On this day July 25, 1909
French aviator Louis Blériot crossed the English Channel in a heavier-than-air flying machine, flying from near Calais, France, to Dover, England receiving a prize of 1000 offered by the London Daily Mail for a successful crossing of the English Channel.
Blériot was a pioneer of the sport of air racing and also is credited as the first person to make a working monoplane.
Blériot had two rivals for the prize, both of whom failed to reach the goal. The first was Hubert Latham, a French national of English extraction. He was favored by both the United Kingdom and France to win.
He had arrived first and attempted to fly across on 19 July of that year, but six miles (10 km) from the shore at Dover he developed engine trouble and was forced to make a sea landing.
The other pilot, Charles de Lambert, was a Russian aristocrat with French ancestry, and one of Wilbur Wright’s students. However, Lambert was injured in a major crash during a test flight, forcing him to quit the competition. On July 25, 1909, the three rivals each arrived on the shores of Calais, France. Blériot had a badly burned foot, caused when a gasoline line broke on his #VIII machine during one of his trial runs, although he did not withdraw. The #VIII was Bleriot’s largest & most successful design up to the #XI. After his crash in the #VIII which left him with the burnt foot, the #XI was the only other aircraft he had available to make the Channel flight.
Before the trip, the French government allowed a destroyer to escort and observe his plane during the trip to Dover. Blériot used the Blériot XI, which was a structurally strong but simple and maneuverable monoplane of his design powered by a 3-cylinder Anzani radial engine with 25 horsepower and a 2-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propeller.
The flight started a little after 4:30 AM on the same day, July 25, 1909, when dawn broke. He reported, in a telegram to the Washington Post, that he throttled his engine to 1,200 revolutions per minute, almost the top speed of the engine, to clear telegraph wires at the edge of the cliff near the runway field.
Then he lowered the engine speed to give the XI an average airspeed of approximately 40 miles per hour (64 kilometers per hour) and an altitude of about 250 feet (76 m). Soon after, inclement weather began to form, with the Channel becoming rougher. Blériot lost sight of landmarks, and rapidly outpaced the destroyer escort. He stated: “I am alone. I can see nothing at all. For ten minutes, I am lost.”
The landing was in turbulent weather, and Blériot encountered numerous problems: rain was cooling the engine, putting it in danger of being shut down, and strong wind was blowing him off course. As Bleriot reduced his airspeed for the landing, the gusts of wind nearly caused his plane to crash from an altitude of 20 meters (67 feet) when he cut off the engine. The landing severely damaged his landing gear, along with the propeller, although the rest of the airplane was fine and the landing was deemed successful.
He flew 22 statute miles (36.6 km) from Les Barraques (near Calais) to Dover. The trip took 37 minutes. Blériot gained immediate fame for this flight.