Tag Archives: Louis Charles Joseph Blériot

25 July 1909

Starting the Anzani engine of Louis Blériot’s Type XI monoplane, 25 July 1909. (Library of Congress)

25 July 1909: At 4:41 a.m., Louis Charles Joseph Blériot took of from the hamlet of les Baraques,¹ near Sangatte, Pas-de-Calais, France, in his own Type XI single-engine monoplane, and flew across the English Channel (la Manche) to Dover. He landed at Northfall Meadow, near Dover Castle, Kent, England.

Feet wet: Blériot crossing the shoreline, outbound, on the morning of 25 July 1909. (Flight)

The airplane did not have a compass, so for a visual reference. Blériot used a 26-knot Pertuisane-class torpedo boat destroyer, Escopette, which was sailing toward Dover.  After passing the ship, visibility deteriorated and he was only able to see the water below him.

A Marine Nationale Pertuisane-class torpedo boat destroyer (contre-torpilleur). This is the same class as Escopette. (Marius Bar)

Blériot flew on and after about ten minutes was able to see the coastline ahead. He realized that the wind had blown him to the east of his intended course, so he flew along the shoreline until he recognized a signal marking the landing point. The wind was gusty near the cliffs and he landed harder than intended, slightly damaging his airplane.

A contemporary aviation news publication reported:

. . . 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.

Flight: First Aero Weekly in the World. Vol. I, No. 31, 31July 1909, at Page 458, Column 2.

Louis Blériot with his Type XI monoplane at mid-Channel, 25 July 1909. (Library of Congress)

This was the first time an airplane had been flown across the English Channel, and brought Blériot international acclaim. He was appointed Chevalier de la légion d’honneur, by France. A London newspaper, the Daily Mail, awarded him a £1,000 prize.

Very quickly, orders for his Type XI were coming in. Between 1909 and 1914, approximately 900 were sold.

Louis Bleriot’s Channel-crossing Type XI monoplane was donated to the Musée des arts et métiers in Paris by the newspaper Le Matin, in October 1909. It remains in the museum’s permanent collection.

Louis Charles Joseph Blériot and his Type XI airplane at Northfall Meadow, Dover, shortly after arriving from France at 0517 a.m, 25 July 1909. (Library of Congress)
Louis Charles Joseph Blériot, Chevalier de la légion d’honneur. (Library of Congress)

Louis Charles Joseph Blériot was born 1 July 1872 at Cambrai, Nord, Pas-de-Calais, France. He was the son of Louis Charles Pierre Alexander Blériot and Clémence Marie Eugenie Candeliez Blériot. In 1882 Blériot was sent to l’Institution Notre-Dame de Grâce, a boarding school in Cambrai, and then, to a high school in northern France. He next studied at the Collège Sainte-Barbe in Paris. After a year there, he transferred to the École Centrale Paris, at Châtenay-Malabry, in southwest Paris.

In 1895–1896, Blériot served as a sous-lieutenant assigned to the 24ᵉ régiment d’artillerie (24th Regiment of Artillery) at Tarbes in the Pyrenees mountains, which divide France from Spain.

Blériot next worked as an electrical engineer and in 1896, he invented acetylene headlamps for use on automobiles. Blériot gained an interest in aviation after attending l’Exposition de Paris 1900. The income from his lamp manufacturing allowed him to conduct serious aeronautical experiments.

In 1901, Blériot married Mlle. Jeanne Alicia Védere (the marriage banns were published 2 February 1901). They would have six children, born between 1902 and 1929.

Mme. Blériot (née Jeanne Alicia Vedére) and M. Louis Charles Joseph Blériot at the House of Commons, Westminster, United Kingdom, 15 September 1909. (National Portrait Gallery, London)

Over the next few years, worked with several other pioneers of aviation, including Ernest rchdeacon,  Léon Levavasseur, Gabriel Voison, Eventually, he started his own aeronautical research and aircraft manufacturing company, Recherches Aéronautique Louis Blériot. In 1913, he bought the aircraft manufacturing company that would become Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés, designers and builders of the legendary fighter of World War I, the SPAD S.XIII C.1. His businesses in France and England manufactured airplanes, automobiles and motorcycles.

