Louis Bleriot

First to fly the English Channel
On 25 July 1909, Louis Bleriot flew the English Channel in a Bleriot XI. He was not the first to attempt this feat. A fellow Frenchman named Hubert Latham ditched in the Channel when the engine of his Antionette aircraft stopped on July 19 of the same year while attempting to claim the £1000 prize for crossing the Channel in an aeroplane offered by Lord Northcliffe of the Daily Mail.

Monsieur Bleriot was a man of independent means, having invented a lamp for motor cars. This enabled him to concentrate upon developing monoplane flying machines. A periodical of the day reported that Bleriot avoided serious injury when test flying his aircraft by throwing himself on to the wing when he found himself falling! At the time of his famous flight, Bleriot had only flown 25 miles across country.

Despite limping on a burned and bandaged foot, Bleriot declared himself ready for flight on the windless morning of July 25 1909 at 4.41 am. Asking a colleague „Tell me, where is Dover?“, and receiving the equally vague wave of the hand towards England and the comment „It’s over there“, he alighted into the early morning sky. The French destroyer Escopette (in which his wife was traveling) ointed the way until Bleriot left it behind. Flying at low altitude and without a compass, Bleriot was to later comment „I could see nothing at all. For ten minutes I was lost. It was a strange position to be alone, unguided, in the air over the middle of the Channel“. For another 20 minutes, Bleriot flew on to make landfall too far to the east. The wind had almost carried him to St. Margaret’s Bay and caused him some delay as he traveled against the wind to the agreed landing place. After a total of 40 minutes in the air an a distance of 31 miles traveled he landed on Dover Castle Cliff. His speed of 45 miles an hour was hnheard of at the time.