One of Europe's founding fathers of aviation was born on this day in aviation history. He would become the first man to fly an aircraft between the United Kingdom and France, across the English Channel, Louis Bleriot.
Louis Bleriot in front of the Bleriot XI, which he flew across the Englis Channel in 1909
After experimental flights with a towed glider aircraft on the Seinne river, he started developing powered aircraft. Not all of his designs were successful, two examples are the Bleriot III and IV which he designed together with Gabriel Voisin.
The Bleriot III was powered by a 24 HP engine with reduction gears, which drove two propellors, a quarter of the aircraft's weight. A test flight in 1906 didn't become a flight as the aircraft would not lift off. Several improvements to the aircraft were made and it was called the Bleriot IV. Also, this aircraft would never become airborne, and the partnership ended. The Bleriot IV on a contemporary postcard
Further designs were all named in sequence and it would be his 11 the design that would bring him the fame that is still remembered today, the Bleriot XI. On the 25th of July 1909, at 04.15, he made a short test flight, confirming that the Bleriot XI was ready for what lay ahead. At 04.41 he took off for his flight to Dover, he carried no compass and followed the course of a ship heading for Dover. However, due to his high speed of 39 knots (45 mph or 72 kph), he quickly overtook the ship. At his altitude of ~250 ft (76 meters), he quickly lost visual reference. He later stated "for more than 10 minutes I was alone, isolated, lost in the midst of the immense sea, and I did not see anything on the horizon or a single ship"
The Original Bleriot XI that Bleriot flew across the English Channel in 1909 On display in thein Musée des Arts et Métiers, Paris, France.
After circling Dover castle twice he touched down (after cutting his engine at ~66ft) heavily after 36 minutes and 30 seconds. The touchdown causing some damage to the Bleriot XI's undercarriage and propeller, Bleriot was not injured in the landing
After his success, he continued designing and building aircraft. His single wing design however was susceptible to failures and several crashes of Bleriot aircraft were caused due to wing failure. Even leading to a (temporary) ban of Bleriot aircraft in the United Kingdom.
He managed to resolve the issues and Memorial at the 1909 Bleriot landing site many versions of his Bleriot XI were designed and built. In 1914 Bleriot purchased the Spad factory (builders of the Spad WW 1 fighter). After the war, he continued to develop and built aircraft. He died of a heart attack on the first of August 1936 and was buried with full military honours.