In 1930, Blériot established the Blériot Trophy, to be awarded to an aviator who demonstrated flight at a speed of 2,000 kilometers per hour (1,242.742 miles per hour) for 30 minutes. 31 years later, 10 May 1961, the three-man crew of a Convair B-58A Hustler named The Firefly accomplished that feat.

Louis Charles Joseph Blériot died 2 August 1936, in Paris. He was buried at the Cimitière des Gonards, Versailles, Île-de France, France.

Louis Bleriot flew this airplane across the English Channel 25 October 1909. It was donated to the Musée des arts et métiers by the French newspaper, Le Matin, in October 1909. (Musée des arts et métiers)

The Blériot XI was a single-seat, single-engine monoplane. It was 26.24 feet (7.998 meters) long with a wingspan of 25.35 feet (7.727 meters) and height to the top of the cabane strut of 8.0 feet (2.438 meters). It had an empty weight of 507 pounds (229.9 kilograms). (Sources give conflicting specifications for the Blériot XI, probably because they were often changed in an effort to improve the airplane. The model flown across the English Channel was described by Flight as the Blériot Short-Span Monoplane. Dimensions given here are from the three-view drawings, below.)

In its original configuration, the Type XI was powered by an air-cooled, 3.774 liter (230.273 cubic inches) Robert Esnault-Pelterie (R.E.P.) two-row, seven-cylinder fan engine (or “semi-radial”), which produced 30 horsepower at 1,500 r.p.m.,  and drove a four-bladed paddle-type propeller. The R.E.P. engine weighed 54 kilograms (119 pounds). This engine was unreliable and was soon replaced by an Alessandro Anzani & Co. W-3.

The Anzani W-3 was an air-cooled, naturally-aspirated, 3.377 liter (206.078 cubic inch) 60° (some sources state 55°) three-cylinder “fan”-type radial engine (or W-3). It was a direct-drive, right-hand-tractor engine which produced 25 horsepower at 1,600 r.p.m. The W-3 was 0.300 meters (11.811 inches) long, 0.386 meters (15.197 inches) high, and 0.694 meters (2 feet, 3.323 inches) wide. The engine weighed 65 kilograms (143 pounds). The engine turned a highly-efficient Hélice Intégrale Chauvière two-bladed, fixed-pitch, propeller which had a diameter of 6 feet, 8 inches (2.032 meters). The Anzani W-3 cost 3,000 French francs in 1909.

The Blériot XI had a maximum speed of 47 miles per hour (76 kilometers per hour) and the service ceiling was approximately 1,000 meters (3,281 feet).

A description of the Blériot Type XI appeared in Vehicles of the Air, by Victor Loughead,² Second Edition, The Reilly and Britton Co., Chicago, 1910, Figure 197, between Pages 406 and 407:

Blériot Type XI, front view.

Blériot Type XI, side view.
Blériot Type XI, top view.

¹ The village was renamed Sangatte-Blériot-Plage in 1936.

² Victor Loughead was the older brother of Allan and Malcolm Loughead, founders of the Loughead Aircraft Manufacturing Company of Santa Barbara, California, better known today as the Lockheed Martin Corporation.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 May 1961

Crew of The Firefly at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 10 May 1961. (Sand Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Crew of The Firefly, 1st Lieutenant David F. Dickerson, Major Elmer E. Murphy, and Major Eugene Moses, at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 10 May 1961. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

In 1930, aviation pioneer Louis Charles Joseph Blériot established the Blériot Trophy, to be awarded to an aviator who demonstrated flight at a speed of 2,000 kilometers per hour (1,242.742 miles per hour) for 30 minutes. The technology to accomplish this was three decades in the future.

