Bleriot's Cross-Channel Flight

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Old News

he following account of Louis Bleriot's flight across the English Channel appeared in the 31 July 1909 edition of Flight, an English magazine devoted to the new field of aviation. It includes information from several eyewitnesses to the historic event.

M. Bleriot's great success is a fitting sequel to Mr. Latham's splendid failure; there should be no jealousy in comparison, both are working in the cause of flight. M. Bleriot reflects glory on his defeated rival at the same time that he is crowned with the laurels of victory himself. And M. Bleriot deserves his success; how much, none save those who have followed his history in flight know. There were days not long since when M. Bleriot used to tumble with his machine with almost monotonous persistency; yet he kept on, in spite of criticisms. In those days, too, he was still trying to fly a monoplane, and monoplanes were not very popular just then, for there were not wanting critics who almost went as far as saying that they would not fly at all. M. Bleriot is the champion of the monoplane, and he has done more than anyone else to develop it. Moreover, he is engineer and pilot combined, and the machine with which he has crossed the Channel, and thereby traced his name indelibly on the pages of history, is his own machine, the work of his own brain, and if the truth were known, contains, we dare say, a good deal of his own handicraft as well. He is not only a worker, he is a sportsman, is M. Bleriot, and most thoroughly deserves every prize he has won.

It is rather apt to be forgotten how very early M. Bleriot commenced his aviation experiences. As long ago as 1906 an illustration appeared in The Auto-motor Journal of May 26th, of an aeroplane which MM. Bleriot and Voisin had constructed for experimental work on Lake Enghien. It was a curious machine that, but it has this much of especial interest, that it was designed for use over water. In the following year, 1907, M. Bleriot had built and was trying at Issy, near Paris, a monoplane which does not differ in essentials from the machine which is on view this week at Selfridge's. What mishaps he used to have in those days! Almost every other time that he succeeded in getting off the ground he returned to earth with a crash; he always broke something, but it was never himself, always did this persevering pilot seem to bear a charmed life. As a matter of fact, he used to take what precautions he could, and he himself, as we mentioned last week, attributes many of his escapes to a little trick which he had of throwing himself on to one of the wings of his flyer when he saw that a catastrophe was imminent. M. Bleriot worked on the principle that it was impossible to save both man and machine.

When M. Bleriot had advanced in the art of flight until he was easily among the two or three genuine pilots of the day, he conceived the idea of making quite a small machine, which type has since been known as his short-span flyer "No. 11." It was shown first of all at the Paris Salon at the end of last year, and attracted a very great deal of attention on account of its compact appearance. It was such a flyer as many had set their hearts upon, but as many more had deemed impracticable.

No one foresaw then that this was to be the epoch-making machine with which he should fly 25 miles across country on July 17th and 31 miles across the sea on July 25th. True, the dimensions of the span are somewhat larger as the result of alterations which followed various preliminary experiments, but that it is still to all intents and purposes the same compact machine must have been apparent to all who took the unique opportunity of seeing it at Dover or during the past few days in London at the Selfridge showrooms.

By his two great flights across country and across the Channel M. Bleriot has set the seal of success upon the monoplane principle. His achievements are another huge step in the ''coming of the monoplane," about which we had occasion to speak at some length in our issue of June 12th, when Mr. Latham had been making some record flights with a machine of the same class. It is an advance, but it does not alter the problem; the monoplane is still by way of being the racer of the air. M. Bleriot took roughly 40 minutes to cross the Channel, his speed being in the region of 45 miles an hour average, and according to his own account was nearer 50 miles an hour shortly after the start. That is a speed which only a limited number of pilots can be expected to feel safe at in their early experiments. Safety lies in speed, there is much reason to believe, but that is a different kind of safety, and is hardly in the reckoning if the pilot himself is not at home in the air under such conditions.

M. Bleriot is now a master of the upper element, but he worked hard for his degree; on no occasion has his knowledge and skill stood him in better stead than during his Channel flight, for there he met with difficulties which must surely have brought a less experienced pilot to sad grief.

Even at the start there was, according to M. Bleriot's own estimate, a 10-knot wind; while, off Dover, the breeze was double this velocity, and the cliff currents particularly strong. In mid-Channel the wind had dropped, but at the moment of landing it was blowing in all directions. 

The Story of the Flight

It was almost without warning, but nevertheless with a send-off on the French shore from an enthusiastic crowd, that M. Bleriot flew across the Straits of Dover from Les Baraques, near Calais, to Northfall Meadow at Dover on Sunday, July 25th, thereby incidentally winning the Daily Mall £1,000 prize. Taking the week-end as a whole, it has been one of the windiest periods of a particularly unsettled summer, and the previous day had in particular seemed hopeless for any cross-Channel flight. Half a gale had indeed been blowing and a heavy sea running only a few hours before, and hence it is hardly to be wondered at that the feat was as totally unexpected as it was.

