Friday, 24 July 2009

La Grande Traversée

Tomorrow will be the centenary of Louis Blériot's crossing of the Channel in his eleventh contraption.
No doubt the Daily Mail will be making much of this anniversary, as it was this paper which offered the £1,000 prize for the first powered crossing; they will probably try to give the impression that modern aviation began when Blériot won it. The French will certainly pay appropriate tribute. But we might all join in saluting the exploit of this magnificent man in his flying machine.
He looks rather unhappy sitting in the cockpit in this photo but once he was on his way his thoughts, as he recorded later, were joyful: It's splendid. I'm frightened of failing but I'm confident. The engine purrs perfectly, the wind is carrying me.

Here you can read in a beautifully presented PowerPoint file the story of his life and all about his earlier attempts at building powered aircraft, and you can click through some fascinating photos of these, of the cross-channel flight and of his later contribution to the development of aviation. He died aged 64 in 1936.
This is Blériot XI, made of ash, bamboo, steel tubes and rubber sheets, in which he crossed the Channel on 25th July 1909, covering the 38 km in 37 minutes at a height of 80 to 100 metres.

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