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Pioneer aviator Louis Blériot earned world-wide recognition by completing the first successful airplane crossing of the English Channel. The culmination of nine years of experimentation, his planethe Blériot Type XIwas a tiny single-seat monoplane powered by a three-cylinder, 25-horsepower, air-cooled Anzani engine. With its single wing and well-designed flying controls, Blériot's plane was ahead of its time, but its engine was far from reliable.
Several days before Blériot's famous flight, another Frenchman, Hubert Latham, had attempted a cross-channel flight and had crashed seven miles off the French coast. But Blériot felt he was ready, even though he was injured at the time as a result of a gasoline explosion.
The drama began around 4 a.m.on July 25, 1909 when Blériot took the Type XI for a warm-up flight. Thousands of spectators had gathered to witness his departure, and at 4:41 a.m. he took off from the dunes at Les Baraques, a village near Calais. The 23 1/2-mile flight was a perilous undertaking. Blériot's only concession to safety was a five-foot rubber cylinder in the middle of the fuselage which he hoped would support his plane in case of a forced landing in the channel. In that event, a rescue ship was standing by.
Soon after he disappeared into the mist and reached his top altitude of 300 feet, the engine began to overheat and lose power. But luck was with him: a sudden squall of rain cooled the overheated cylinders. Another hazard arose when the light winds over the channel gusted to 20 knots, buffeting the plane off course. Nevertheless, Blériot reached the English coast and was soon relieved to see the white cliffs of Dover.
At 5:18a.m. the intrepid Frenchman landed
in a meadow behind Dover Castle, damaging his propeller and landing gear on the rough
terrain. An excited crowd greeted him in Dover, and later in London Blériot
received a tumultuous welcome. With his historic flight, Blériot not only increased the
prestige of aviation but eventually became one of the principal manufacturers of
monoplanes for use by the French and British in World War I. By demonstrating
that nations once isolated by water could be reached by air, his flight had a far-reaching
impact on world affairs.
The preceding information was extracted from the pamphlet,
"The Great Airplanes Sterling Silver Miniature Collection", published by The Franklin Mint, 1979.
Permission was granted to ALLSTAR by The Franklin Mint to use the preceding materials.
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Updated: March 12, 2004