When this greatest of all great events in the annals of modern history was taking place the world and his wife were mostly abed, especially this side of the Channel. But M. Bleriot had got up at half-past two in the morning, not feeling very well, had taken a short motor run just to blow the cobwebs away, and that was why he was able to snatch the one brief fine moment that presented itself between the daytime storms of Saturday and Sunday. Seeing that the fates were propitious, he then lost little time in bringing out the flyer, and in spite of his injured foot he quickly carried out a practice flight over the sand-hills between Les Baraques and Sangatte. A little earlier, too, he had notified his intention to start to the destroyer "Escopette," which was consequently at that time standing out to sea, with Madame Bleriot and others already aboard—all anxiously on the look-out for him. Finding everything working properly with his machine, he speedily effected a fresh start, this time flying straight away over the cliffs and heading towards England.

That was at about twenty minutes to five (French time) and it was about twenty minutes past five (also French time) that he landed at Dover. Accounts differ as to the exact moment of departure and descent, and as a matter of fact it is doubtful if any reliable timing was made since M. Bleriot started without a watch as well as without a compass. The distance of the flight was about 31 miles, and hence the speed was in the region of 45 miles an hour. During the crossing he flew at an altitude of 150 ft. to 300 ft., and thus kept much nearer the water than Mr. Latham did on his attempt.

M. Bleriot's monoplane quickly outstripped the torpedo-beat destroyer "Escopette," with which the French Government replaced the "Harpon," that was on duty during Mr. Latham's attempt. In mid-Channel M. Bleriot lost sight of land and of his escort for a very uncomfortably long period—estimated by him to have been ten minutes—and was entirely without means of ascertaining his proper direction. In the circumstances he did the only thing possible, which was to keep straight on, and fortune favouring him, he sighted the English shore off Deal while heading for St. Margaret's Bay. Turning along the coast M. Bleriot flew towards Dover, and put in at a gap in the cliffs where a representative of Le Matin, M. Fontaine, was signaling to him with a tricolour flag. The site on which the landing was accomplished was the Northfall Meadow. Although the arrival was noticed from afar by several, and M. Fontaine was on the chosen part of the cliff at Dover, yet even he failed to see the real landing, and P.C. Stanford was the only eye-witness of this great historic event, the landing on British soil of the first flyer to cross the Channel.

The actual contact with terra-firma was rather abrupt; in fact, not only was the propeller broken, but that part of the framework which carries the engine was also damaged. Mishaps of this sort, however, are absolutely negligible by comparison with the success of the main issue. Bleriot had crossed the Channel, had won the Daily Mail prize, and was none the worse for it, nor in all probability would his machine have been damaged had he been familiar with the site on which he was forced to alight.

Heard Afar Off

One of the most interesting minor points associated with M. Bleriot's cross-Channel flight, is the manner in which at Dover he was heard afar off by the very few people who happened to be about at the time. The whirring of the motor (doubtless chiefly due to the open exhaust) was quite distinctly audible, according to more than one eye-witness, even while the flyer itself was a mere speck in the distance. The night watchman on the Promenade Pier, in relating his account of the proceedings to the Daily Telegraph, says : " I suddenly saw a peculiar object away to the eastward, moving very rapidly across the sky. As it came closer I could hear the whirring of the motor, and I judged that it was one of the flying men who had made a start and had practically got across." The chief officer of the Coastguard Station similarly relates that he could hear "a continual buzzing when the machine was several miles away."

Looked Like a Bird

Next to the noise of the engine it was the high speed and bird-like appearance of the flyer which principally attracted the attention of those few who were privileged to witness its arrival in England. "The speed was almost incredible," said the chief officer of the Coastguard Station, and certainly the sight of a monoplane coming out of the distance through the air at forty miles an hour or so might be well calculated to appeal to the imagination even of one who's life duty it is to watch all that goes on in the Channel.

M. Bleriot's Last Flight

According to several reports M. Bleriot has definitely stated that he will give up flying after he has taken part in the Rheims races. Cherchez la femme of course, but who shall grudge Madame Bleriot her voice in the matter, now that her husband has done so much.

Besides, although only 36, he has five children to think of, and there is after all some risk attached to the game which even M. Bleriot's phenomenal good luck might not for ever tide over. Let us, at least, wish him every success and all good fortune in—if it should prove to be— his last flight. It is nevertheless now said that, upon more mature thought, Madame Bleriot has since then withdrawn her embargo, so we may still hope to see M. Bleriot soar to even greater achievements.

