Inducted in 1973
First To Pilot A Plane Across The English Channel, 1909
1872 – 1936
Frenchman Louis Blériot successfully flew across the English Channel in a small, 25-horsepower monoplane of his own design. He beat rival Hubert Latham, who had aborted an earlier attempt, thereby winning the London Daily Mail prize of 1,000 pounds.
Blériot had amassed a modest fortune inventing automobile lights and accessories before becoming interested in aviation. Initially he experimented by towing gliders over the Seine River and then began designing airplane models.
The Daily Mail prize offering prompted Blériot to attempt the crossing. He established a headquarters near Calais, France, and waited for the poor weather conditions to break. When he noticed a slight drop in the winds, he quickly readied the frail “No. XI” for flight. On July 25, 1909, at 4:35 a.m., he took off into the murky sky and headed northward in the general direction of England.
Alone in the craft, Blériot had no compass or instruments. Over the middle of the Channel he was unsure of his position, but held to his course. Finally the chalky cliffs of Dover appeared. After an erratic and perilous flight of about 23 miles, Blériot landed near England’s Dover Castle 37 minutes after setting out. The dramatic flight revealed the airplane’s revolutionary potential to the people and governments of the world, effectively ending England’s “island impregnability.”
Blériot built aircraft for the French government during World War I and played a role in developing commercial aircraft after the war. Considered the “father of the modern monoplane” and “the pilot of the first epochal flight,” he died a forgotten man in 1936, his contributions buried by an avalanche of progress in flight.