Who Was The First To Fly Across The English Channel? - October 19, 2012

Aviation Wisdom From The Past – October 15, 2012
October 14, 2012
Aviation Wisdom From The Past – October, 2012
October 21, 2012
Show all

Who Was The First To Fly Across The English Channel? – October 19, 2012

 “Robert Novell’s Third Dimension Blog”

Good Morning and Happy Friday. Hope the week was good for one and all and the weekend will allow you some time to decompress and enjoy life. This week I want to talk about an event that occurred in 1909 and for most of us, on this side of the pond, we may not consider this as being very important in the scheme of things; however, there was a time when flying across a body of water, like the English Channel, was unthinkable. 

Louis Blériot is the man we will talk about today and I will explain why you should add him to your list of aviation pioneers.  


Louis Charles-Joseph Blériot

(1872 – 1936)

Louis Bleriot was in many ways as interesting as the airplane. The son of a successful fabric manufacturer, he became a wealthy man in his own right and financed his experiments in aviation by the invention of a successful automobile headlight. Bleriot was not only the originator of the monoplane design that is basic to every business aircraft manufacturer today, but he also originated streamlining of the fuselage, the engine placed forward with the single tractor propeller, the rudder, elevator, and stabilizer placed on the aft part of the fuselage, and even a partially swiveling landing gear with a capability for crosswinds.

Before Bleriot flew the Channel in “Bleriot XI” there were numerous other largely unsuccessful experimental craft, ranging from cellular winged gliders to canard aircraft, most of which crashed, burned, or scattered themselves over the landscape. Until the advent of the 1909 model, Louis Bleriot’s major claim to fame seemed to be his ability to survive any and all accidents.


The basic Bleriot design was light and simple to maintain, as well as very easy to take apart or set up for flight. From the standpoint of the early exhibition pilots these were important factors, for the Bleriot could be made ready for flight in thirty minutes, as against six to eight hours for a Curtiss or Wright. Another factor was the advent of the 50-hp Gnome Rotary engine which gave the Bleriot a tremendous edge because of its general reliability and low weight per horsepower.

The 1909 Bleriot, along with the rear-elevator Curtiss, were undoubtedly the two most widely copied aircraft. Literally hundreds of airplanes were built on farms, and in backyards, with nothing more to go on than photographs, the materials often being banana oil, mothers’ bed sheets, and slats from the fence. Because of the popularity of the Bleriot design, and it’s very remarkable impact on the world, (it received as much publicity in its days as Lindbergh’s flight twenty years later), many wealthy sportsmen bought them to use for business and pleasure. Adventurous barnstormers flew them all over the known world, and even as far away as China and Tibet!  

The Crossing of the Channel  

July 25, 1909


The London Daily Mail offered a prize of 1,000 pounds to the first person to fly across the English Channel and this prompted Blériot to attempt the crossing. He established a headquarters near Calais, France and waited for the poor weather conditions to break. At the first light of dawn on the morning of July 25, 1909 Louis Blériot gave his crew the signal to release his small wood and fabric Model XI airplane. It crossed the grassy paddock and bounded into the air crossing the cliffs at Sangatte France, near Calais, and ventured out over the English Channel. 

Travelling at just over 40 miles per hour, and at an altitude of about 250 feet, the little monoplane out-paced its naval escort ship, the Escopette, which carried his wife Alicia. Within minutes Blériot was alone and, on his own over the channel, and due to bad weather conditions could not see either coast for part of the flight.

Finally, thirty-six minutes after his departure, fighting dangerous cliff-side gusts, Blériot put down on English soil near Dover Castle. It must have been a dramatic scene for the small group of on-lookers as his plane dodged several brick buildings, was tossed about in the wind, and as Blériot cut the motor the craft dropped into a grassy field smashing the propeller and undercarriage.


Now, I know that this is not an event that you would normally consider earth shattering but stop for a minute and think about these facts;

1.     Bad weather – which is normal most of the year.

2.     A frail 500 pound fabric airplane with a 25 HP engine.

3.     No instruments, no compass, and the only engine instrument – an oil pressure gauge. 

I think Louis Blériot deserves to be added to our list of aviation pioneers and his accomplishments in aircraft design should be a part of aviation history that all of us need to know. 

That’s it for this week. My best to you, and yours, have a good weekend, and thanks for stopping by. Enjoy the video, and the pictures below, and drop by again next week when we will talk about……………


Robert Novell

October 19, 2012



Blériot, 1, 1900 – 1901

Blériot, II, Jul., 1905

Blériot, III, May – Sep., 1906

Blériot, IV, Oct., 1906

Blériot, V, Jan.- Mar., 1907

Blériot, VI, Jun., 1907

Blériot, VII, Oct.- Nov., 1907

Blériot, VIII, Feb.- May., 1908

Blériot, IX, Feb., 1908 – Mar., 1909

Blériot, X, Sep.- Dec., 1908

Blériot, XI REP, Nov., 1908 – Apr., 1909


Blériot, XII ENV, Apr.- May, 1909