Lost in Mid-Channel

It must have been a unique experience when M. Bleriot lost himself in mid-Channel, and it can hardly have been without a tremor that he realized himself absolutely "at sea,” although only 10 minutes, as to which way to go. It was a phase of the Channel flight which a good many people had anticipated and against which the more or less elaborate precautions that were proposed in the way of motor boats, &c, were in part to guard. That the first pilot should actually find himself in this predicament, no one of course expected, for most people naturally believed that no one would make the attempt without taking many precautions. To this extent M. Bleriot's flight may possibly be regarded as somewhat foolhardy, and the fact that he so quickly outpaced his convoy the destroyer, certainly rendered his position extremely hazardous had any accident happened; M. Bleriot himself admits as much. But fortune favoured him so that he kept his course. Speaking about his experience, M. Bleriot makes the curious remark that during the time when he was out of sight of land and other definite objects he "felt as if he was not moving."

The Commercial Side

Naturally enough M. Bleriot's success will give a trememdous impetus to his own aeroplane business, quite apart from the enormous lift which the entire industry, at home as abroad, will receive from his epoch-making exploit.

Even as it is he has sold 15 of his machines since he started to take orders for them only a short time ago. He has also secured the monopoly of the Anzani engine which performed so well, and upon which so much of the success of the flight depended that, next to M. Bleriot, M. Anzani has naturally come in for much of the credit attached to this great historic flight.

Chevalier Bleriot

M. Bleriot arrived in Dover clothed in a cork jacket and overalls, and the more orthodox garments in which he subsequently appeared were on loan from Mr. Hart O. Berg—the European concessionaire of the Wright aeroplane, who happened to be staying at the Lord Warden Hotel. Mr. Hart O. Berg is a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour and his coat was decorated with the ribbon, which M. Bleriot desired to remove. Mr. Hart O. Berg remonstrated with him, however, saying that he was sure to have the right to the ribbon himself before long, and sure enough during breakfast came a telegram from France saying the Government had already conferred the honour.

Half Share with Latham

With sportmanlike generosity M. Bleriot offered to share the £1,000 Daily Mail prize with Mr. Latham if his rival should succeed in making the crossing during Sunday. But as Mr. Latham remained on the French coast M. Bleriot was not called upon to put his offer into effect.

The Flyer in London

Motoring in the vicinity of Dover, Mr. Gordon Selfridge, one of the heads of the great Oxford Street emporium, heard of the successful flight, and making his way to where the machine was surrounded by a crowd of spectators, he there and then arranged with the Daily Mail to have the flyer on view in his own showrooms in Oxford Street for the London public to see, and agreed to pay the sum of £200 to the London Hospital—an institution selected by the Dally Mail—for the privilege accorded. By this smart action on the part of a businesslike man, M. Bleriot's aeroplane was not only brought to London, but was actually on view by 10 o'clock on Monday morning, huge crowds flocking in from the earliest moment to avail themselves of the unique opportunity of inspecting its details. During the first three days of the week the stream of sightseers was constant, so much so that Messrs. Selfridge arranged to keep the monoplane for a further twenty-four hours, and, to enable as many as possible to see it, kept the part of their premises in which the machine was housed open until midnight on Thursday.

Bleriot and the Customs

The Customs officers, who were among the very few actual spectators of the arrival of M. Bleriot on the English coast, were very properly among the first to accost the pilot after his unconventional descent on British soil. With fitting forbearance, however, they recognized that it was only "one of those flying-men," and therefore made no attempt at an inspection for contraband.

Sixpence Admission

After the initial excitement had somewhat abated, a tent was erected as a temporary housing for Bleriot's flyer, and, in aid of local charity, a fee of sixpence was charged for the admission of the public, who hastened up in numbers to see the machine which had thus come so strangely in their midst.

The Prize and its Presentation

By crossing the Channel M. Bleriot had gained the £1,000 which the Daily Mall put up for this event, and the presentation of the cheque took place in the Savoy Hotel on Monday afternoon of this week. The gathering at the luncheon which preceded the formality was as notable as the occasion itself; among those present who supported Lord Northcliffe at the reception being the Right Hon. R. B. Haldane, Sir Edward Ward, Sir Thomas Lipton, Bart., Sir Horace Regnart, Bart., Sir Arthur Paget, Sir John Barker, Sir Francis Trippel, Sir Vezey Strong, Sir Thomas Dewa1-, Major Baden-Powell, Col. Capper, Capt. Jessel, Lieut. Shackleton, Hon. C. S. Rolls, Hon. Charles Russell, Mr. Roger Wallace, Mr. Frank Butler, Dr. R. T. Glazebrook, Mr. Moberly Bell, Mr. St. John Hornby, Mr. Kennedy Jones, Mr. Hugh Spottiswoode, Mr. Harold Perrin, Mr. H. Gordon Selfridge and Mr. George R. Sims. Altogether there must have been nearly 150 people present, and there were certainly as many more outside waking for an opportunity to cheer Mons. and Madame Bleriot, who were both happily able to be present.