Convair B-58A-10-CF Huslter 59-2451 taxis out at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 10 May 1961. (General Dynamics/San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives Catalog number 01 00093630)
Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451 taxis out at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 10 May 1961. (General Dynamics/San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives Catalog Number 01 00093632)

On 10 May 1961, a U.S. Air Force/Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler, serial number 59-2451, The Firefly, did just that. Flown by a crew consisting of Aircraft Commander, Major Elmer E. Murphy, Navigator, Major Eugene Moses, and Defensive Systems Officer, First Lieutenant David F. Dickerson, the Mach 2+ Strategic Air Command bomber flew 669.4 miles (1,077.3 kilometers) in 30 minutes, 43 seconds. Their average speed was 1,302.07 miles per hour (2,095 kilometers per hour).

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451 during Bleriot Trophy speed run, 10 May 1961. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451 during Blériot Trophy speed run, 10 May 1961. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

The black and white marble trophy was presented to the B-58 crew by Alice Védères Blériot, widow of Louis Blériot, at Paris, France, 27 May 1961. It is on permanent display at the McDermott Library of the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The Blériot Trophy, photographed 12 June 1961. "Side view of The Blériot Trophy on display. It is the figure of a naked man made of black marble in a flying position emerging from clouds. The clouds are white stone and are the figures of women in various poses on top of a marble dome." (University of North Texas Libraries)
The Blériot Trophy, photographed 12 June 1961. “Side view of The Blériot Trophy on display. It is the figure of a naked man made of black marble in a flying position emerging from clouds. The clouds are white stone and are the figures of women in various poses on top of a marble dome.” (University of North Texas Libraries)

The Convair B-58 Hustler was a high-altitude, Mach 2+ strategic bomber which served with the United States Air Force from 1960 to 1970. It was crewed by a pilot, navigator/bombardier and a defensive systems operator located in individual cockpits. The aircraft has a delta-winged configuration similar to Convair’s F-102A Delta Dagger and F-106 Delta Dart supersonic interceptors.

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451 taxis back to teh ramp at Edwards Air Force Base, following teh Bleriot Trophy speed run, 10 May 1961. (General Dynamics/San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives Catolog number 01 00093633)
Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451 taxis back to the ramp at Edwards Air Force Base, following the Blériot Trophy speed run, 10 May 1961. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

The Hustler is 96 feet, 10 inches (29.515 meters) long, with a wing span of 56 feet, 10 inches (17.323 meters) and overall height of 31 feet 5 inches (9.576 meters). The wings’ leading edge is swept back at a 60° angle and the fuselage incorporates the “area rule” which resulted in a “wasp waist” or “Coke bottle” shape for a significant reduction in aerodynamic drag. The airplane’s only control surfaces are two “elevons” and a rudder. There are no flaps.

Four General Electric J79-GE-5 afterburning turbojet engines, rated at 15,600 pounds of thrust at Sea Level, each, are enclosed in nacelles which are suspended under the wings from pylons.

The bomber had a cruise speed of 610 miles per hour (981.7 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 1,325 miles per hour (2,132.4 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 64,800 feet (19,751 meters). Unrefueled range is 4,400 miles (7,081 kilometers). Maximum weight is 168,000 pounds (76,203.5 kilograms).

The B-58 weapons load was a combination of W-39,  B43 or B61 nuclear bombs. The large weapons could be carried in a jettisonable centerline pod, which also carried fuel, and the smaller bombs could be carried on hardpoints. There was a defensive 20 mm M61 rotary cannon mounted in the tail with 1,200 rounds of ammunition. The gun was controlled remotely by the Defensive Systems Officer.

