Cockpit Stone, Louis Bleriot Memorial, Northfall Meadow, Dover Castle, Kent, UK

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John Latter on May 6, 2007

A close-up of the Louis Bleriot Memorial's 'Cockpit Stone', viewed from the west (click on the "Bleriot" tag for more images/photos).

Standard Info

(Info on how to find the memorial is at the bottom of this entry)

The 'Cockpit Stone' of the Bleriot Memorial in Dover's Northfall Meadow reads:

After making the first Channel flight by aeroplane


Landed at this spot on Sunday 25th July 1909

This memorial was presented to the Aero Club of the United Kingdom (1) by Alexander Duckham

From the History of Flight - US Centennial of Flight Commision (2):

Louis Bleriot, the 37-year old French inventor, aircraft designer, and self-trained pilot, flew across the treacherous English Channel early on July 25, 1909, in an aircraft he designed himself--the Bleriot XI. The flight from Les Barraques, France, to Dover, England, undertaken in bad weather, earned him the £1000 prize that the London Daily Mail had offered to the first aviator to cross the Channel in either direction. His accomplishment delighted the public and shocked many in the British military and political establishment.

Bleriot was born in Cambrai, France, in 1872, and obtained a degree in Arts and Trades from École Centrale Paris. He invented automobile headlamps and established a very successful acetylene headlamp business, amassing a small fortune. He used the money from his business to experiment with towed gliders on the Seine River, learning much about aircraft and flight dynamics. He built a model ornithopter, which further aroused his interest in aircraft. Bleriot's earliest real aircraft design was for a glider, built in 1905 by another aircraft manufacturer, and he experimented with many biplane and monoplane configurations. His designs were modified and consistently improved, and his planes became known for their high quality and performance.

Bleriot did not invent the monoplane; a Romanian lawyer turned inventor who lived in Paris, Trajan Vuia, built the first one that achieved successful flight, flying 40 feet (12 meters) on March 18, 1906. That year, Bleriot switched from a biplane to a monoplane configuration to increase the efficiency of the wing structure. Then, in 1907 at Bagatelle, France, he flew a plane he had designed himself, the Bleriot Model VII, for the first time, flying more than 1,640 feet (500 meters). Although the craft itself was not considered a success, the Model VII set the pattern for much of Europe's monoplane development.

Flying in those early years of flight was risky. Aircraft engines were small, unreliable, and generally prone to overheating rapidly and most engines of this period could run for only about 20 minutes before they began malfunctioning. In addition, the planes themselves were unreliable, especially for longer flights. Pilots frequently stayed over land or close to the shoreline to avoid open stretches of water, allowing them to head for a roadway or field in an emergency. Less than a week before Bleriot's successful flight, Hubert Latham, another early aviator, was the victim of a failed motor on July 19, when he had to ditch his plane in the water as he tried to cross the Channel. Bleriot acknowledged the danger of early flight in his paper Above the Channel when he reported, "At first I promised my wife that I would not make the attempt." He said that she had begged him not to make the flight and afterward, he promised he would fly "no more" once he completed a race that he had already entered.

The Bleriot XI made its first flight on January 23, 1909, at Issy-les-Moulineaux. The plane was first equipped with a 30-horsepower (22.4-kilowatt) R.E.P. engine, which drove a four-bladed metal propeller. During testing, however, Bleriot replaced it with the more-reliable 25-horsepower (18.6-kilowatt) Anzani engine and installed a Chauviere two-bladed propeller. (But this did not remove all risk--in an earlier flight, Bleriot's Anzani engine had overheated.) The tail consisted of a central rudder and elevators at each end of fixed horizontal tail surfaces. Lateral movement of the aircraft was controlled by wing warping the trailing edges of the wings. The plane had a 25.5-foot (7.8-meter) wingspan, was a little over 26 feet (8 meters) long, and was 8.5 feet (2.6 meters) high. It had an ash fuselage with supporting struts and wire ties, and the shoulder-mounted wing was also wood.

