Saturday, April 18, 2009

Remembering Louis Blériot’s English Channel Crossing

It’s now a hundred years since aviation pioneer Louis Blériot crossed the English Channel, will his pioneering spirit continue to shape the future of aviation for the next hundred years?

By: Ringo Bones

Time really flies when you’re waiting for that “inevitable” global economic recovery, a time when all aviation enthusiasts can finally scrape enough funds to rekindle our passion for flying. But as all of us inevitably journey through the rest of 2009, how will the rest of the world remember the 100th Anniversary of the pioneering French aviator Louis Blériot’s “Lustrous First” of crossing the English Channel back in July 25, 1909?

By skillfully flying his Number XI monoplane, Blériot made a flight which back then electrified the civilized world. On July 25, 1909, the Frenchman took off from Les Baraques, near Calais, and flew 23 and a half miles across the choppy waters of the English Channel to the English coast. Thirty-seven minutes after takeoff, Blériot landed near Dover Castle. The Channel crossing was not the longest flight of that period, but never before had an aviator chanced a flight without any piece of terra firma underneath. What was even more remarkable is that Louis Blériot’s “primitive” monoplane was not even equipped with navigation aids of any kind.

Blériot’s flight over the English Channel with his Number XI monoplane did create multiple “firsts”. The first flight – make that solo flight – over a significant body of water with nary a land underneath. The first flight for a monoplane over a significant body of water at the time. Not to mention finally proving the airworthiness of the monoplane design, which didn’t became common until the 1930s.

Given that this remarkable feat was made only a few years after the Wright Brother’s first ever flight at Kitty Hawk back in December 17, 1903 by a “mere civilian” without any government backing no less. Many contemporary aviation and space travel enthusiasts now wonder if Louis Blériot’s remarkable feat can be repeated in the field of space travel. Even though some of our current pioneering über-rich “civilians” had already managed to successfully launch their “home-made” spacecraft to sub-orbital space. Although at a cost of several times that of the prize money being offered in our current X-Prize pot.

Even though Charles Lindbergh’s solo Transatlantic New York to Paris flight created a “mystique” that he was the first person who crossed the Atlantic Ocean by plane even though there are others who did the feat years before – only not solo. Like Captain John Alcock who piloted the first non-stop transatlantic flight back in June 1919 – and he is accompanied by his co-pilot / navigator. Which is a 1,960-mile trip from Newfoundland to Ireland with the Vickers Vimy – a converted World War I-era bomber - in just over 16 hours.

While a non-stop flight around the world without any aid of refueling – aerial or otherwise – have to wait until December 14, 1986. When the Burt Rutan-designed Voyager, piloted by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager, managed to fly non-stop around the world. The feat took 9 days 3 minutes and 44 seconds after the plane flew westward for 26,366 miles or 42,432 kilometers non-stop at an average altitude of 11,000 feet. The previous record for a non-stop flight was a B-52 piloted by a US Air Force crew that flew for 12,532 miles non-stop without refueling in 1962. While the upcoming solar-powered flight around the world by Bertrand Piccard will not only be the first for a solar-powered plane to fly non-stop around the world, but will also be the first solo non-stop flight around the world. Which is something to look forward to – if all goes well - in 2009.


  1. There was a rumor circulating around during the 1980s that Louis Blériot never heard of the Wright Brothers' effort of attempting a heavier-than-air flight - never mind succeeding back in December 1903. Which many a French citizen back then believed that Blériot was the first to achieve heavier-than-air flight. Though forgivable given that the Internet / World Wide Web - even You Tube and Twitter - were yet to be invented.
    I just hope that there will be a 100th Anniversary celebration to honor Louis Blériot's achievement, given that there wasn't any back in 2003 to honor the Wright Brothers. Looks like the whole world had forgotten how important airplanes are after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

  2. Given that the Wright Brothers' "First Flight Centennial" was not celebrated back in 2003, I now wonder whether the most devastated victim of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks was the civilian aviation industry. Its not to late to ammend the follies of the world's civil aviation industry by celebrating Louis Blériot's 100th Anniversary of his English Channel crossing flight this July 25, 2009.

  3. Given that there was nary a 100th Anniversary celebration last December 17, 2003 on the Wright Brothers' first ever heavier-than-air flight by mere civilians with no US Government backing,I'm really beginning to wonder if Osama Bin Laden and the rest of Al-Qaeda's primary goal was really to destroy the global civil aviation industry. If the rest of the world doesn't celebrate Louis Blériot's 100th Anniversary of his English Channel crossing this July 25, 2009, then Al-Qaeda has indeed one the battle.

  4. Given that the whole world seemed to forget about the 100th Anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first Heavier-Than-Air flight back in December 17, 1903, I can now safely conclude that Osama Bin Laden and the rest of Al-Qaeda had indeed successfully destroyed the global civil aviation industry. To those married men out there, everyone of you know how your wife can be furious everytime we forget about important anniversaries, right?
    To show Al-Qaeda that the Western Civilization is still alive, let us celebrate with maximum pomp and fanfare the 100th Anniversary of Louis Blériot's English Channel Crossing this July 25, 2009.

  5. Blerio's first English Channel crossing was celebrated by a replica Bleriot Number XI with a 1909-era aircraft piston engine reenacting the iconic flight back in July 25, 2009. Louis Blerio also later became the founder of the Paris Air Show after his heroic July 25, 1909 barnstorming feat.
    The first non-stop crossing of the Atlantic Ocean was indeed made by Captain J. Alcock and Lieutenant A. Whitten-Brown on board a converted World War I era bomber called the Vickers Vimy back in June 1919. The two flew from Newfoundland to Ireland in 16 hours 12 minutes averaging a speed of about 119 miles-per-hour. Sadly, no 90th Anniversary of the two's heroic barnstorming feat was celebrated back in June 2009.

  6. Thankfully, Louis Blériot's 100th Anniversary of his pioneering flight over the English Channel via a heavier-than-air vehicle - a monoplane at that - was celebrated back in July 25, 2009. It was indeed a very courageous and commendable feat back in his day back in July 25, 1909 with his Number XI monoplane - or as it is more famously known in Europe as the Blériot XI. And Louis Blériot did eventually started the first ever Paris Air Show using the profits of the sales of his iconic Number XI / Blériot XI monoplane.
    Sadly, there were no 90th Anniversary celebrations on the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean made by Captain J. Alcock and Lieutenant A. Whitten-Brown in a converted British World War I era bomber called the Vickers Vimy back in June 1919. Maybe the world was "too busy" mourning the untimely death of the King of Pop. But fortunately, there's 2019 to look forward to.
    I do agree that the greatest threat faced by aviation industry is its over-reliance on crude oil-based fuels and terrorism - the two are not exactly mutually exclusive by the way.

  7. It was indeed very good news that Louis Blériot's 100th Anniversary of his English Channel crossing was celebrated via a re-enactment back in July 25, 2009 - let us thank the BBC for this. The replica of Blériot's Number XI was powered by am authentic 1909-era aircraft piston engine. And thankfully, the reenactment happened during a very fine English Channel weather.
    Sadly, there wasn't any 90th Anniversary celebrations back in June 2009 celebrating the first Transatlantic crossing via a heavier-than-air craft by Captain J. Alcock and Lieutenant A. Whitten-Brown back in June 1919 using a converted WWI-era British bomber called the Vickers Vimy.