The Firefly's ground crew for the Blériot Trophy speed run, 10 May 1961. (General Dynamics/San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives Catalog number 01 00093629)
The Firefly’s ground crew for the Blériot Trophy speed run, 10 May 1961. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

On 26 May 1961, The Firefly, flown by a different aircrew, set a speed record by flying New York to Paris, while enroute to the Paris Air Show, a distance of 3,626.46 miles in 3 hours, 19 minutes, 58 seconds, for an average of 1,089.36 mph.

Convair built 116 B-58s between 1956 and 1961. They were retired by 1970.

On 3 June 1961, the Blériot Trophy-winning crew of Murphy, Moses and Dickerson departed Le Bourget Airport aboard 59-2451 for the return trip to America. The B-58 crashed five miles from the airport. All three men were killed and the aircraft totally destroyed.

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451, The Firefly.
Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451, The Firefly.

General Dynamics contributed an extensive collection of photographs of the speed run to the San Diego Air and Space Museum, which holds them in its Archives.

A 1961 Air Force film covering the event and the presentation of the Blériot Trophy can be seen on You Tube at https://youtu.be/0D_n8YRodII

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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22 April 1912

Dennis Corbett-Wilson at Fishguard, Wales, 22 April 1912. (VisitWexford)

22 April 1912: Departing at 5:47 a.m., Denys Corbett-Wilson flew his Blériot XI from Fishguard and Goodwick, Pembrokeshire, Wales, across St. George’s Channel and landed at Crane, near Enniscorthy, County Wexford, Ireland, 1 hour, 40 minutes later. This was the first crossing of the Irish Sea from England to Ireland by air.

Lieutenant Denys Corbett-Wilson

Corbett-Wilson, having flown in heavy rain for the final half hour, with an erratic compass and misfiring engine, saw a field at Crane that he thought was suitable for landing his airplane. The area was too small, though, and he ran into heavy brush, slightly damaging the Blériot.

The damaged airplane was stored at the stables of Lord Donoughmore’s Estate. Many years later the estate was sold and the wreck was purchased. It was later donated to a museum in Kilkenny.

Denys Corbett-Wilson was born at Thames Ditton, Surrey, England, on Christmas Eve, 24 December 1882. He was the son of W.H.C. Wilson, Esq., Barrister-at-Law, and Ada Caroline Corbett-Wilson.

Corbett-Wilson learned to fly at Pau, France in 1911. A sportsman and “an intrepid rider to hounds,” he joined the Royal Flying Corps at the beginning of World War I and was commissioned a second lieutenant, Special Reserve, Royal Flying Corps. He served with No. 3 Squadron at Béthune, France, and was promoted to lieutenant in November 1914.

Lieutenant Denys Corbett-Wilson was killed in action while on a reconnaissance flight along the Western Front, 10 May 1915. His airplane, a Morane-Saulnier Type L, was struck by an artillery shell. He was buried with full military honors at Fournes-en-Weppes by the German Army.

Denys Corbett Wilson's Blériot XI was slightly damaged after running out of room for landing at Crane, Wexford, ireland, 22 April 1912. (Corbett Wilson collection)
Denys Corbett-Wilson’s Blériot XI was slightly damaged after running out of room for landing at Crane, Wexford, Ireland, 22 April 1912. (Corbett-Wilson collection)

The Blériot XI was a single-seat, single-engine monoplane, designed by Raymond Saulnier and built by Louis Charles Joseph Blériot. It was 24 feet, 11 inches (7.595 meters) long with a wingspan of 27 feet, 11 inches (8.509 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 10 inches (2.692 meters). The wings had a chord of 6 feet (1.829 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 507 pounds (229.9 kilograms).

In its original configuration, the airplane was powered by an air-cooled, 3.774 liter (230.273 cubic inches) R.E.P.  two-row, seven-cylinder fan engine (or “semi-radial”) which produced 30 horsepower at 1,500 r.p.m., driving a four-bladed paddle-type propeller. The R.E.P. engine weighed 54 kilograms (119 pounds). This engine was unreliable and was soon replaced by an air-cooled 3.534 liter (215.676 cubic inch) Alessandro Anzani & Co., 60° (some sources state 55°) three-cylinder “fan”-type radial engine (or W-3) and a highly-efficient Hélice Intégrale Chauvière two-bladed fixed-pitch propeller, which had a diameter of 6 feet, 8 inches (2.032 meters).

