U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission home page


Louis Bleriot

Louis Bleriot, the first man to fly the English Channel

Louis Bleriot, the first man to fly the English Channel

[larger image]

Credits - Library of Congress

Louis Blériot was born in Cambrai, France on July 1, 1872, and studied engineering in Paris. He was an inventor, an aircraft designer, and a pilot. He is best known for his flight over the English Channel on July 25, 1909, the world's first flight over a large body of water in a heavier-than-air craft.

He had an early interest in aviation and in 1900, built a motor-powered machine called an ornithopter, which was intended to fly by flapping its wings. Like other ornithopters before, this experiment failed, but he continued working toward a practical airplane.

During 1903, Blériot teamed up with Gabriel Voisin, another aircraft designer, to form the Blériot-Voison Company. The company built a floatplane glider, which flew during 1905. They also developed a biplane powered by an Antoinette motor. The company broke up in 1906, and Blériot began to build and fly aircraft of his own design.

As lightweight engines became available, he developed planes with various configurations ranging from box-kite biplanes to a canard (tail-first ) monoplane. The Blériot V was the world's first successful monoplane. This plane got off the ground in 1907 but soon crashed and was abandoned.

A 1000-prize being offered by the London Daily Mail for the first successful flight across the English Channel interested Blériot and encouraged him to develop his fourth monoplane and first truly successful aircraft, the Blériot XI. After setting a European endurance record of 36 minutes 55 seconds and winning a cross-country prize, Blériot felt confident about embarking on his cross-Channel trip. He made the trip in 37 minutes, delighting the French and worrying the British, who felt that they had suddenly become vulnerable to air attack.

Shortly after, Blériot turned his attention to aeronautical design and engineering. He became president of the floundering aircraft company Société pour les Appareils Deperdussin in 1914. He renamed the company Société Pour Aviation et ses Derives (SPAD) and turned it into one of France's leading manufacturers of combat aircraft. During World War I, SPAD built more than 5,600 aircraft for France and exported some to Great Britain and other countries.

After the war, Blériot formed his own company, Blériot-Aéronautique,Aéronautique for the development of commercial aircraft. He died on August 2, 1936.