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Once more while researching for Greeks in foreign cockpits i found a remarkable man for whom i never learned. Nobody ever taught me about a great Greek parentage flying doctor, a man who gave so much to the early days of aviation and contribute to the medical science leaving his mark in neurology. The following research is not from our team. I collected every available source on the net  and im very happy to present here a true pioneer, both in aviation and medicine. Constantin Economo von San Serff was born in Brăila, Romania, to Johannes and Helene Economo, a wealthy family with large holdings in Thessaly and Macedonia. The Economo (Οικονόμου, Oikonomou) family originated from Edessa, in the Ottoman Sanjak of Salonica (modern Edessa, Central Macedonia, Greece) where some of Constantine's ancestors were notables, and his family included many bishops. In 1877, the family moved to Trieste, Austria-Hungary, and Constantin spent his childhood and youth in Trieste. Constantine and his brother Leonidas were always inseparable. When Leonidas went to the German elementary school (Volksschule), Kostakis followed him despite the fact that he was two years younger. He went to high school at the age of nine and when he finished it he was only sixteen years old. The convenience of children in the family in different languages ​​has remained proverbial. Along with German and Italian, which they learned at school, they spoke French with Jacquard, their French governess. When his wife Caroline first visited the family in 1919, she was stunned by the multilingualism in the family. The two younger brothers spoke with their father Ioannis in Greek, with their mother Eleni German, and with their older siblings, Sofia and Dimitris French and Italian! Both liked sports and especially horseback riding. Uncle Vrani (Alexander von Vranyi), the husband of their mother's older sister, Sophia Murati, was a keen rider. They loved horseback riding because of him. Constantine continued to ride in Prater Park when he later moved to study in Vienna. At the end of the summer of 1893, at the age of sixteen, with a high school diploma (Matura), he went to Vienna and enrolled at the Technische Universität Wien Polytechnic to study mechanical engineering according to his father's wishes. Despite his interest in technical planning, he found the courses at the polytechnic quite boring. He soon started buying books on various topics to spent his time. He accidentally read Cesare Lombroso's then-published book, Genious, and Madness (Cesare Lombroso, Genio e Follia, Fratelli Bocca, 1894). The association between intelligence and madness had long been observed.

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Plato mentions it in Phaedrus, while Aristotle speaks of melancholy in poets, politicians, and philosophers such as Socrates and Empedocles. Seneca will even emphasize that "there is no great ability without a dose of madness". Constantine was so impressed by the book of Lombrozo that he decided to turn to medicine and especially neurology. But first, he should overcome the denial of his father, who insisted on becoming a mechanical engineer. After much effort, his father finally gives up. In 1895 he enrolled in the Medical School of Vienna and began his study with zeal. In Vienna, he stayed at the famous Hotel Sacher - on the ground floor of which was the eponymous pastry shop that made the chocolate cake sachertorte, the much-loved sweet of Empress Sisi. With the arrival of Leonidas to study agriculture, he found his good friend again and they spent the next three years together. In 1898, at the age of twenty-two, he wrote the first scientific work on the development of the bird's pituitary gland. Professor Otto Marburg prefaced the publication in the Sitzungsberichte der Akademie der Wissenschaften (Proceedings of the Imperial Academy of Sciences), emphasizing that Ekonomou, "in addition to the excellent presentation of the subject, also discovered a gland that was not known until then." It was his first small discovery. From 1903 to 1904, he was a resident at the Clinic of Internal Medicine under Carl Wilhelm Hermann Nothnagel. Subsequently, he traveled through Europe for two years and worked for several scientists. He studied neurology, histology, and psychiatry in Paris (under Alexis Joffroy, Valentin Magnan, and Pierre Marie). In Nancy, he was introduced to hypnosis); in Strasbourg, he became familiar with methods of microscopic research of the nervous system (under Albrecht von Bethe). In Munich, von Economo worked with Emil Kraepelin and Alois Alzheimer and wrote his article "Contribution to the normal anatomy of the ganglion cell." He also worked in the psychiatry of Berlin under Theodor Ziehen and in the neurologic ambulatory under Hermann Oppenheim and, finally, did experimental animal research in Trieste. After these two years, he returned to Vienna and worked as an assistant at the Clinic for Psychiatry and Nervous Diseases at Vienna’s General Hospital. Von Economo obtained his habilitation in 1913.

