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.