Lord Northcliffe first of all made the announcement that the Aero Club of the United Kingdom had decided to present M. Bleriot with its Gold Medal, and then he presented M. Bleriot with a large silver rose-bowl on behalf of the British representatives of the Bleriot firm.

The final proceeding was to present the Daily Mail prize of £1,000 in two £500 notes which were contained in a letter-case enclosed in a handsome silver cup. In his speech Lord Northcliffe paid very proper tribute to M. Bleriot's achievement, and incidentally took the opportunity of drawing attention to Lieut. Shackleton's presence among the guests, saying how pleasant it was that they were thus able to entertain at one and the same time such typical heroes of the respective countries. According to Lord Northcliffe, almost all good things had, like M. Bleriot, first "come out of France,"for so many of the leading modern inventions had been due to the work of Frenchmen.” In making the actual presentation, Lord Northcliffe concluded his remarks with a short speech of congratulation in French.

M. Bleriot, in reply, spoke a few sentences characteristic of his modest personality, in which he attempted to belittle his successful effort. But in that, needless to say, his words carried no conviction to the enthusiastic assembly.

The Wireless Story

Although less exhaustive in its detail as compared with the wireless messages exchanged between Sangatte and Dover on the occasion of Mr. Latham's attempt, the following brief record is of historic interest:—

Calais, by Marconi Wireless, via Dover.

  • 4.36.—Bleriot has started; look out for him. We saw him at 4.35. He started from Les Baraques.

  • 4.40.—He is nearly half way across.

  • 4 47.—He has outdistanced the boat.

  • 4.50.—He is out of sight of French coast.

  • 4.56.—Destroyers are now out of sight and far behind.

  • 4.59.—Bleriot flew with perfect steadiness till out of our sight, not very high above the water.

  • 5:00.—Let us know as soon as you see him. 

From the Dover side, unfortunately, the wireless operators entirely failed to locate Bleriot during his flight, although the torpedo boat was first sighted by them at 5.06 a.m., and its movements recorded every few minutes. Not until 5.31 a.m. had the rumour of Bleriot's landing at 5.20 a.m. reached them, to be finally confirmed by wireless to Calais at 5.52 a.m.

Celebrating the Occasion

Other more or less important and pleasing functions which have marked the greatness of M. Bleriot's feat have included a civic reception at Dover on Monday morning, when the hero of the hour was on his way to be lionized in London, a dinner given in his honour that evening by the well-known Bleriot Lamp Company of London, a reception by the management at the Empire Theatre later the same evening when animated pictures were shown typical of the aerial trip across the Channel, and, by no means least, the dinner given by the Aero Club at the Ritz Hotel on Tuesday, when their Gold Medal was presented. Also it is significant to observe that a move­ment is already on foot to erect a commemoration column at Dover on the spot where M. Bleriot alighted.

M. Bleriot in Paris

When M. Bleriot and his wife arrived in Paris on Wednesday afternoon, they were greeted by a surging crowd of people who simply swamped the extra force of police which had been detailed to keep the road clear. As soon as the train steamed into the station the crowd surrounded the carriage in which M. Bleriot and his party were, and they had great difficulty in fighting their way to the spot where M. Barthou and the deputation of the members of the Aero Club of France were waiting to receive them. All along the four miles which separates the North Station from the Aero Club house, the streets were lined with cheering people, and every vantage point had its occupant who waved a flag or a handkerchief. On arrival at the Aero Club, the guests were welcomed by the President, Comte de la Vaulx, who presented M. Bleriot with the Club's special Gold Medal.

Later in the day, M. Bleriot was presented by his workmen with an objet d'art, entitled Le Cri de la Victoire, executed by M. D. Grisand.

Bleriot Monoplane Fabric and Fittings

It is of interest to notice that the material of which the planes of M. Bleriot's monoplanes were made was Continental aeroplane sheeting, which is used on many of the most successful flying machines of to-day. Another point of interest is that the Bowden wire mechanism was used by M. Bleriot for the control of the Anzani motor on his flyer.

Faked Cross-Channel Photos

In the interests of historic accuracy it is very important to publish a warning against many of the extremely clever but totally imaginative photographs of M. Bleriot's cross-Channel flight that have appeared in various papers during the week. For our own part we have exercised the greatest care in accepting any of the dozens of photographs that have been offered to us, and have studiously rejected all those which are obviously "fakes." In days to come, those looking back upon the present records may well be misled by some of the photographs in question, and even their absence from our own columns may fail to afford the necessary clue. As a matter of fact, no known photographs were obtained of M. Bleriot's flight while he was still in mid-air, in any case, subsequent to the time that he passed above the French torpedo boat.

Louis Bleriot.

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