Various photos of Constantine Von Economo as a soldier and a doctor. As Professor Tim Verstynen Ph.D. wrote about the Greek Austrian pilot and doctor: By all accounts, he was a dashing man, with droopy eyes, a Tom Selleck mustache, a quick wit and superb conversational skills (in the five or so languages that he was fluent in). In the photos below Baron von Economo with his Etrich-IV Taube monoplane, saluted by Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary at the Wiener Neustadt airfield (9/18/1910) and ask his questions regarding aviation. Constantine was the fifth child, among two daughters and five sons, of Johannes and Hélène Economo (née Murati). The two families were rooted in the Hellenic region of Macedonia (in the cities of Edessa and Serres, respectively). Johannes Economo had left Greece for France during the Ottoman rule of northern Greece; the Murati family had left Greece for Budapest in the 1820s. The Economo family had taken up citizenship in the Austro-Hungarian Empire shortly before World War I and belonged to a group of respected families of Greek origin with such names as Karajan, Ypsilanti, Dumbas and Christomano. Johannes was made Imperial Baron (Freiherr) in 1904. (All the photos were taken from the websites in the source section, no-known copyright)


The Austrian Aviatik aircraft company had started off building German B-type reconnaissance biplane designs but in early 1916 the firms' design engineer, Julius von Berg came up with two new scout fighter aircraft designs, the C.I two-seater and the D.I single-seat scout that also became known as the “Berg Scout“. Production of this unusual looking aircraft with a deep yet narrow fuselage started in May 1917. The “Berg Scout” became the first-ever Austrian designed fighter aircraft that entered production and soon joined the inventory of the Austro-Hungarian Air Service known as the Imperial and Royal Aviation Troops (Kaiserliche und Königliche Luftfahrtruppen). To confuse matters the German parent company of Aviatik also built an aircraft named the Aviatik D.I but this was actually a license-built Halberstadt D.II single-seat scout fighter for the German Imperial Air Service (Luftstreitkräfte) which was later redesignated the Halberstadt D.II(Av). Approximately 700 Aviatik (Berg) D.I scout fighters were produced by Austria Aviatik (Series 38, 138, 238 and 338 aircraft) and also license-built by five subcontractors: Lohner (Series 115 and 315), Lloyd (Series 48, 248 and 348), MAG (Magyar Általános Gépgyár – General Hungarian Machine Works – Series 84 and 92)), Thöne & Fiala (Series 101), and the Wiener Karosserie Fabrik (Vienna Car Body Factory – Series 184, 284 and 384). There was a lot to like about the aircraft. The Austro-Daimler 6-cylinder water-cooled in-line 200 hp engine provided a good top speed of up to 197 km/h (122 mph – a faster speed than the Albatros D.III), had good high altitude flight characteristics (service ceiling of 6,150 m / 20,177 ft – compared to 5,500 m / 18,044 ft of the Albatros D.III – handy around the alps and mountainous terrain of the Austro-Hungarian empire and along the border with Italy) and most importantly was highly maneuverable with a good field of view for the pilot during aerial combat (the pilot would sit quite high in his seat and his eye level would be just below the top wing). There were some issues with the Aviatik (Berg) D.I though, especially in earlier versions which suffered structural problems (Lohner had apparently deviated from the original Berg design and built the 115 series aircraft with thinner wing ribs which were prone to breaking apart!) and strangely had its 2 x 8mm Schwarzlose MG fixed machine guns positioned so they could not be reached by the pilot if they jammed! The airframe was later strengthened and the machine guns were more sensibly positioned to rectify these issues but the one main problem that continued was an overheating engine. Apparently to overcome this issue the ground crews of frontline units simply removed some of the engine panels to keep it cool in flight! In addition the two ungainly looking side radiators on some of the early Aviatik (Berg) D.I scout fighters were replaced with a single radiator built into the nose above the propeller. During World War One the Austro-Hungarian Imperial and Royal Aviation Troops flew the type primarily as an escort for bombers and reconnaissance aircraft on the Eastern, Italian and Balkan fronts. It was in service from Autumn 1917 until the armistice in November 1918 and they seem to have worn a wonderful array of camouflage schemes and livery during that time! It seems the aforementioned issues lead fighter squadrons to prefer to fly the German Albatros D.III for scout missions assigned to maintain air superiority. In late 1918, production of the improved Aviatik (Berg) D.II with a cantilever lower wing (Series 39 and 339) had begun but the war ended before this variant entered service. Overwhelmed by Allied forces from France, Great Britain, and Italy, Austria-Hungary signed a local armistice on November 3rd, 1918 and the Austro-Hungarian empire was effectively no more (the armistice to end World War One with Germany was on November 11th, 1918). Postwar the D.I was also operated by countries that were once part of the Austro-Hungarian empire (Hungary, Romania, and Yugoslavia). Under the terms of the Peace Treaty of St. Germain (1919), Austria was forced to destroy all military aircraft and aircraft engines. Fortunately from a historical point of view, some people decided this was unfair, and not all Aviatik (Berg) D.I aircraft met this fate.
This particular Aviatik Berg DI (101.37, made by Thone & Fiala) is exhibited at the Vienna Technical Museum, 4th floor, along with some preserved World War One engines. (https://acesflyinghigh.wordpress.com).
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Von Economo was not only an eminent scientist but also a passionate pilot.. in 1907, with the historic flight of the Wright brothers still fresh, the youthful Economo became interested in aeronautics. In 1907 there were no planes in Austria, but there were balloons or more precisely spherical balloons that inflated them with hydrogen or LPG. Extremely dangerous in case of fire. He named his own ‘Sonia’, without knowing which woman the name refers to. In the French press, there are reports of his travels from Paris to Vienna, taking advantage of the northwestern high currents of the atmosphere. He loaded the balloon on the train to Paris and returned flying back to Vienna. In Paris, he persuaded his cousin Aristides to dare the then considered extremely dangerous sport. Kostakis' long flights did not go unnoticed by the newspapers of the time. In the August 4, 1909 issue of the Parisian newspaper Le Matin, we read that

