Louis Blériot

French pilot, inventor and engineer Louis Charles Joseph Blériot was born 1 July 1872 at No.17h rue de l’Arbre à Poires (now rue Sadi-Carnot) in Cambrai. In 1882, aged 10, Blériot was sent as a boarder to the Institut Notre Dame in Cambrai, where he frequently won class prizes, including one for engineering drawing. When he was 15, he moved on to the Lycée at Amiens, where he lived with an aunt. After passing the exams for his baccalaureate in science and German, he determined to try to enter the prestigious École Centrale and Blériot spent a year at the Collège Sainte-Barbe in Paris. He passed the exam, placing 74th among the 243 successful candidates, and doing especially well in the tests of engineering drawing ability. After three years of demanding study at the École Centrale, Blériot graduated 113th of 203 in his graduating class. He then embarked on a term of compulsory military service, and spent a year as a sub-lieutenant in the 24th Artillery Regiment, stationed in Tarbes in the Pyrenees.

He got a job with Baguès, an electrical engineering company in Paris where he developed the world’s first practical headlamp for automobiles, using a compact integral acetylene generator. In 1897, Blériot opened a showroom for headlamps at 41 rue de Richlieu in Paris and soon began supplying his lamps to both Renault and Panhard-Levassor. In 1901 Bleriot married Alice Védères,

Blériot became interested in aviation while at the Ecole Centrale, inspired by seeing Clément Ader’s Avion III at the 1900 Exposition Universelle. In 1905, Blériot met Gabriel Voisin, then employed by Ernest Archdeacon to assist with his experimental gliders. Blériot was a spectator at Voisin’s first trials of the floatplane glider he had built on 8 June 1905. Cine photography was among Blériot’s hobbies, and he filmed the flight. Bleriot asked Voisin to build a simillar machine the Blériot II glider. However attempts to fly the aircraft ended in a crash in which Voisin nearly drowned, but this did not deter Blériot and he entered into partnership with Voisin and the two men established the Ateliers d’ Aviation Edouard Surcouf, Blériot et Voisin. Active between 1905 and 1906, the company built two unsuccessful powered aircraft, the Blériot III and the Blériot IV, powered with the lightweight Antoinette engines being developed by Léon Levavasseur. The Blériot IV was damaged in a taxiing accident at Bagatelle on 12 November 1906. This was made worse by the success of Alberto Santos Dumont later that day, when he managed to fly his 14-bis a distance of 220 metres (720 ft), at Bagatelle, winning the Aéro Club de France prize for the first flight of over 100 metres.

Blériot then established his own business, Recherches Aéronautiques Louis Blériot, where he started creating his own aircraft, experimenting with various configuration and creating the world’s first successful powered monoplane the Blériot V, in 1907. At first Blériot limited his experiments to ground runs, which resulted in damage to the undercarriage. Two further ground trials, also damaged the aircraft. The first successful flight was only of around 6 m (20 ft), after which he cut his engine and landed, slightly damaging the undercarriage. Then while travelling at a speed of around 50 kph (30 mph), the aircraft left the ground, Blériot over-responded when the nose began to rise, and the machine hit the ground nose–first, and somersaulted. The aircraft was largely destroyed, luckily Blériot was, unhurt. This was followed by the tandem wing Blériot VI, Which successfully flew a distance of 25–30 metres (84–100 ft), reaching an altitude of around 2 m (7 ft). Further successful flights took place, and he subsequently flew 150 m (490 ft). However the aircraft was damaged by a heavy landing having reached an altitude of 12 m (39 ft). He then fitted a 50 hp (37 kW) V-16 Antoinette engine which resulted in improved performance with the aircraft reaching an altitude of 25 m (82 ft), unfortunately the engine suddenly cut out and the aircraft went into a spiralling nosedive. Thanks to some quick thinking His only injuries were some minor cuts on the face, caused by fragments of glass from his broken goggles. After this crash Blériot abandoned the aircraft.