This Bleriot performed admirably. Between May 27, 1909, when the Anzani engine was installed, and its historic Channel crossing, it made some remarkable flights--the best on July 4, which lasted 50 minutes and 8 seconds.

For the July 25 attempt, the French government authorized Bleriot to have a destroyer, the Escopette, support his attempt to span the English Channel. The day before the flight, Bleriot ordered the destroyer to sea. The next morning, when Bleriot drove to the field in Les Barraques, France, where his Model XI was garaged, he noted the light, southwest breeze that would favor his attempt. By 4:30 a.m., just before takeoff, daylight arrived and the wind began to blow. He reported, in a cable to the Washington Post, that he pushed his engine to 1,200 revolutions per minute, nearly top speed, to clear telegraph wires at the crest of the cliff near the field. Then he lowered the engine speed to give the XI an airspeed of approximately 40 miles per hour (64 kilometers per hour) and an altitude of about 250 feet (76 meters). At that speed, he rapidly overtook the destroyer and became lost in the clouds, which blocked his view of all landmarks. He could not even see the ship. The sea below had grown rough. There was wind and rain. His craft did not have a compass! Afterward, he reported those moments, "I am alone. I can see nothing at all. For ten minutes, I am lost."

He continued flying straight ahead as best he could. Roughly 20 minutes after leaving France, he spied the green hills of Dover and the famous castle. The wind had blown him off course. He was near Margaret's Bay, west of the field where he had planned to land. He would have to push his engine to a greater distance. However, the rain that might otherwise be a problem was cooling his engine. As he approached the Cliffs of Dover, gusts were stronger and airspeed slower as his "beautiful" plane fought the wind. But the Anzani was powerful enough to propel the XI over the Cliff. He spotted his friend waving a French flag to confirm he had the right field. Now Bleriot had to maneuver the craft to not hit any of the buildings near the field [Northfall Meadow]. Bleriot reported that the wind caught his plane and whirled him around two or three times. With his altitude at about 65 feet (20 meters) and being driven by the wind, he immediately cut the engine and dropped to the ground! Bleriot commented, "At the risk of smashing everything, I cut the ignition at 20 meters. Now it was up to chance. The landing gear took it rather badly, the propeller was damaged, but my word, so what? I HAD CROSSED THE CHANNEL!" British Customs had no provision for a landing other than by ship, so Bleriot was logged in as a ship's Master and the XI as a yacht.

(1) Founder members: Frank Hedges Butler, his daughter Vera and the Hon Charles Stewart Rolls (see below).

(2) See "Explorers, Daredevils and Record Setters" under Essays

Northfall Meadow is now a wooded area and three sequential photos (one, two, three) show views of the southwestern approach path and give details of the NNE entry.

Also see an image of Dover's statue to Charles Stewart Rolls, co-founder of Rolls Royce motor cars which commemorates his non-stop flight across the English Channel and back on June 2nd, 1910.

John Latter on May 7, 2007

Bleriot XI Video Links

The first video is a 4 minute clip taken at the Imperial War Museum's 1995 Duxford Air Show. The behaviour of the Bleriot monoplane shown (it doesn't say whether it's an original or not) is reminiscent of cycling against a headwind - at one point the commentator says, "I'm sure he's going backwards there!"

The second video is a 37 second clip taken at New Zealand's 2006 Warbirds Over Wanaka International Airshow. A caption from the accompanying website states:

"The first aircraft ever to fly the English Channel, flown by it’s maker Louis Bleriot, in 1909 in a time of 36 minutes, a Bleriot XI made history. In 1913 an American, “Wizard” Stone brought one to New Zealand and undertook several flights before writing it off at Napier. This Bleriot XI is an original, built in 1918 and brought to New Zealand by it’s owner, Mikael Carlson, exclusively to fly at Warbirds Over Wanaka. Powered by a 50hp Gnome Omega, it cruises a sedate 42 knots."

Future Air Shows: Imperial War Museum Duxford, Warbirds Over Wanaka.