"The Sonia II balloon of Von Economo, who left Paris on July 30, landed after 13 hours and 40 minutes in Linz, Upper Austria, 909 kilometers from Paris. In Leeds, Von Economo was honored with the visit of Archduke Joseph - Ferdinand".

The French magazine La vie en air writes in its July 27, 1912 issue:

"For a long time now, Von Ekonomou, an excellent pilot of the French and the Austrian Aero Sports Clubs, wanted to travel from Paris to his hometown. Von Ekonomou has made this trip with a global balloon but did not achieve his goal. That's because while he was in Vienna, he landed in Leeds. But now the goal has been achieved. He left the base of the Aero Sports Club in Paris and landed in Aspern, a suburb of Vienna, after 19 hours traveling 1,050 kilometers. The 1,600-cubic-meter Sonia silk balloon flew over Nancy, Strasbourg, the Black Forest, Ulm, Pasha, and Innsbruck. The maximum altitude of the flight was 5,000 meters. He did three hours less than Orian-Express".

The airplane's appearance was a catalyst regarding Constantine's evolution as an aviator. He went to Mourmelon-Sur-Marne, France, learned to fly, bought one of the first Voisin planes, and returned to Vienna "by air" to the great surprise and excitement of all! He was the first civilian pilot to have a plane in Austria. The position of President of the Austrian Aviation Club rightfully belonged to him! With the assumption of his duties as president in 1910 - for sixteen consecutive years! - the events and activities of the Club took off. Participation in international balloon and plane competitions increased and the trophies were coming one after the other. He participated in the competitions and distinguished himself in risky aerial maneuvers. He also broke the world record for flight duration. But his first priority was to build airports. Therefore he found two large areas on the southern and northern fringes of Vienna and organized aircraft storage and maintenance areas. These are Wiener - Neustadt, and Aspern airports, which still exist today. In 1912 he organized the first meeting of the International Aeronautical Federation at Aspen Airport, which was then considered the most modern in Europe. He was nominated to become president of the Paris-based Federation but refused due to his work in Vienna. However, he accepted the position of vice president and in this capacity decided to organize the first international meeting of the Federation at the brand new airport of Aspern. More than fifty thousand people gathered to admire the new creations of human intelligence. Emperor Francis - Joseph I visits the sites and is guided by Constantine. This was followed by the 1913 event in which Baron von Zeppelin landed with his passenger boat 158 ​​meters long (Zeppelin 17 "Sachsen") in front of the admiring eyes of the public. Excited, Emperor Francis-Joseph will invite Baron von Economo to dinner with Baron von Zeppelin. The following year, at the 1914 international meeting, always at Aspern Airport, four world records were broken, including the highest flight (5,440 meters). On the last day of the meeting, Sunday, June 28, the news of the assassination of the Austrian archduke will arrive in Sarajevo.  