The Anzani W-3 was a direct-drive, right-hand tractor engine which produced 25 horsepower at 1,400 r.p.m. It was 1.130 meters (3 feet, 8.49 inches) long, 1.500 meters (4 feet, 11.01 inches) high, and 0.720 meters (2 feet, 4.35 inches) wide. The engine weighed 66 kilograms (145.5 pounds).

After 1910, the Blériot XI was often equipped with a Gnome rotary engine. This was a normally-aspirated, air-cooled, 7.983 liter (487.140-cubic-inch-displacement) Société des Moteurs Gnome Omega 7-cylinder rotary engine which produced 50 horsepower at 1,200 r.p.m. The direct-drive engine turned a two-bladed wooden propeller in a left-hand, pusher configuration. The Omega 7 is 79.2 centimeters (2 feet, 7.2 inches) long, 83.8 centimeters (2 feet, 9.0 inches) in diameter, and weighs 75.6 kilograms (166.7 pounds). The prototype of this engine is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air & Space Museum.

The Blériot XI had a maximum speed of 47 miles per hour (76 kilometers per hour) and the service ceiling was (3,280 feet) 1,000 meters.

Denys Corbett Wilson with a Bleriot XI-2 at Highcliffe, near Christchurch, New Zealand, 18 June 1913. This version o fteh airplane is powered by an air-cooled Gnome 7 cylinder rotary engine producing 80 horsepower.
Denys Corbett-Wilson with a Blériot XI-2 at Highcliffe, near Christchurch, Dorset, 18 June 1913. This version of the airplane is powered by an air-cooled 487.140-cubic-inch (7.983 liter) Gnome Omega 7-cylinder rotary engine, producing 50 horsepower at 1,200 r.p.m. (Christchurch History Society)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 April 1913

Gustav Hamel (1886–1914)
Gustav Hamel (1886–1914)

17 April 1913: Pioneer British aviator Gustav Wilhelm Hamel flew from Dover, England, across the English Channel and on to Cologne, Germany. Also on board his airplane was Frank Dupree,¹ a reporter for the London Standard. His airplane was a Blériot XI. ² The duration of the flight was 4 hours, 18 minutes.

FLIGHT reported:

HAMEL FLIES FROM DOVER TO COLOGNE.

AMONG the many extraordinary flights which have been accomplished, certainly not teh least epoch-making, inasmuch as it was the first flight from England to Germany, was that made by Mr. Gustav Hamel last week, with a passenger, from Dover to Cologne. Starting from Dover Aerodrome (accompanied by Mr. F. Dupree, of the staff of the Standard, by whom arrangements for the flight had been made), he left Dover as 12.40 p.m. Making his way across the Channel, the French coast was picked up just south of Dunkirk, and then a course was set by the aid of the compass for Mechlin. Across Belgium and Holland the military Blériot sped its way, but the storms which had to be passed through put the pilot out a little in his reckoning, and when the Rhine was sighted it was at a point about 60 miles north of Cologne. This deviation lengthened the journey considerably, but Cologne was safely reached at 4.58 p.m., and on alighting the English travellers were courteously received by the German officers. The duration of the flight was 4 hrs. 18 mins., and the distance as the crow flies from point to point is 245 miles. In view of the deviation, Mr. Hamel estimates the distance covered at 320 miles. Altogether, Mr. Hamel passed over five countries.

The Blériot monoplane which was used was fitted with an 80 h.p. Gnome motor, which, by the way, was equipped with the famous F. and S. ball-bearings. ³ The fuel used was Shell spirit, of which forty gallons were carried, and there was sufficient left at the journey’s end to cover another 100 miles, a distance which would have taken the aviator well out of the German Empire. For lubrication purposes Wakefield “Castrol” was used.

