Louis Bleriot, 1909 First English Channel Flight, Dover Castle, Kent, England, UK

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Louis Bleriot on Sunday, 25th July, 1909, in Northfall Meadow behind Dover Castle after the first ever powered-flight across the English Channel from France. This is where Bleriot taxied to after touch-down (else Aero Club Bleriot Memorial is in the wrong place). Aeroplane is a Bleriot XI monoplane that the pioneer aviator designed himself. Earthwork at top-left is Horseshoe Bastion close to Avranches Crossbow Tower.

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John Latter on November 16, 2012

This edited black and white (monochrome) photograph is part of the George Grantham Bain Collection held by the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (Washington, D.C. 20540 USA) and was previously published by the Bain News Service.

After landing, Bleriot subsequently had breakfast at 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).

A description of the flight itself will appear in the next "Comment" after these preliminary notes.

The Bleriot Memorial is located in Northfall Meadow immediately behind Dover Castle, which is now a wooded area. Three sequential photos (one, two, three) show views of the southwestern approach path (as they appeared in 2007) and give details of the north-northeast entry.

The 'Cockpit Stone' of the Bleriot Memorial 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 by Alexander Duckham.

Founder members of the Aero Club were Frank Hedges Butler, his daughter, Vera, and the Hon. Charles Stewart Rolls.

Dover has a seafront Statue to Charles Stewart Rolls, co-founder of Rolls Royce motor cars, that commemorates his non-stop flight across the English Channel and back on June 2nd, 1910. Click to see other photos of Dover Statues, Monuments, and Memorials.

Extract from the 2009 report, Bleriot’s Centennial Flight Over The English Channel:

July 27, 2009, Edmond Salis a Frenchman restored a Blériot XI Monoplane and flew it from Calais to Dover on Saturday to commemorate the centennial of the first airplane to cross the English Channel.

Other news reports regarding the anniversary include: New York Times, Life Magazine, The Observer (UK).

Click to see all photos of the Louis Bleriot Memorial including how Louis Bleriot's plane (a Bleriot XII) looked after An Accident at the 1909 Reims Air Meet in France.

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 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.

A Dover Aviation and History photo.

John Latter / Jorolat

Dover Blog: The Psychology of a Small Town

This is the Images of Dover website: click on any red or blue "John Latter" link to access the Entry Page.

John Latter on November 16, 2012

Extract from the "History of Flight - US Centennial of Flight Commision"

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 (now Bleriot Plage), 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 St 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.

Source: See "Explorers, Daredevils and Record Setters" under Essays.

John Latter on November 20, 2012

This photo now appears on Pinterest Images of Dover at:

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

An enlargement of the car in the background of the main photo can be seen at:

Bleriot Mystery Car in 1909, Northfall Meadow, Dover Castle, England

The photo's caption reads:

Unknown make of automobile in the background of a George Grantham Bain (Bain News Service) photograph taken on Sunday, 25th July, 1909, after Louis Bleriot had made the first successful flight across the English Channel. The pioneer aviator designed the Bleriot XI monoplane himself. Aviation History.

Both photos are on the Pinterest Old Dover board.

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Photo details

  • Uploaded on November 16, 2012
  • © All Rights Reserved
    by John Latter
    • Taken on 2012/11/15 05:40:24