As I drove to Dover Ferry port at 3am Saturday morning I heard on the radio it was 100 years since the “heavier than air plane” first flight across the Channel by Louis Blériot in his Blériot XI plane.
(Source Wikipedia) 100 years ago he 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 kilometers 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 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 airplane was in good order and the landing was deemed successful.
He flew 22 statute miles (36.6 km) from Les Barraques (near Calais) to Dover. The trip took 37 minutes.
Arriving in France we drove along the roads around Blériot Plage (the renamed Les Barraques) and saw hundreds of people on the cliffs and ridges although the planned recreation flight wasn’t due until around 5pm. We stopped briefly and saw a flypast of several modern planes, as we left again we suddenly saw the Blériot XI which came towards us and right over the car. The plane (not the original) had a 100 year old engine in it and you could certainly hear its unique sound. Also the plane was being sheparded by around 5 helicopters as it’s too slow for any other plane to be able to follow.
Probably because of it’s slow speed I managed to get off some good pictures (One include above).