indian Ocean; takes part in the works of the hydrographic missions in Quelimane and Lourenço Marques and ccupies the post of Subdirector of Land Surveying, in Angola.

1918: Director of the Naval Aviation Services and Squadron Commander of the Aero Naval Base of Lisbon.

1921: With Gago Coutinho, he makes the air crossing Lisbon-Rio de Janeiro.  1922: He is officially declared as missing on December 13th.




Dense fog. He can hardly hear the noise of his own engine. Not a sign from his companions, not a soul in sight; it's impossible to see a palm in front of one's  nose. Indeed, it won't be this petty fog that will make him return. A Portuguese does not give up. As Lázaro in the Olympic Games, who, some years before, had given an example of loyalty to the Fatherland. Whether or not it is a routine task, the thought doesn't even enter his mind. It is a mission, it doesn’t matter if peaceful or warbound, a mission it is. His honor and that of the Fatherland are blended into one. The say that  King Sebastian will come out of the mist, some day. Sacadura Cabral vanishes into the mist and all that is left is some aircraft debris and impersonal wreckage of a live made up of many lives. And also made of courage, that many call madness. And of tenacity, that many call stubborness. And of perfectionism, that many call sickness. And of honor, that many call religion. And of an incurable case of conjunctivitis, diagnosed by Gama Pinto (who advises him to give up flying activities), but to which he doesn’t yield...







Biarritz, 11-23-1924

My Dear Friend Admiral Gago Coutinho,

You cannot imagine  how anxious and sad I have been with the news of the probable death of our good friend  Sacadura Cabral!

Why didn’t he follow my advice to rest after such a great achievement as was the trip from Portugal to Brasil?

I keep praying that he is still alive and aboard some passing ship and that we will see him again.

Your friend

Santos Dumont 



The Aeronautic Material Park is established in Alverca.


Pedro Fava Ribeiro de Almeida is the first known name linked to the Lusitanian Aviation. Lieutenant, Engineering officer, he is the first enthusiast about the new adventures. He founds the institution that will become the Aero Club de Portugal, recruits his friend Sotero Esteves and manages to have some 17 people working with him. He establishes the Aeronautic Material Park in Alverca, known as the "Feira do Major (The Major’s Fair)", since that was his rank at that time. He prefers the aerostation to the decadent romanticism of the elegant society evenings.  He is followed by some financially independent youths with patriotic spirit. The flight of a craft heavier than air  counters the indifference of the majority of the population and the despite of the higher classes by adopting maneuvers for publicity rather than for any useful purpose.  However, such maneuvers are decisive in the development of the new means of transportation, whose future value can be foreseen only by a few visionaries.   

Not one of them will intuit that the first  service to bring notability to Aeronautics will be in the First World War, but this, for the time being, is another history...

In 1910, Manet, a French airman, executes the first flight in Portugal, in Belém, at the incredible height of 166.5 feet. He pilots a Blériot, identical to the one with which he recently crossed the English Channel. However, and proving once more that there is no technological revolution without a strong contribution made by artists, the poet João Gouveia excites the crowds with demonstrations of Childish Aeronautics, the ancestor of modern airplane modeling. For ten centavos, in the crammed Salão da Ilustração Portuguesa (Portuguese Illustration Show), at the headquarters of the newspaper "Século", a publication entirely identified with the need of publicizing  the cause, or in the Parque das Laranjeiras, with a musical band and fireworks, everybody learned to dream about the glory of those crazy fellows and their flying machines...

The events came in succession.  Fernando Vale founds the short-lived newspaper "Aviação". The “Comércio do Porto”, on the initiative of  journalist Bento Carqueja, buys a Farman biplane – which gives demonstrations in Belém and then in Oporto. "Século", not to be outdone, buys a 50 horsepower (50 HP) aircraft and has Morel, a French pilot, execute pirouettes.

Finally, in 1914,  we have our first winged martyr, D. Luís de Noronha, who abandoned the dancing afternoons in the Clube Estefânia and falls into the Tagus River with his Voisin – after being submerged for a long period, he is taken to a hospital where he later dies.

In 1915, war requirements force a group of officers, mostly from the Cavalry, to go abroad, as the only way to obtain their pilot licenses. Thus,  Cifka Duarte, Carlos Beja, Francisco Aragão and Salgueiro Valente depart to the United States. António Maia, Lelo Portela and Oscar Monteiro Torres go the United Kingdom. Santos Leite, together with two comrades from the Navy, António Caseiro and Sacadura Cabral, embark to France. Cabral was already a name with prestige in military and scientific circles, and had recently returned from Africa.

