Traian Vuia (August 17, 1872 - September 3, 1950) was a Romanian inventor and aviation pioneer who designed, built and flew an early aircraft. His first flight traveled about 12 m (40 feet) at Montesson, France on March 18, 1906. This was the first well-documented unassisted takeoff and landing on a level surface by an engine-driven monoplane with a wheeled undercarriage. Vuia was a Freemason.
A French citizen since 1918, Vuia was associated with the French Resistance during World War II. He returned to Romania in 1950.
After graduating from high-school in Lugoj, Transylvania, Hungary (but part of Romania since 1918) in 1892, he enrolled in the School of Mechanics at the Polytechnic University of Budapest where he received his engineering diploma. He then joined the Faculty of Law in Budapest where he earned a Ph.D. in law in May 1901 with the thesis "Military and Industry, State and Contract regime".
He returned to Lugoj, where he studied the problem of human flight and designed his first flying machine, which he called the "airplane-car". He attempted to build the machine, but due to financial constraints decided to go to Paris in July 1902, hoping to find someone interested in financing his project, possibly balloon enthusiasts. He met with considerable skepticism from people who believed that a heavier-than-air machine could not fly. He then visited Victor Tatin, a well-known theoretician and experimenter who had built an aircraft model which flew in 1879.
Tatin was interested in the project, but doubted that Vuia had a suitable engine or that his aircraft would be stable. Vuia then presented his plan to the Académie des Sciences in Paris on February 16, 1903 and was rejected with the comment:
"The problem of flight with a machine which weighs more than air cannot be solved and it is only a dream."
Undeterred, Vuia applied for a patent which was granted on August 17, 1903 and published on October 16, 1903. He began to build his first flying machine in the winter of 1902-1903. Overcoming more financial difficulties, he also started construction of an engine of his own design in autumn 1904 and received a patent for it that year in the United Kingdom.
By December 1905 Vuia finished construction of his first aircraft, the "Traian Vuia, 1" a high-wing monoplane powered by a carbonic acid gas engine. The liquid carbon dioxide was vaporized in a serpollet boiler, this added heating of the working fluid gave the engine a duration of about three minutes. He chose a site in Montesson, near Paris for testing. At first he used the machine only as a car, without the wings mounted, so he could gather experience driving it. On March 18, 1906 he made his first flight attempt. After accelerating about 50 meters, the plane left the soil and flew about one meter high for about 12 meters distance, then landed. The British aviation historian Charles Harvard Gibbs-Smith described it as "the first man-carrying monoplane of basically modern configuration", and "unsuccessful".
Newspapers in France, the U.S. and the United Kingdom wrote about the man they believed was the first to fly in a heavier-than-air machine. Romanian enthusiasts emphasize that Vuia's machine was able to take off from a flat surface by on-board means without outside assistance, such as an incline, rails, or catapult. Debate continues over the precise definition of "first" airplane (see First flying machine for more discussion).
After his March 18 takeoff, Vuia made several more short flights in 1906 and 1907. In August 1906 he built a modified version of his flying machine, the "Vuia I bis."
In 1907, his "Vuia II" airplane, with an Antoinette 25 hp (19 kW) internal combustion engine, was exhibited at the first Aeronautical Salon in Paris.
Aviation pioneer Alberto Santos Dumont, who made famous short flights in Paris in October and November 1906, recognized Vuia as a "forerunner" of his efforts, as described by Charles Dollfus, the curator of an aeronautical museum in Paris.
Vuia said he made his first flight on March 18, 1906 in the presence of his mechanic and two close personal friends. Accounts of this flight published at the time, and of his later flight of September 1906, are based on letters he personally wrote to L'Aérophile, the official journal of the Aéro Club of France. Another journal of the period, Flight magazine, credited him with a flight of five meters on October 8, 1906, as the earliest entry in a list of his flights shown in a table of "the performances which have been made" by a number of aviation pioneers.
Between 1918 and 1921 Vuia built two experimental helicopters on the Juvissy and Issy-les-Moulineaux aerodromes, contributing to the development of vertical take-off.
Another invention by Vuia was a steam generator with internal combustion that could generate very high pressure of more than 100 atm (10 MPa) that is still used today in thermal power stations.
On May 27, 1946 Vuia was named an Honorary Member of the Romanian Academy.
He is buried at the Bellu cemetery in Bucharest, Romania.
Timisoara International Airport Traian Vuia (TSR), Romania's second largest airport, carries his name.