The Machine for New Zealand.

     Hamel’s great flight from Dover to Cologne was arranged by the Standard in conjunction with the Imperial Air Fleet Committee, of which Lord Desborough is President, and on conclusion of the flight the aeroplane was offered to and accepted by the New Zealand Government. A fund has now been opened with the object of paying for the machine, the cost of which has been in the meantime guaranteed by the Standard and Messrs. Wm. Coward and Co., Ltd.

FLIGHT, No. 226 (No. 17, Vol. V.), 26 April 1913, at Page 466

A short film of preparations for the flight is available from British PATHÉ at:

https://www.britishpathe.com/video/gustav-hamel-pilot

Gustav Hamel was born in Germany, but he and his family emigrated to England in 1910, becoming subjects of the Crown. In 1911 he attended the Blériot flying school at Pau, France, and earned Aéro-Club de France‘s aviator certificate number 358, and the Royal Aero Club (R.Ae.C.) certificate number 64. He completed many “firsts” in aviation, including delivering the first official air mail. Hamel disappeared on another flight across the English Channel, 23 May 1914.

Gustav Wilhelm Hamel (‘Men of the Day. No. 2283. “Flight.”‘) by (Richard) Wallace Hester (‘W. Hester’, ‘Hester’, ‘WH’ and ‘WH-‘) chromolithograph, published in Vanity Fair 31 July 1912 14 1/8 in. x 9 1/2 in. (359 mm x 242 mm) paper size. © National Portrait Gallery, London

The Blériot XI was a single-seat, single-engine monoplane, designed by Raymond Saulnier and built by Louis Charles Joseph Blériot. It was 24 feet, 11 inches (7.595 meters) long with a wingspan of 27 feet, 11 inches (8.509 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 10 inches (2.692 meters). The wings had a chord of 6 feet (1.829 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 507 pounds (229.9 kilograms).

In its original configuration, the airplane was powered by an air-cooled, 3.774 liter (230.273 cubic inches) R.E.P.  two-row, seven-cylinder fan engine (or “semi-radial”) which produced 30 horsepower at 1,500 r.p.m., driving a four-bladed paddle-type propeller. The R.E.P. engine weighed 54 kilograms (119 pounds). This engine was unreliable and was soon replaced by an air-cooled 3.534 liter (215.676 cubic inch) Alessandro Anzani & Co., 60° (some sources state 55°) three-cylinder “fan”-type radial engine (or W-3) and a highly-efficient Hélice Intégrale Chauvière two-bladed fixed-pitch propeller, which had a diameter of 6 feet, 8 inches (2.032 meters). The Anzani W-3 was a direct-drive, right-hand tractor engine which produced 25 horsepower at 1,400 r.p.m. It was 1.130 meters (3 feet 8.49 inches) long, 1.500 meters (4 feet, 11.01 inches) high, and 0.720 meters (2 feet, 4.35 inches) wide. The engine weighed 66 kilograms (145.5 pounds).

The Blériot XI had a maximum speed of 47 miles per hour (76 kilometers per hour) and the service ceiling was (3,280 feet) 1,000 meters.

Gustav Hamel and his Blériot XI at Radnorshire, Knighton, England, 29th August 1913.
Gustav Hamel and his Blériot XI at Radnorshire, Knighton, England, 29th August 1913.

¹ Also reported in contemporary newspaper articles as “Frank Dupre,” and frequently described as “an American.”

² Although not specifically identified in contemporary newspaper articles, the airplane flown by Hamel on this date was a Blériot XI-2 Génie, a two-place variant which was powered by a Gnome Lambda 7-cylinder rotary engine. The weights, dimensions and performance very likely varied from those described above. It was accepted by New Zealand on 4 March 1913, and was shipped aboard the White Star Line passenger ship, S.S. Athenic. The airplane arrived at Auckland on 29 September 1913. The airplane was named Britannia.

