Simanaitis Says

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LET’S CELEBRATE Louis Blériot, his Type XI and its historic flight across the English Channel. The “Type Onze” generated great excitement with this July 25, 1909 flight, in no small way because it was part of a huge media event.


Blériot XI: The Story of a Classic Aircraft, by Tom D. Crouch, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1982. It’s listed at

Lord Northcliff, proprietor of the London Daily Mail newspaper, offered a prize of ₤1000 “For Perseverance and Valor” to the first person to fly the English Channel “in Either Direction. Between Sunrise and Sunset without intermediate landings.”

This was in early 1909, after a ₤500 prize by the same newspaper for the same challenge went unclaimed during 1908. Indeed, many thought there was no chance of such a flight any time soon—it was nothing more than Northcliff hype.

It was, however, quite a monetary incentive, ₤1000 being $5000 at the time, something like $116,000 in today’s dollars.


Louis Blériot, 1872-1936, was more than a pioneer aviator; he was an automotive industrialist as well. Image from Blériot XI.

Louis Blériot was already a successful businessman, having developed the world’s first practical automotive lighting. Prior to electrical headlights, these used a compact built-in acetylene generator. The likes of Renault and Panhard-Levassor depended upon his company as a supplier.

Blériot certainly satisfied Lord Northcliff’s criteria of perseverance and valor. Even before crossing that 23-mile expanse of water the French called La Manche, Blériot experimented with ten different designs. There were models, gliders and powered aeroplanes, some that flew, more than a few that left Blériot with bruises and worse.

As for valor, Frank Tallman (with more than 120 hours in replica Type XIs) said it was “hard to put into words readily explainable to any modern pilot how perfectly awful it is to fly the Blériot.”


The Glorious Flight Across the Channel with Louis Blériot, July 25, 1909, by Alice and Martin Provensen, Viking Press, 1983. Both and list it.

Alice and Martin Provensen’s Glorious Flight is a children’s book, winner of The Caldecott Medal in 1984. Highly recommended with charming illustrations, it is wonderfully evocative of Blériot’s achievement.


“Papa stops his engine and makes a very bad landing. As usual! Never mind about the broken propeller. Louis Blériot is in England. He flew there in thirty-seven minutes. What a shout goes up! Truly, it was a glorious flight.”

Upon landing—and, true, he was not renowned for finesse in this activity—Blériot’s first question concerned his competitor for the prize, Hubert Latham. The latter was still on the French side, stymied by recurring winds that Blériot’s dawn departure had avoided.

For part of Blériot’s 37-minute flight, he was out of sight of land—and ahead of the Escopette, the intended escort ship carrying his wife. Though one of his crew had taped a compass to the aeroplane, Blériot never recalled the instrument’s presence. He continued to dead-reckon his course at roughly 43 mph and an altitude of 250 ft. above the water.

A light rain added to his isolation. It may have helped cool the 25-hp Anzani 3-cylinder powering the craft.

After seeing the cliffs of the English coast, Blériot followed three ships presumed to be steaming toward the harbor. “Suddenly,” he said, “at the edge of an opening in the cliffs, I saw a man energetically waving a tricolor… screaming bravo! bravo!”

It was a Blériot colleague pointing the way to North Foreland Meadow, near Dover Castle, where a London Daily Mail celebration ensued.

Celebrations continued beyond the meadow. London department store magnate Gordon Selfridge donated ₤200 to the London Hospital for the right to exhibit the Type XI for three days. Everyone agreed to a fourth day, and that evening Selfridge’s was forced to remain open until midnight to accommodate the crowd.

It was indeed a glorious flight. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2013


One comment on “BLÉRIOT XI

  1. sabresoftware
    March 31, 2013

    Just as an historical side note, there is a small (four car) ferry that crosses the Red Deer river in Alberta, just north of Drumheller, location of the Royal Tyrrel Dinosaur museum. It is a free ferry, and was first operated by André Bleriot, brother of Louis. Originally it was known as the Munson Ferry, but now is a tourist attraction as the Bleriot Ferry (

    We took one of our granddaughters there when she was two. She was so excited, but continued to wonder when we were going to get to the ferry about half an hour after our very short crossing.

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This entry was posted on February 6, 2013 by in Vintage Aero and tagged , , .
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