Louis Bleriot flies the Channel
In these days when air travel is taken for granted, it may seem strange that a flight that lasted just 37 minutes should have shaken the world, and in particular woken the British authorities from their complacent slumber about the potential of powered flight.
Bleriot was a successful inventor and industrialist who had led the way in making headlamps for the still young automobile market. He became fascinated by flight, working with towed gliders until he began to design his own powered aircraft. Ever a pioneer he switched to monoplanes early on. His early career in flight was that of the gentleman amateur in some ways, his wife trying to persuade him to give up his strange obsession. But he improved aircraft design radically, to such an extent that the French government lent him a destroyer to assist in his cross Channel exploit. It is said that his layout of the cockpit instruments set the model for planes to this day, and he went on to build the SPAD planes flown by the allies in WWI .
It was in a Bleriot XI plane that he made his famous attempt, just a short time after a fellow enthusiast had come to grief in the Channel. The engine of his machine was a mere 25 horsepower, allowing an airspeed of about 40mph, and had achieved an amazing endurance feat quite recently, with a flight of over 50 minutes!
Unfortunately on the big day there was much cloud over the Channel, and Bleriot had no compass in his cockpit, so he basically pointed the plane at Dover and kept on flying through the cloud until he emerged near the White Cliffs . A friend signalled to him with a French flag to show the landing site's location, and with the wind buffeting him Bleriot was forced to cut power while still about 60 feet up, and part glide part drop to the ground. He had made it and lived, and will always be remembered for the flight.
In Britain the event caused much concern. The Daily Mail had hoped its prize of £1,000 for the crossing would be won by a Briton. And politicians suddenly realised that the Channel and a strong navy were no longer enough to protect the country from invasion.
It is to be hoped that the jet-pack powered flight across the same route, some 99 years after Bleriot, by Swiss Rocket Man Yves Rossy, will be as seminal as the great French aviator's.
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