During the War, only one of these men will lose his life, Monteiro Torres. Cabral and Caseiro are outstanding during the training period. Back in their homeland, they are sent to Vila Nova da Rainha to serve as instructors, a  task they carry out very well, helping their comrades to also win their wings.

The first parachute jumps take place in Alverca, in 1921. Captain Mário da Costa França and Lieutenant José Machado de Barros, in the presence of  many authorities, jump from the nacelle of a balloon hovering at an altitude of 2,997 feet – and escape unharmed...

The 5th weapon, as it was described at the time, made its way from the past into the future.





Sacadura Cabral and Gago Coutinho shortly before boarding the "Lusitânia"


Many years have  passed since that sad occurrence. I don’t recall any sentence that may have been exchanged before we  entered our planes. As for the rest, we spoke very little in this morning take-off to Lisbon, which was to be Sacadura's final step toward his death..

Everything seemed so simple...

Upon departure, I saw only a day like any other, with nothing special except for the close  and honorable company of  Sacadura, devoted to the methodical organization of the enterprise of his dreams.

A few hours later, I saw that day from a very different angle. The first stage of the trip had  already been completed by Santos Motta’s plane and by mine, but Sacadura’s Fokker had neiter arrived nor returned to base. Anxiety set in, ended by disappointment when a piece of the plane's float washed ashore.

Commander Pedro Ferreira Rosado in  “A Brief History of the Portuguese Aviation” ("Breve História da Aviação Portuguesa") by Mário Costa Pinto






I worked for many years in Africa together with Sacadura Cabral performing geographical studies. In 1913 we were in the border of Barotse. We were roving astronomers... One day we overheard some black men commenting our activities: "white men never get lost because at night they ask God to tell them their location." We laughed at this childish description because what we did at night was to observe the stars! And that was all.

(Gago Coutinho)




Artur de Sacadura Freire Cabral Júnior was born on the 23rd  of May, 1881, in the Parish of Celorico (São Pedro), Council of Celorico da Beira, District of Guarda, son of D. Maria Augusta da Silva Esteves Sacadura and of Artur Sacadura Freire Cabral. He specialized in a rare field, geographical studies in the Portuguese colonies in Africa, to which he was introduced by  Commander Gago Coutinho, who had gone to Mozambique in 1907.  as geographrers and hydrographers active in Angola and Mozambique they have acquired a very good reputation.

In the meantime, something exceptional occurs: Santos-Dumont, with his 14-bis, is able to take off from the ground with a heavier-than-air craft, propelled, for the first time, by mechanical devices. Sacadura immediately begins to dream and manages to contaminate Gago Coutinho. After opening up frontiers on land, open up frontiers in the air... After all, the stars had always been their companions, and it is all a matter of getting closer to them. The project awaits better days until the First World War breaks out, in 1914.

Sacadura returns to Portugal and then starts to learn how to fly. From France, he sends a postcard to Gago Coutinho, who had remained in Lisbon:

My Dear Future Boss: Greeting from my trip. A hug from Sacadura.

Only seven years later, the air crossing of the South Atlantic was achieved and the Portuguese, once again, give new worlds to the world.


The "Lusitânia" taking off, near the Tower of Belém


Just moments after take-off I lost sight of him. There was a thick fog glued to the water surface. We invaded it and proceeded on our route. I kept flying low, sometimes only 33 feet from the water, which was still, without waves,, a sea that blended itself with the fog. I don’t know at what height Commander Sacadura was flying, but he may have struck the water because of the damned illusion provoked by the mist.  Several things may have happened, and this is one of them!

Commander Pedro Ferreira Rosado in  “A Brief History of Portuguese Aviation” by Mário Costa Pinto

Sacadura enlists in the Navy.  

Sacadura enlists in the Navy on the 10th of  November, 1897. He is a naval cadet. He is promoted successively to ensign in 1903, 1st lieutenant in 1911, Lieutenant in 1918, Commander with honors in 1922.

He is praised for his professional performance, as a soldier and as a geographer. He demarcates more than 500 miles of boundaries in Africa. He performs several aeronautic achievements before the Lisbon-Rio crossing: Calshot-Lisbon, Lisbon-Funchal e Lisbon-Madrid.

Always traveling for more than 10 years, he is later appointed Director of the Naval Aviation Services (1918) and Squadron Commander of the Aero Naval Base of Lisbon. He also becomes Aeronautics Attaché in Paris and London.

