viation came of age when Louis
Bleriot flew across the English
Channel on 25 July 1909. For the first
time, the potential of ‘the aircraft’ had been
demonstrated and set the template for all
that was to follow. As well as setting new
standards in design, the pioneering aircraft
also set new speed records.
The Blériot Type XI was the most famous and
successful of several classic aircraft that
emerged during the summer of 1909, when
all Europe seemed to be taking to the sky.
Louis Blériot, a French engineer, first became
interested in aeronautics in 1901. Over the next
eight years he moved through a series of
distinct aircraft designs, only one of which was
capable of a flight of more than ten minutes.
This all changed with Blériot’s next effort, the
Type XI. Although it was designed primarily by
engineer Raymond Saulnier, it was a natural
evolution from earlier Blériot aircraft and one
to which Blériot himself made substantial
contributions. It was first flown at Issy-les-
Moulineaux, on 23 January 1909. By the end
of May, the Type XI was fitted with a 25hp,
three-cylinder Anzani engine, which had a
reputation for reliability, which was critical to
Blériot’s next challenge.
Blériot achieved immortality in the Type XI
on 25 July 1909, when he made the first aircraft
crossing of the English Channel, covering the
25 miles (40km) between Calais and Dover in
36min 30sec. For the effort, Blériot captured
the ‘London Daily Mail’ prize of $2,500 that had
been put up by the newspaper the year before
for any successful cross-Channel flight. The
event also caused a major reappraisal of the
importance of aviation; the ‘Daily Express’ led its
story of the flight with the headline: ‘Britain is
no longer an Island’. As well as creating aviation
history, the flight assured the future of Blériot’s
aircraft manufacturing business. Following the
achievement, Blériot received the first of many
orders for copies of his Type XI monoplane.
Variants of the original 1909 machine were
produced by the Blériot firm, foreign licensees,
and enthusiastic amateur builders in Europe
and America into World War 1.