Also see how Bleriot's plane looked after an accident at the 1909 Reims Air Meet.

John Latter on November 19, 2007

Click to see photos of Dover's Norman Castle and its associated structures of the East Roman Pharos and the Saxon church of St Mary-in-Castro.

John Latter on May 14, 2009

From the Dover 2009 website:

"Dover District Council with its consultants Cresting Limited has chosen to celebrate the centenary of Louis Blériot’s epic flight and to commemorate the pioneering age of aviation. Throughout the weekend of 25-26 July 2009 Dover will host a prestigious international festival in celebration of Bleriot’s achievement in becoming the first person to fly across the English Channel in an aeroplane and also in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the first hovercraft crossing of the English Channel between Calais and Dover by Sir Christopher Cockerell."

"Dover 2009 will provide a unique opportunity to reflect on the magnitude of change brought about by the leaps in innovation, engineering and technology over the last 100 years and to celebrate the role played by Dover, its town and its port." [Abridged]

Part of the Images of Dover website.

John Latter on December 19, 2010

Louis Bleriot then visited the Lord Warden Hotel:

When Bleriot climbed out of his cockpit, he was embraced with Gallic fervor by two Frenchmen, and photographed with the correspondent not from the Daily Mail but from Le Matin - together with the flag of France prominently displayed.

...But the British had Bleriot in tow moments after this display of chauvinism. After breakfast at the Lord Warden Hotel, he was approached by three authorities from the customshouse, who - in the best traditions of their office - solemnly asked him if he had anything to declare. On answering in the negative, the flyer was granted clearance by an immigration officer in the following historic terms:

"I certify I have examined Louis Bleriot, master of a vessel "Monoplane," lately arrived from Calais, and that it appears by the verbal answers of the said master to the questions put to him that there has not been on board during the voyage any infectious disease demanding detention of the vessel, and that she is free to proceed"

Bleriot proceeded to London, where, through endless festivities, he was cheered, applauded, and praised.

Above extracts are from "Contact! The Story of the Early Aviators" (Henry Villard, 2002).

Kim Childs on October 9, 2011

I have a old pic of my mum and her friend sitting on this plane from way back in the fifties-sixties

John Latter on October 9, 2011

Kim Childs, on October 9th, 2011, said:

I have a old pic of my mum and her friend sitting on this plane from way back in the fifties-sixties

Have you thought about uploading it, Kim? It would be inteeresting to see!

Kim Childs on October 10, 2011

Have uploaded it but they didn't take a very good shot of it, I assume it is the same place as yours as she said it was close to Dover castle and that's where mum spent her childhood playing.Thanks for the reply.

John Latter on October 10, 2011

Kim Childs, on October 10th, 2011, said:

Have uploaded it but they didn't take a very good shot of it, I assume it is the same place as yours as she said it was close to Dover castle and that's where mum spent her childhood playing.Thanks for the reply.

I think old photos have a charm that far surpasses any "technical imperfections" they may have - particularly when they are of places that I know!

Yes, that's definitely the Bleriot memorial in the third of your photos.

The first is the seafront promenade, of course, and the middle one shows the Statue of Charles Stewart Rolls in its old location. He was co-founder (with Sir Henry Royce) of Rolls Royce motor cars.

If you add, titles, names, and dates then you never know who else might find your photos interesting!

John Latter on November 16, 2012

Also see the 1909 black and white (monochrome) photograph:

Louis Bleriot after First English Channel Flight in 1909, Dover Castle, UK

A Dover Aviation and History photo.

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Photo details

  • Uploaded on March 25, 2007
  • © All Rights Reserved
    by John Latter
    • Camera: PENTAX Corporation PENTAX Optio 33LF
    • Taken on 2007/03/25 10:08:07
    • Exposure: 0.004s (1/250)
    • Focal Length: 5.80mm
    • F/Stop: f/4.800
    • ISO Speed: ISO100
    • Exposure Bias: 0.00 EV
    • No flash