He is officially declared as missing on the 15th of Dezembro, 1922. He received the following honors:  Cavalier of the Legion of Honor, Great-Cross of the Military Order of the Tower and Sword, Great-Cross of Sant’iago and Sword, Plaque of Honor of the Portuguese Red Cross.



Didn't he have ample justification for being vain? The flight to Brazil, an extraordinary world feat, made under unprecedented and astonishing circumstances, could well fill him with vanity! He had an uncommon drive , that made his strong personality exceptional, bringing together all the conditions that would make  him a winner. And he always triumphed until his final moment. Even his demise is a glorification of his valor. Nobody saw him falling, nobody saw him dying, nobody saw him defeated by death! He ascended and entered History.

Commander Pedro Ferreira Rosado in “A Brief History of the Portuguese Aviation” ("Breve História da Aviação Portuguesa") by Mário Costa Pinto


"Any airplane trip is a question  mark", says Sacadura.



















Map of the South Atlantic crossing







































Sacadura Cabral

























The "Lusitania" arrives in Rio de Janeiro.


Any air trip is a question  mark, and this one much more so, since it presents innumerous difficulties.  I know the ‘pain in the neck’ it is, and I can say that there is a  50% chance of being concluded and the same percentage  against it. The trip is possible, but it is necessary that everything run smoothly or, if you prefer, that the Eternal Father remain ´at least´ neutral in the fight between us and the elements. Let us hope  it happens this way, but let us not crow before we are out of the woods... He isn’t always in a good humour.

(Sacadura Cabral in a letter to the Portuguese newspapers on the eve of the departure to Brazil)


As simple geographers, they had proved that a plane could be oriented in the air as safely  as ships at sea. This was another Portuguese "first" accomplished  four centuries after our caravels had crossed the tropics. And  our wings also displayed the red cross of Christ, the same one  our navigators displayed when–as sung by Camões - they  penetrated  "those seas" and "the new airs discovered by the noble Prince Henry."

(Gago Coutinho in conference aboard the ship Vera Cruz travelling to Brazil)


Our nerves had already been tried by the long days of waiting, hanging around the cliffs, waiting each morning for news of the plane's departure from Santiago de Cabo Verde.  The hours passed, monotonous and interrupted only by shark fishing and by the spearing of porpoises, or by the show put on by voracious dogfish chasing the flying fish that followed the beams cast by search lights on the sea...

Nothing, however, could make us forget the delay in the departure to that most important trip.

Over us hung the heaviness of diluvian storms, while big waves tinted the sea with the color of molten lead. The foam of the waves floated over the shattered cliffs,scaring away the birds perched on the peaks.

In everything we saw reasons to fear for the plane's destiny.  We either saw the sea as calm, or we saw it as a surface on which it would be impossible to alight with success.There was no wind.  Only the constant and restless parade of lifeless, silent and impassive waves...

We thus came to April 18.  At last, in that historical morning, there came the news of the plane's departure.  Everything else was forgotten.  The whole ship was an ants’ nest, everybody doing I don’t know what, everyone  thinking only about the Lusitania.

Some boats were promptly prepared, filled up with people, fuel and equipment, as if for a great crossing!  The boat’s first mate, the distinguished Commander Vilarinho, of  fond memories,  radiated enthusiasm and provided for everything, majestic in his blond-grizzle beard.  We didn’t know if we were right, but, from a certain time on we started to get impatient because we didn’t see anything…

For quite a while we had pried the horizon, trying to discoveranything in the air.  Watchmen would go up and down everywhere, to the top of the masts, to the crow's nest, hanging from the shrouds and stays.  There weren't any idle binoculars, nor was there a good topman who was not totally focused.

The crew was on pins and needles!

Sometimes, desperate because of the  waiting, taken by  sudden discouragement, we would throw ourselves on the bunks, wishing to forget those moments of anguish.  But soon we were back outside, again trying to penetrate the long distances with flashing eyes.

The ship vomited thick rolls of smoke through its funnel, so that the pilots could easily see it.  And there was nothing!  The sun was already going down, menacingly, and the atmosphere was becoming really excruciating, when someone remembered to reflect the sun rays with a mirror, directing the reflection against the horizon, so we could better announce our presence.  There wasn’t a single piece of serviceable glass that wasn't brought up to the deck; from the soldiers’ backpacks came  the most minuscule mirrors  and we grasped at this thin hope childishly.  And it would have been hilarious to witnesst, objectively, so many people seriously engaged in making their mirrors flash against the sun.