In the period before the Great War, Constantine used to go to the airport at dawn for a flight of one or two hours. At 0900 in the morning he was in the clinic and at 1700 in the afternoon he left again for the air club's offices for organizational issues. The outbreak of war drastically changed his life. He had the feeling that the war will be long-lasting and will overthrow the regime. He volunteered to serve as an aviation pilot but was commissioned to train young pilots of the newly formed Air Force in Vienna. He quickly refused and asked to be transferred to the front where the action took place. Instead of serving as a pilot, he was posted on the Russian front in the Transport Corps with his personal Daimler. In January 1916 he again applied to serve as a pilot, this time it was accepted. He was transferred from the eastern front to South Tyrol in March of that year as a reconnaissance pilot. When he is not flying, he offers his medical services to the medical team of his unit. There he also enjoys seeing his younger brother, Yiangos, who served in the artillery. The death of Yiangos on June 16 will shock him. His parents do not want to lose another child on the battlefield. They beg him to leave the air force and serve as a doctor, as was the case with all his colleagues. He returned to Vienna to care as a military physician for patients with head injuries. Here, he saw his first cases of Encephalitis lethargica. In recognition of his instruction services, he was given Field-Pilot’s Certificate No. 1 by the Austro-Hungarian military aviation in 1912. Later on, he received the Iron Cross for his contribution to the development of Austrian aviation. Towards the end of the war, he met by chance General Alois von Schönburg (Hartenstein), who commanded the famous Edelweiss Corps in Austria. The General was wounded in the leg and stomach by shrapnel fragments in the battle of Piave, in northern Italy, in June 1918. At the military hospital where he was taken, he was visited almost daily by his colleague General Borevic, often accompanied by Leonidas Ekonomou who was at his staff. There, the General learned that Leonidas was Constantine's' brother, known for his accomplishments from traveling by balloons and dangerous flights by plane. He asked to meet him at the earliest opportunity, which took place in July at the General's house in Vienna, where he had gone for treatment. So Constantine met the General's daughter, Princess Carolina, known as Lily. The romance seems to be instantaneous because on June 10, 1919, they will perform their wedding in the majestic St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna. Unfortunately, they didn't have children. Constantine was a member of the Greek Orthodox community of the Holy Trinity of Vienna when the Orthodox Legate of Central Europe was the famous Germanos Karavangelis and he was close to Archbishop Agathangelos Xirouchakis from Crete. He partnered in his medical researches from 1919 onwards with George Koskinas from Geraki in Laconia District who later became a famous neurologist. According to his wife Von Economo always had in his office three books, Οdyssey, the New Testament, and Faust.

More photos from the miraculous flying machines, Von Economo flew. Worth to notice is the picture with Constantin von Economo in his Voisin, with dramatic sunset clouds in the background. Also, the last picture from Getty Images which is from Canadian Archives shows a Taube IV with a pilot at its controls who looks like the Greek parentage aviator and scientist. (All the photos were taken from the websites in the source section, no-known copyright)
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In 1921, von Economo was appointed Professor of Psychiatry and Neurology. He was to conduct his research in the Clinic for Psychiatry and Nervous Diseases in Vienna for the rest of his life, but in 1931, he was made head of a newly established department of brain research. Economo published about 150 articles and books. Meanwhile, he kept agonizing regarding the future of aviation.In 1927, on concluding the active presidency of the Aero-Club, Economo responded to his successor as follows:


