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Blériot XI — first aircraft to show what flying actually means

31 January 2012

Blériot XI — first aircraft to show what flying actually means

Not to exclude anyone tied to the history of aviation as we know it today but three persons stand out to me:

  • The Wright Brothers for demonstrating flying could be done under power and under three dimensional control on 17 December 1903, with their Wright Flyer
  • Glenn Curtiss for thrusting flying the practical with the flight of the Albany Flyer, the first flight from one city to another and without the need for a catapult and a powerful headwind to get aloft. A flight of the then astounding distance of 150 miles on 29 May 1910.
  • But it was Louis Blériot with his Blériot XI’s crossing of the English Channel which excited the world all now saw the potential of aviation to cross previously intimidating boundaries — if England was no longer so unassailable, could not any other country be quickly and easily reached? The date was 25 July 1909.

Bleriot’s success with his XI model quickly made him famous and the aircraft sold well. It was used as a scouting aircraft as well as a trainer for the most part. This 1909 design was quickly eclipsed but had modern features we see today — remarkably prescient — with its tractor propeller, high wing and conventional empennage though it had wing warping instead of ailerons. The wheels had suspension by way of bungee cords within steel support tubes, making cross-wind landings less accident prone.

The replica aircraft in the photographs below is on exhibit within the U.S. Army Aviation Museum. The lighting is particularly good in this museum for setting off the translucent fabric of the wings (likely Irish linen or the like) against the wood grains of the fuselage and propeller.

Blériot XI in the U.S. Army Aviation Museum — photo by Joseph May

The pilot sat above the high mounted wing and beneath the overhead main brace, totally in the open — photo by Joseph May

No ailerons, but wing warping, and conventional landing gear — photo by Joseph May

3 Comments leave one →
  1. shortfinals permalink
    31 January 2012 20:57

    Great series of photographs, Joe, and a fine summary about the Bleriot XI. As you know, Old Rhinebeck has the oldest flyable aircraft in the Western Hemisphere, a Bleriot XI powered by a 120 degree 3-cylinder Anzani radial. However, the oldest flyable aircraft in the world, a Bleriot XI, powered by a ‘W’-arrangement, 3-cylinder Anzani radial and identical to the machine which was flown across the Channel, is with the Shuttleworth Trust, at Old Warden, Bedfordshire. It is older than the Old Rhinebeck machine by approximately THREE WEEKS. I made a special visit to see the ‘world’s oldest flying aircraft’ last year, and hope to blog about it soon!

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      31 January 2012 23:13

      It will be nice to see the actual Bleriot from the Shuttleworth Trust. I recall a scene from a movie I saw recently (not the classic flying machine movie from the 1960s) where a man landed an aircraft onto a grass field — all in period dress — then rode off with his girlfriend. It was one of those BBC series productions like Downton Abbey. Anyway, it was beautiful to see and the grass was field was verdent — strikingly visual. But you could see how delicate the aircraft was, it was kite-like. Flying it must be “exciting” — saying the least.

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