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Aces of Aviation

Blériot Type XI of Louis Blériot

Blériot Type XI of Louis Blériot

Blériot Type XI, piloted by Louis Blériot across the English Channel the 25th July 1909. Note the floater inside the fuselage.

Wingspan: 9.90 meters.

Length: 7.85 meters.

Height: 2.60 meters.

Engine[s]: Anzani of 25 horsepower.

Maximum speed: About 72 kilometers/hour at sea level.

Service ceiling: Never measured.

Range: About 64 kilometers.

Louis Blériot passed to posterity as one of the most tenacious pioneers of aviation and the first man who manned a machine heavier than air across the English Channel. Born in 1872, Blériot had directed a prosperous business of manufacturing of lights for automobiles before designing a portable ornithopter in 1902. To this sort of airplane followed several other models during the following five years and, albeit they had a rigid and conventional structure, none of them was able to support a man in flight.

In 1907 he created an atractive monoplane, with a single engine, fully coated fuselage and hinged lifters and rudder. The success of achieving a self-propelled jump of something more than 500 meters convinced Blériot that in such configuration resided the definitive formula to achieve a sustained flight, and this despite the almost unanimous preference for biplanes, specially kept by the famous Wright brothers.

On the Type VIII airplane that followed it was discarded the utilization of fabric to coat the fuselage; with this model Blériot offered several public exhibitions during 1908. Alarmed by the progress that the Wright brothers had already achieved, specially regarding the degree of control achieved on their biplane, Blériot built three more airplanes before the end of that year, and managed to effectuate a 27-kilometer cross-country flight.

It was with the third of those airplanes, the Type XI, with which Blériot decided to retrieve part of the expenses generated by his flying experiences. The prize of 1000 sterling pounds offered by the Daily Mail to the first person who crossed the English Channel manning an airplane attracted, naturally, some of the most intrepid aviators. Among them, along with Louis Blériot, was Hubert Latham, a French of English descendancy, and the Count of Lambert, a Russian of French descendancy.

Latham was the first who attempted the crossing; he took off on his monoplane "Antoinette" near Calais in the dawn of the Monday 19th July 1909. However, a failure on the engine caused the airplane to fall to the sea after having covered about seven of the 22 miles to Dover. The pilot was rescued by a destroyer that had been following the adventure.

At 4:35 o'clock on the dawn of the 25th July, Louis Blériot, who did no carry with him a map or a sextant, took off on his Type XI from Calais after a brief weather checking. Despite losing the course during a while and suffering a momentarily loss of engine power, the intrepid aviator arrived to Dover and landed his airplane in a field near a castle. The bad weather caused that, during the landing, the wheels and the propeller broke. It was 5:13 o'clock of that morning.