"Comrades! It is a time rich in hopes, disappointments, and beautiful fulfillments, full of memories of a glorious development, begun with the adventurous ascent in the spherical balloon and continued to the recently accomplished flights over sea and land. The millennia-old envy of man at the flight of birds and the drift of clouds has found form. God, or Nature, or whatever else you wish to call the mysterious creative force of this world, which in the course of millions of years in the scale of phylogenetic evolution created out of the simple cell all the diverse and ever more complex forms of life, and continues to perfect them, has, of all living things on this earth, endowed the only man with the capacity to create new things. And while in the animal world, for example, the creative power of birds is limited to building the same nest over and over, or of bees to the unchanging design of the honeycomb, Creation impressed part of its creative craft upon the human brain, enabling us to create a new and to achieve increasingly higher possibilities along the way of our ascending evolution. And so it is this same creative force of Nature, which in the course of eons gave the eagle its flight, that in recent decades enabled us, humans, to construct wings and overcome the ties of gravity that bind us to the earth. Such endeavors come to expression in part consciously, in part unconsciously, as an idea or as a brooding urge, in this instance as the ancient longing, ever-recurrent in dreams, to fly through space, free from the chains of gravity".

In his early studies, he concentrated on the neuroanatomy and physiology of the midbrain, pons, and trigeminal nerve pathway and wrote articles dealing for example with choreic hemiplegia, pontine tumors, mastication, and deglutition.[1][3][4] In 1931, von Economo died in Vienna, aged 55, of the sequelae of a heart attack. Even in his last of his days at the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Aero-Club in March 1931, having a deep insight into physics and already studied the newly formulated theory of relativity, Economo foresaw the space flight:

"Calculations show that to lift a body to regions in space beyond the gravitational pull of our earth, it would require a wholly terrific amount of explosive material, several thousand times the mass of the body in question. Modern physical research shows that once we have a means of mastering the disintegration of atoms, it will be possible to transcend the force of gravity. Those who then as worthy sons of the Titans make these first journeys will be of the same stuff as their predecessors who conquered the air, and from the ranks of the conquerors of the air will advance these stormers of the heavens".

He was honored by an Austrian stamp in 1976. Since 1966, a bust portraying him can be found in the "Arkadenhof" of the University of Vienna.

Constantine was married to Princess Karoline von Schönburg-Hartenstein (1892-1986). Schönburg (also Schumburg; Czech: ze Šumburka) is an old European noble family of princely and historically sovereign rank. It formerly owned large properties in present-day Saxony, Thuringia, and Bohemia. As a former ruling and mediatized family, it belongs to the Hochadel (high nobility). The family today includes a princely and a comital branch. More pictures of Constantine and the family tomb of Ioannis A. Oikonomou in the Greek cemetery of Trieste where all the members of the family rest except the firstborn Sofia who is in the cemetery of Marseilles. (All the photos were taken from the websites in the source section, no-known copyright)


Constantine Von Economo contribution to science

by Tim Verstynen Ph.D.

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Von Economo’s most important contribution to science and medicine, however, happened by chance in a dreary veterans' hospital during the most dismal and fatal periods of World War I. Let’s go ahead and imagine the scene. It’s a dark and damp hospital in Vienna. Each cramped row of dust cots is filled with soldiers too wounded or sick to remain on the front lines. It is here that Dr. von Economo is making his rounds, amputating gangrene infected limbs, stitching large gashes, or treating burns. However, some soldiers start coming back with no wounds at all. These unfortunate patients present with symptoms of a strange illness that had never been seen before. Some victims would move extremely slowly, as if stuck in slow motion. If the lights dimmed, they would fall asleep as if their wakefulness was connected to the light switch on the wall. Other patients would present with the exact opposite problems. They’d be almost incapable of sleep, suffering insomnia to the point of madness with strange bouts of uncontrollable mania and violent twitches. In some ways it looked like polio or the flu, but it was definitely not either. von Economo knew that this was something new and terrifying. So he decided to give it a name: encephalitis lethargica. This is the name the world would go on to call "the disease." This new form of encephalitis would go on to become a global epidemic over the next decade. It infected tens of thousands of people, in many cases causing lethargia, catatonia and sometimes death. It was never known how it was transmitted and almost as quickly as it came, encephalitis lethargia simply vanished in the late 1920s. But during its most active periods, von Economo was tirelessly at work diagnosing, treating and trying to understanding the disease.However, simply discovering a new neurological disease wasn’t von Economo’s greatest contribution to science. No, he was way too cool for that. It’s what he discovered when trying to understand the disease that lead to his most lasting contribution to science. The most prevailing symptom of encephalitis lethargica was disturbances of sleep. In von Economo’s time, there were two popular theories as to how the brain goes to sleep. The “Theory of Lack of Stimuli” suggested that a bottleneck of congestion in the brain blocked neural activity, resulting in the cortex going to sleep. 

