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Louis Blériot (1 July 1872 – 2 August 1936) was a Frenchmarker aviator, inventor and engineer. In 1909 he completed the first flight across a large body of water in a heavier-than-air craft, when he crossed the English Channelmarker. For this achievement, he received a prize of GB£ . He also is credited as the first person to make a working monoplane. Blériot was a pioneer of the sport of air racing.

Early years

Wreckage of one of Blériot's planes, Reims Air Meet, August 1909.
Born in the village of Dehériesmarker near Cambraimarker, Louis Blériot studied engineering at the École Centrale Parismarker. He invented automobile headlights and established a successful acetylene headlamp business, amassing a small fortune. He used the money from his business to experiment with towed gliders on the Seine Rivermarker, learning about aircraft and flight dynamics. His interest in aviation manifested itself when, in 1900, he built an ornithopter, which failed to take off.

Blériot and collaborator Gabriel Voisin formed the Blériot-Voisin Company. Active between 1903 and 1906, the company developed several unsuccessful and dangerous aircraft designs, which drained his finances. Blériot then left and started creating his own airplanes, experimenting with various configurations, eventually creating the world's first successful monoplane, the Blériot V, but this model crashed easily. However, by 1909, he created the Blériot XI, which was more stable. Its first flight was on 23 January of that year, and later it was displayed at the Exposition de la Locomotion Aérienne in Paris in 1909.

The Channel crossing

The first successful monoplane, built in January 1907

After years of honing his piloting skills, Blériot decided to try for the thousand-pound prize offered by the London Daily Mail for a successful crossing of the English Channelmarker.

Blériot had two rivals for the prize, both of whom failed to complete the crossing. The first was Hubert Latham, a French national of English extraction. He was favoured by both the United Kingdom and France to win. He had arrived first and attempted the crossing on 19 July, but six miles (10 km) from his destination of Dovermarker the Antoinette IV developed engine trouble and was forced to make the world's first landing of an aircraft on the sea. The other pilot, Charles de Lambert, was a Russian aristocrat with French ancestry, and one of Wilbur Wright's students. However, Lambert was injured in a major crash during a test flight, forcing him to quit the competition. On July 25, 1909, the three rivals all arrived at the seaside town of Calaismarker, France. Blériot had a badly burned foot, caused when a gasoline line broke on his #VIII machine during one of his trial runs. Despite this he did not withdraw. The #VIII was Blériot's largest and most successful design before the #XI. After his crash in the #VIII which left him with the burnt foot, the #XI was the only other aircraft he had available to make the Channel flight.

The French government provided a destroyer to escort and observe his plane during the trip to Dover (Latham had already been rescued by the French torpedo-destroyer Harpon on the 19th July.). Blériot used the Blériot XI, which was a structurally strong but simple and manoeuvrable monoplane of his design, powered by a 3-cylinder Anzani radial engine with 25 horsepower and a 2-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propeller. He took off at dawn, just after 4:30 AM on July 25, 1909. He later reported, in a telegram to the Washington Post, that he accelerated his engine to 1,200 revolutions per minute, almost its top speed, to clear telegraph wires at the edge of the cliff near the runway field. Then he reduced his speed to give the XI an average airspeed of approximately 40 miles per hour (64 kilometres per hour) at an altitude of about 250 feet (76 m). Soon after, inclement weather began to form, with the Channel becoming rougher. Blériot lost sight of any landmarks, and rapidly outpaced the destroyer escort. He stated: “[f]or more than 10 minutes I was alone, isolated, lost in the midst of the immense sea, and I did not see anything on the horizon or a single ship”.
The Blériot Memorial on the site of his landing near the cliffs above Dover (the bicycle handlebars are not part of the memorial)
The landing was in turbulent weather, causing problems for Blériot: rain was cooling the engine, putting it in danger of stalling, and the strong wind was blowing him off course. As Blériot reduced his airspeed for the landing, the gusts of wind nearly caused his plane to crash from an altitude of 20 meters (67 feet), when he cut off the engine. The landing severely damaged his landing gear, along with the propeller. However, the rest of the aeroplane was in good order and the landing was deemed successful.

He flew 22 statute miles (36.6 km) from Les Baraques (near Calaismarker) to Dover. The trip took 37 minutes and Blériot became an immediate celebrity. The Blériot Memorial, the outline of the aircraft laid out in granite setts in the turf, now marks his exact landing spot on the cliffs above Dover. .

Later life

Between 1909 and the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Blériot produced more than 800 aircraft, most of them variations of the Type XI model. However, the quality of the aircraft was controversial, as shown by inspections after several crashes. The British government put a temporary ban on them, until Blériot himself investigated and solved the problems that had caused the crashes.

In 1913, a consortium led by Blériot bought the Société pour les Appareils Deperdussin airplane manufacturer and he became the president of the company in 1914. He renamed it the Société Pour L'Aviation et ses Dérivés (SPAD).

He attempted to set up a British subsidiary through the Blériot Manufacturing Aircraft Company Ltd. in England in 1916. Its listing was hijacked by a dishonest syndicate headed by Harry John Lawson, leaving the company unable to meet its obligations, and it was soon wound up. In 1917, Blériot tried again and built a factory in Addlestonemarker, Great Britain.After the war, Blériot formed his own company, Blériot-Aéronautique, for the development of commercial aircraft, which was more successful than that founded by the Wright brothers.

In the United States, there was a legal patent battle for the invention of the aileron between the Wrights and Blériot: Blériot's airplanes were selling very well, but the Wright brothers did not receive any royalties from him, even though this technology for controlling aircraft was clearly their invention. This was eventually recognized.

Previously, Blériot had opened flying schools before World War I in at Brooklandsmarker, Surreymarker, and Hendonmarker Aerodromes.

In 1927 Blériot, long retired from flying, was present to welcome Charles Lindbergh when he landed at Le Bourget field completing his transatlantic flight. The two men, separated in age by thirty years, had each made history by crossing famous bodies of water. Together they participated in a famous photo opportunity in Paris.

In 1934, Blériot visited Newark Airport in New Jerseymarker and predicted commercial overseas flights by 1938.


Blériot remained active in the airplane business until his death on August 2, 1936 in Paris, Francemarker of a heart attack. He was interred in the Cimetière des Gonardsmarker in Versailles.


In his honor, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale established the "Louis Blériot medal" in 1936. The medal may be awarded up to three times a year to record setters in speed, altitude and distance categories in light aircraft, and is still being awarded.

On 25 July 2009, the centenary of the original Channel crossing, Frenchman Edmond Salis took off from Blériot Beachmarker in an exact replica of Bleriot's monoplane. He landed successfully in Kent at the Duke of York's Royal Military Schoolmarker.

In popular culture

  • In 2002, the English train company Virgin Trains introduced a new type of train called British Rail Class 221. One of these trains (number 221 101) was named Louis Blériot.
  • In 2006, Rivendell Bicycle Works introduced a bicycle model named the "Bleriot 650B" as a tribute to Louis Blériot. It features his portrait on the seat tube.

See also


  1. Transportation History at Retrieved March 12, 2008.
  2. An essay on Louis Blériot
  3. PBS - Chasing the Sun - Louis Blériot
  4. Spartacus School network article. Retrieved on March 12, 2008.
  5. Walsh, pp. 93-97
  6. Walsh, pp. 93-97
  7. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online Encyclopedia article on Louis Blériot
  8. FAI Louis Blériot medal winner listing
  9. Centenary flight reprise.

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