The plane wouldn't appear.  The ensign Henrique Fonseca (…), weak and sick,  also climbed up a shroud, to signal from there.  And there we went, all the ensigns, right behind him, encouraged anew…But there was nothing!  Just the Sun, lower than ever, tragic, gloomy…

Sailing a little bit in the offing, the vessels patrolled, ready for everything.  Oliveira Muzanty (…) couldn’t disguise his worries, the sweat drenching his hair.

Suddenly a cry, as piercing as steel, alive, of intense joy, came from above, announcing the  blessed news.  There they come!…

I cannot tell you, nobody could describe that instant of madness!  There weren’t officers nor commanders nor sailors.  It was a  first minute of rushing around, of derangement, of cadets embracing sargeants, commanders and soldiers hand in hand, everyone stumbling on everyone!

There they come!  There comes the personification  of the Fatherland, again crossing the seas, over skies yet to be discovered!

The black point in the distance grew upon us, passing over the cliffs.  On board the ships everything was back to normal, everyone on their posts.  We could hear the engine of the Lusitania alighting near the vessels.

But, just for a moment.  One of the pontoons of the Lusitania touched the ridge of a wave and was  smashed to pieces.  The plane still jumped and fell down heavily, nosing down, with the tail upwards!  We froze still, dumb.  A deadly anguish toched us deeply.  Some tears were shed.   Many people leaned back againts the gunwales, exhausted, nerves all shattered.

The vessels race towards the plane and, with difficulty, pull out its valorous crew.  The heros were safe, but the Lusitania was lost. With deep emotion, Gago Coutinho goes up the stairs of the gangway of the ship Republica.  He was looking at his plane, so loyal, so cherished!

- That engine was our heart!

Commander Sacadura, impassive, without leaving  the gig, asked for a cigarrette.  And, without any other consideration, rowed toward the half submerged plane and tried to salvage it.  Not a word or a gesture, of sadness or happiness.  A man of steel!

(Manuel Maria Sarmento Rodrigues, in a letter to Norberto Lopes, later published in an afternoon paper in Lisboa)

What had happened in the air?  Sacadura describes it in his report:  The wind continues to weaken and the fuel consumption remains, at least, around 20 gallons per hour!  I again discuss our situation with Commander Coutinho, which  seems to me to be very serious.  We must be  about 690 miles from the Rocks and we don’t have more than 8 ½  hours of fuel!  To get there, we should make 80 miles per hour, and our speed is now 72 miles per hour! The he logical, the prudent thing to do, would be to turn back, but the bad impression it would leave, if we did that,  certainly would be enormous! (…)  I confess that, to me, this was the most bitter  part of the Lisbon-Rio trip, because for 9 ½  hours I was never sure of whether or not we had enough fuel complete the trip.  If that had happened and we had to alight on the sea, far from the Rocks, those who didn’t know us would always suppose that we had departed with enough fuel, but that we got lost and had alighted somewhere on the ocean, and thus what we had  set out  to prove would remain unproven, that is, that aerial navigation is susceptible of having the same precision as naval navigation!

(Sacadura Cabral) 

Another plane is brought from Lisbon, a Fairey 16 similar to the Lusitania.  The trip starts again, but a mechanical failure in the engine’s feeding system, forces Sacadura to alight.  The pontoons start to sink immediately.  Sharks are coming closer. One of them is more brazen and comes very near.  Gago Coutinho would comment:

- There was a small shark alongside a larger one.  The bigger one  was the father…He was bringing his son to teach him how to survive…When they realized that the plane wasn’t edible, they went away.

Then comes the inevitable question: what to do?  Wait for the sharks?  Wait for the sea to decide?  Sould they put an end to their lives using the one pistol they had?  They decide to stay in the plane until the last moment.  Sacadura comments the situation:

- To me, the only annoying thing is not having any more  cigarrettes!                   A British ship saves them.  They will arrive in Rio de Janeiro, in June, in another plane, and are greeted by enthusiastic crowds.  The Brazilians, always excited and ready to reinvent the Portuguese language, immediately came up with a new word to describe euphoric situations like this: ‘sacadurism’…



He had an unlimited trust in his guiding star, and so that difficulties didn’t exist as far as he was concerned!  I never saw him downhearted  under any circumstances.  We would go with him and he would rejoice with the accomplishment  of his great objectives.