His next plane Blériot VII, was a monoplane with tail surfaces and differential elevators for lateral control which became the modern conventional layout. It first flew on 16 November 1907, and is recognised as the first successful monoplane. Blériot managed two flights of over 500 metres, including a successful U-turn. This was the most impressive achievement to date of any of the French pioneer aviators. Major Baden Baden-Powell, president of the Royal Aeronautical Society, was also interested. more successful flights were made , but the undercarriage collapsed and the aircraft overturned and was wrecked. Blériot’s next aircraft, the Blériot VIII was demonstrated in 1908. It was modified After a few teething trouble and made a cross-country flight, from Toury to Arteny and back, a total distance of 28 km (17 mi). Sadly Four days later, the aircraft was destroyed in a taxiing accident. Three different aircraft were displayed at the first Paris Aero Salon, held at the end of December: the Blériot IX monoplane, the Blériot X, a three-seat pusher biplane and the Blériot XI which used Antoinette engines, but never flew. The powerplant for Type XI was replaced by a REP engine and first flew in 1909 although the aircraft flew well, the engine overheated, so Blériot got in contact with engineer Alessandro Anzani, who had developed a successful motorcycle engines and aero-engines and also met Lucien Chauviere, who had designed a sophisticated laminated walnut propeller. The combination of a reliable engine and an efficient propeller would contribute greatly to the success of the Type XI. This was shortly followed by the Blériot XII, a high-wing two-seater monoplane which became the first plane to fly with two passenger. he made a flight lasting 15 minutes and 30 seconds, increasing it to over 36 minute. He then took part in an aviation meet at Douai, where he made a flight lasting over 47 minutes in the Type XII and also flew the Type XI for 50 minutes at another meet at Juvisy. he made a cross-country flight of 41 km (25 mi) from Etampes to Orléans but was slightly injureIn1909, Blériot and Voisin were jointly awarded the Prix Osiris, by the Institut de France for making the greatest contribution to science.

In 1909 Bleriot stated his intention to cross the English Channel in an aeroplane, after The Daily Mail offered a prize of £1000 to the first person who flew across the English Channel. Blériot had three rivals for the prize, Charles de Lambert, a Russian aristocrat with French ancestry, and one of Wilbur Wright’s pupils, Arthur Seymour, an Englishman who reputedly owned a Voisin biplane and Hubert Latham. The event created great public interest: it was reported that there were 10,000 visitors at Calais, and a similar crowd gathered at Dover, and the Marconi Company set up a special radio link for the occasion, with one station on Cap Blanc Nez at Sangatte and the other on the roof of the Lord Warden Hotel in Dover. The crowds were in for a wait: the weather was windy, and Latham did not make an attempt until 19 July, but 6 miles (9.7 km) from his destination his aircraft developed engine trouble and was forced to make the world’s first landing of an aircraft on the sea. Latham was rescued by the French destroyer harpon. and taken back to France, where he was met by the news that Blériot had entered the competition. Blériot, accompanied by two mechanics and his friend Alfred Leblanc, arrived in Calais on Wednesday 21 July and set up their base at a farm near the beach at Les Baraques, between Calais and Sangatte. The following day a replacement aircraft for Latham was delivered from the Antoinette factory. The wind was too strong for an attempted crossing on Friday and Saturday, but on Saturday evening it began to drop, raising hopes in both camps.Leblanc went to bed at around midnight but was too keyed up to sleep well; at two o’clock, he was up, and judging that the weather was ideal woke Blériot who, unusually, was pessimistic and had to be persuaded to eat breakfast. His spirits revived, however, and by half past three, his wife Alice had been put on board the destroyer Escopette, which was to escort the flight.