According the Air Force Museum of New Zealand:

The first flight was not undertaken until January 1914, when Joe Hammond, a New Zealander and Second Lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps, was engaged to demonstrate the machine. After several test flights from the Epsom Showgrounds, he was ready to take up his first passenger. Rather than select one of the many dignitaries present, he took aloft an actress, Miss Esme McLennan of the Royal Pantomime Company. Hammond was released from duty for his lapse in protocol, and the aircraft put into storage in New Zealand. The New Zealand Government offered it for service in World War One, and it returned to the UK in October 1914.

The New Zealand Monoplane Britannia over the Auckland Exhibition Grounds, January 1914. (Air Force Museum of New Zealand)

³ Fichtel & Sachs, Schweinfurt, Germany (Schweinfurter Präcisions-Kugel-Lager-Werke Fichtel & Sachs)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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16 April 1912

Harriet Quimby and her Blériot XI. (Library of Congress)

16 April 1912: American aviatrix Harriet Quimby flew across the English Channel in a Blériot XI monoplane. She departed Dover at 5:30 a.m. and crossed a fog-shrouded channel to land at Hardelot-Plage, Pas-de-Calais, 1 hour, 9 minutes later. Her only instruments were a hand-held compass and a watch.

Harriet Quimby (Theodore C. Marceau)

Quimby was the first woman to fly across the channel, but that was not her only “first”: On 11 August 1911, she had become the first American woman to be licensed as a pilot. She was known for her purple satin flying suit.

Harriet Quimby was killed at Quincy, Massachusetts, 1 July 1912, when her Blériot XI, circling the airfield at 1,500 feet (457 meters) suddenly pitched down and she and her passenger were thrown out.

The Blériot XI was a single-seat, single-engine monoplane, designed by Raymond Saulnier and built by Louis Charles Joseph Blériot. It was 24 feet, 11 inches (7.595 meters) long with a wingspan of 27 feet, 11 inches (8.509 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 10 inches (2.692 meters). The wings had a chord of 6 feet (1.829 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 507 pounds (229.9 kilograms).

In its original configuration, the airplane was powered by an air-cooled, 3.774 liter (230.273 cubic inches) R.E.P.  two-row, seven-cylinder fan engine (or “semi-radial”) which produced 30 horsepower at 1,500 r.p.m., driving a four-bladed paddle-type propeller. The R.E.P. engine weighed 54 kilograms (119 pounds). This engine was unreliable and was soon replaced by an air-cooled 3.534 liter (215.676 cubic inch) Alessandro Anzani & Co., 60° (some sources state 55°) three-cylinder “fan”-type radial engine (or W-3) and a highly-efficient Hélice Intégrale Chauvière two-bladed fixed-pitch propeller, which had a diameter of 6 feet, 8 inches (2.032 meters). The Anzani W-3 was a direct-drive, right-hand tractor engine which produced 25 horsepower at 1,400 r.p.m. It was 1.130 meters (3 feet 8.49 inches) long, 1.500 meters (4 feet, 11.01 inches) high, and 0.720 meters (2 feet, 4.35 inches) wide. The engine weighed 66 kilograms (145.5 pounds).

The Blériot XI had a maximum speed of 47 miles per hour (76 kilometers per hour) and the service ceiling was (3,280 feet) 1,000 meters.

Harriet Quimby, wearing her purple satin flying suit, pulls the Chauvière Intégrale propeller of the Blériot XI to start the air-cooled Anzani 72° W3 ("fan" or "semi-radial") 3-cylinder engine.
Harriet Quimby, wearing her purple satin flying suit, pulls the Chauvière Intégrale propeller of the Blériot XI to start the air-cooled Anzani W3 (“fan” or “semi-radial”) three-cylinder engine.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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