This is pretty much how your arm falls asleep if you block blood flow to it, but applied to the brain. The second popular theory of sleep suggested that the body secretes chemicals in the bloodstream that puts the cortex to sleep. This theory was based in large part on experiments where the blood of sleep-deprived dogs was injected into healthy and well-rested animals who subsequently fell asleep. Given his extensive knowledge of the brain, Von Economo found both of these theories to be fundamentally wrong. So he went about to prove it. Years of post-mortem research on those who had died from encephalitis lethargica revealed severe inflammation deep in the brain, in a set of areas known as the midbrain and the diencephalon. Over time, von Economo and other scientists would match where they saw inflammation in the brain to the particular symptoms seen in the patients when they were still alive. Those with symptoms of excessive drowsiness and catatonica also had difficulty controlling their eyes, a symptom normally seen when the optic nerve is irritated. On the other hand, patients with insomnia and twitchy movements tended to show symptoms that looked like other motor disorders that arise from damage to the basal ganglia. From these observations, von Economo proposed that there are two distinct areas of the brain that trigger going to sleep or waking up. According to his theory, delivered in his classic lecture “Sleep as a Problem of Localization”, the neurons that promote sleep must sit frontal parts of the hypothalamus, near the optic nerve, while the neurons that initiate waking up are in the back of the hypothalamus and extend into the midbrain. So to go asleep, von Economo thought, the sleep-promoting neurons start a chain of events that quiets the cortex and, to awaken, the wakefulness-promoting neurons start an opposite chain of events.This “on/off switch” idea of sleeping and waking turns out to be one of the most consistently validated theories of the brain to date. Modern neurophysiological studies have shown that mammalian brains do indeed have essentially “on” and “off” switches in the areas that von Economo predicted. While we know a lot more about the mechanisms of how this works, thanks to more modern scientific tools, the essential idea proposed by von Economo in 1930 still holds to this day.



Special Thanks to Hegedus Marius for bringing me to my attention this great aviator and doctor.


1. https://sivenas.wordpress.com/category/η-μεγάλη-οικογένεια-οικονόμου/. An excellent blog regarding a very big family and its history in Greece (Edessa) and worldwide.

2. https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/white-matter-matters/201307/profiles-in-scientific-awesomeness-von-economo by Tim Verstynen Ph.D.

3.https://www.researchgate.net/publication/301731554_The_terrestrial_and_the_celestial_Contrasting_notions_of_Ramon_y_Cajal_and_Constantin_von_Economo_on_forced_propulsion. The terrestrial and the celestial. Contrasting notions of Ramón y Cajal and Constantin von Economo on forced propulsion, By Lazaros C. Triarhou, MD, Ph.D. University of Macedonia, Thessalonica, Greece

4. http://ibro.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Economo-Constantin-von.pdf. Triarhou, LC (2007) History of Neuroscience: Constantin von Economo (1876-1931), IBRO History of Neuroscience. Lazaros C. Triarhou, MD, Ph.D. University of Macedonia, Thessalonica, Greece.

5. http://www.thefirstairraces.net/meetings/wn1007/events.php

6. https://acesflyinghigh.wordpress.com/2017/11/18/austrian-aviation-heritage-aviatik-berg-d-i-a-hidden-treasure-from-world-war-one/

7. http://www.thefirstairraces.net/meetings/wn1007/events.php

8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constantin_von_Economo

9. https://el.wikipedia.org/wiki/Κωνσταντίνος_φον_Οικονόμου