Blériot first made a short trial flight and then, on a signal that the sun had risen (the competition rules required a flight between sunrise and sunset), he took off at 4.41 for the attempted crossing. Flying at approximately 45 mph (72 km/h) and an altitude of about 250 ft (76 m), he set off across the Channel. Not having a compass, Blériot took his course from the Escopette, which was heading for Dover, but he soon overtook the ship. Sadly The visibility deteriorted The grey line of the English coast, however, came into sight in his left; the wind had increased, and had blown him to the east of his intended course. Altering course, he followed the line of the coast about a mile offshore until he spotted Charles Fontaine, the correspondent from Le Matin waving a large Tricolour as a signal. He Landed on a patch of gently sloping land called Northfall Meadow, close to Dover Castle, where there was a low point in the cliffs. Once over land, he circled twice to lose height, and cut his engine at an altitude of about 20 m (66 ft), making a heavy landing due to the gusty wind conditions; the undercarriage was damaged and one blade of the propeller was shattered, but Blériot was unhurt. The flight had taken 36 minutes and 30 seconds.

Blériot’s success brought about an immediate transformation of the status of Recherches Aéronautiques Louis Blériot. By the time of the Channel flight, he had spent at least 780,000 francs on his aviation experiments. (To put this figure into context, one of Blériot’s skilled mechanics was paid 250 francs a month.) Now this investment began to pay off: orders for copies of the Type XI quickly came, and by the end of the year, orders for over 100 aircraft had been received, each selling for 10,000 francs.At the end of August, Blériot was one of the flyers at the Grande Semaine d’Aviation held at Reims, where he was narrowly beaten byGlenn Curtiss in the first Gordon Bennett Trophy. Blériot did, however, succeed in winning the prize for the fastest lap of the circuit, establishing a new world speed record for aircraft.Blériot followed his flights at Reims with appearances at other aviation meetings in Brescia, Budapest, Bucharest (making the first airplane flight in both Hungary and Romania. Up to this time he had had great good luck in walking away from accidents that had destroyed the aircraft, but his luck deserted him in December 1910 at an aviation meeting in Istanbul. Flying in gusty conditions to placate an impatient and restive crowd, he crashed on top of a house, breaking several ribs and suffering internal injuries: he was hospitalized for three weeks.

Between 1909 and the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Blériot produced about 900 aircraft, most of them variations of the Type XI model. Blériot monoplanes and Voisin-type biplanes, with the latter’s Farman derivatives dominated the pre-war aviation market.There were concerns about the safety of monoplanes in general, both in France and the UK. However trials supported Blériot’s analysis of the problem and led to a strengthening of the landing wiresAlong with five other European aircraft builders, from 1910, Blériot was involved in a five-year legal struggle with the Wright Brothers . From 1913 or earlier,Blériot’s aviation activities were handled by Blériot Aéronautique, based at Suresnes, which continued to design and produce aircraft up to the nationalisation of most of the French aircraft industry in 1937, when it was absorbed intoSNCASO. In 1913, a consortium led by Blériot bought the Société pour les Appareils Deperdussin aircraft manufacturer and he became the president of the company in 1914. He renamed it the Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés (SPAD); this company produced World War Ifighter aircraft such as the SPAD S.XIII.Before World War I, Blériot had opened British flying schools at Brooklands, in Surrey and at Hendon Aerodrome.[34] Realising that a British company would have more chance to sell his models to the British government, in 1915, he set up the Blériot Manufacturing Aircraft Company Ltd. The hoped for orders did not follow, as the Blériot design was seen as outdated. Following an unresolved conflict over control of the company, it was wound up on 24 July 1916. Even before the closure of this company Blériot was planning a new venture in the UK. Initially named Blériot and SPAD Ltd and based in Addlestone, it became the Air Navigation and Engineering Company (ANEC) in May 1918. ANEC survived in a difficult aviation climate until late 1926, producing Blériot Whippet cars as well as several light aircraft.

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 30 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 Jersey and predicted commercial overseas flights by 1938.Blériot remained active in the aviation business until his death on 1 August 1936 in Paris of a heart attack. After a funeral with full military honours at Les Invalides he was buried in the Cimetière des Gonards in Versailles. t3to honour his legacy 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 awarde. On 25 July 2009, the centenary of the original Channel crossing, Frenchman Edmond Salis took off from Blériot Beach in an exact replica of Blériot’s monoplane. He landed successfully in Kent at the Duke of York’s Royal Military School.


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