Commander Pedro Ferreira Rosado in “A Brief History of the Portuguese Aviation” ("Breve História da Aviação Portuguesa") by Mário Costa Pinto



Sacadura Cabral and Gago Coutinho aboard the "Lusitânia"

Report by Sacadura Cabral:

A little before the air crossing of the North Atlantic, acclomplished by the Americans, Lisbon had the honor of receiving the visit of His Excellency Dr. Epitácio Pessoa, president-elect of the Republic of the United States of Brazil.  As a  supporter of a closer relationship between the two sister nations and wishing not only to contribute to such closeness with my limited possibilities, but also to show my pleasure for seeing Portugal honored by such an eminent visit, I presented to His Excellency Dr.Vitor Macedo Pinto, then Minister of the Navy, the idea that the air crossing between Lisbon and Rio de Janeiro should be tried, with the collaboration of the Brazilian Government.

My project was to raise the interest of the sister nations in this trip, get hold of at least two planes, each one of them  to be piloted by Portuguese and Brazilians, and try the crossing with the collaboration of the Brazilian and Portuguese navies.

As I saw it, this collaboration would be one of the best ways of strengthening the bonds that have always existed between the two nations, as well as a natural way of expressing our mutual affection, while recognizing, in practice, that Brazil and Portugal constitute one country as far as Portuguese and Brazilian citizens are concerned, since they share the same language, ethnic origins, ideas and feelings, notwithstanding their geographical separation and their status as independent states.

This project  was well received  by the Portuguese Government, which, in addition to appointing me to carry out the studies and plans for the trip, immediately published a decree authorizing the credits then deemed necessary for the project, and offering a prize for the accomplishment  of the crossing, which prize could only be conferred to Portuguese or Brazilian citizens.

The prize had the value of  approximately twenty thousand Portuguese escudos...

João de Barros recalls, after the publication of the decree:

If we don’t take advantage of this unique occasion, the exceptional moment we are experiencing,  creating with Brazil a situation of mutual understanding, be it economic, commercial, artistic, literary - an understanding that shows  other countries the actual existence of a lusophone community, vibrant and present in two independent and autonomous nations; if we don’t make of our victory of today the invincible thrust for our victories of tomorrow,  and, above all, for the solid foundation of our rebirth – the magnificent act of these aviators will be lost forever.

The Brazilian Government discontinued its support of the project.  But Sacadura didn’t give up.  More than just wanting to unite both countries through the trip, he nurtured the idea that it could lay the foundations for air travel between Portugal and Brazil, making those relations even stronger and faster.

This air connection was established only in 1960, thirty-eight years after the

trip of Sacadura and Coutinho.  And, finally, in 1966 air traveling became a regularly scheduled service, through the initiave of TAP (Transportes Aéreos Portugueses).


Sacadura lives in the grand world of  ideas...

He had a very personal style that, perhaps, didn't cause a good impression at first sight, he was not a very affable person, but Sacadura was an independent being in his habits, paying no attention to the feelings that bother and defeat other people.  He lived in the grand world of his own ideas, accomplishing them with brilliant intelligence and admirable audacity. He was a remarkable organizer who always managed to reach his objectives.  He knew himself.  I don't know if this could be called vanity, but if so, it was in the right proportion for Sacadura, whose triumphs in life were due only to hiw own gigantic willpower.

Commander Pedro Ferreira Rosado in “A Brief History of the Portuguese Aviation” ("Breve História da Aviação Portuguesa") by Mário Costa Pinto)



- But, tell us, the voice of the people is saying that you were Commander Sacadura's fiancée...

-What the voice of the people doesn't know is that one of my disappointments in life is never to have spoken to this great man, not even on the telephone...May this hero's soul rest in peace, as well as the souls of other heroes(...) they always had me as their spiritual fiancée, and that's why life has left me with the sensation of being crushed, each time I learned of their take off to more distant regions...

"The Eternal Unknown", in an interview to Mário Costa Pinto, in “A Brief History of the Portuguese Aviation” (“Breve História da Aviação Portuguesa”)


I like having patronesses, but I don’t enjoy meeting them.  A  patroness, for me,

loses her true charm, the charm of mystery, when I meet her.

(Sacadura Cabral)

Gago Coutinho usually says:

We weren't heroes.  We used our geographer's tricks,  as we guided ourselves by the sun and the stars…

…I am small fry.  All my life I’ve  been a simple person.

They wanted to transform me into  another person at the time of the flight to Brazil in 1922.  They put out names together: Coutinho-Cabral, but Sacadura was in charge and the work done was mostly his.

“They say that King Sebastian will come out the mist, someday. Sacadura Cabral vanished into that mist, and all that is left are some plane debris, impersonal wreckage of a live made up of other lives. “


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