On July 25, 1909, Louis Blériot completed the first flight across the English Channel—from France to Great Britain. In doing so, he won not only the London Daily Mail’s £1,000 prize but also instant notoriety. He became a designer and manufacturer of planes and wielded an influence that got the aviation industry where it is today.
Blériot was a manufacturer of car headlights when he became interested in flight. He worked through several models of planes, some towed by boats along the Seine and some powered by engines. His Blériot XI, the plane that transported him across the English Channel was the result of all this experimenting.
On July 25, 1909, Blériot flew his monoplane 22 miles from Calais, France, to Dover, England. The flight took about 36 minutes. In a New York Times article written by Blériot and published the day after his famous flight, he recounted that at one point during the flight, “I turn my head to see whether I am proceeding in the right direction. I am amazed. There is nothing to be seen—neither the torpedo boat destroyer nor France nor England. I am alone; I can see nothing at all. For ten minutes I am lost; it is a strange position to be in—alone, guided without a compass in the air over the middle of the Channel.” Upon his descent into Dover, Blériot lost both his wheels and his propeller, but in the end, he was able to land successfully. He was received by thousands of fans in both London and Paris.
In the following years, the Blériot factory produced hundreds of Blériot XI monoplanes and sold them the world over. Several nations, such as Great Britain and France, used Blériot XIs to equip their fledgling air force programs. He became a leader in the aviation industry and eventually became involved in producing biplanes used during WWI. Even after the war, he never stopped looking for ways to improve aircraft and make them more accessible.
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