Louis Blériot turned aside from developing automotive lighting to pursue aeroplane design.  His early designs were gliders requiring a tow vehicle.  When light weight gasoline engines became available he went to powered flight.  Strongly influenced by the Wright Brothers' "Flyer", flown at Paris in 1908, he incorporated wing warping controls.  This greatly improved the handling of his planes, making possible longer flights.  In 1909, on July twenty-fifth Louis Blériot went down in history's pages as the first man to fly long distance over open water, namely the English Channel.  The flight from Calais to Dover Castle in England, a distance of twenty-three and one half miles, lasted thirty-six and one half minutes for an average speed of about 39 mph.  Afterward, Blériot collected the prize of 1000 English Pounds, offered by the London Daily Mail to any person who could fly the channel.  Eighteen years later, Blériot met Charles Lindbergh in Paris and embraced him as a fellow long distant aviator.

The plane you see here was Louis' eleventh design.  Among the early powered prototypes were, box kite bi-planes similar to the Wright Brothers,  and a "Canard" type monoplane with the tail out front.  The monoplane design is what gave him the best results.  The wooden skeletal fuselage is held together by small steel plates and stiffened by taut wire bracing.   Only the landing gear and the top and lower braces are made of tube steel.  This final design was preceded by many failures.  In fact, due to an injury from a recent crash, Blériot strapped his crutches to the fuselage for the flight across the English Channel.  Although this is the same year and type as his historic plane, it is different.  For example, the rudder is smaller.  The fuel tank is smaller and mounted forward of the seat rather than behind.  Blériot's successful flight had future pilots putting in their orders for a Blériot XI of their own.  Overnight, Louis Blériot became the first full scale aeroplane manufacturer.

It is my guess that Blériot realized during his flight across the Channel, that as the fuel in the tank (originally mounted behind the seat) is used up, the tail  continues to lighten, thereby constantly changing the angle of the wings.  This change affected their efficiency and required compensating.  By moving the tank forward over the center of gravity, the plane would fly the same regardless of the fuel load.   The wicker seat, less legs became an all time standard in the aircraft industry, even until the late Twenties.  The Spirit Of Saint Louis had a wicker seat.

This engine is a 1910  35 hp. Anzani "Y" radial engine.  The engine used to cross the Channel was a 25 hp. Anzani "Fan" engine.  The "Fan" was originally developed for racing motorcycles.  I don't have a photo of the "Fan" but will post one in the future.  The "Fan" had three cylinders, the first at thirty degrees, the second at ninety and the last at one hundred and fifty.  The cylinder arrangement resembled the shape of a ladies hand fan, thus the name "Fan" engine.  That engine suffered many problems.  It vibrated badly due to the unbalanced cylinder placement.  Because of the application change to aviation, it was plagued by overheating.  Most likely, this was because of the high rpm's for long durations of time in conjunction with slower air speeds.  Something not typically experienced in a racing motorcycle of this period.  Anzani engineers tried to alleviate the problem by drilling no less than fourteen holes in each cylinder wall, below the fins.  Although this helped significantly, it produced a new problem, high oil consumption.  Even so, the story is Blériot's flight was saved by a rain squall that cooled his still overheating engine.  The "Y" radial (seen above) having ten additional horsepower, was a more reliable engine.  With the cylinders evenly spaced around the block, it ran smoother.  Larger cooling fins and a lack of holes drilled in the lower cylinder walls indicates that the overheating problem was solved.  Later, I hope to publish a more extensive page on Louis Blériot with additional pictures of plane and engines offered.  The Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome Museum houses an original Blériot XI with an early 60 hp. Gnome rotary engine.  If all goes well maybe I will get to publish news about a Gnome powered Blériot XI replica currently in the planning stage.

Bright sunlit wings show off their internal structure as the engine warms up.

Nevin, David and the Editors of Time-Life Books, The 
  Pathfinders. Time-Life Books Inc. 1980
Nahum, Andrew, Flying Machines. Alfred A. Knopf Inc. 1990
Vines, Mike, Return To Rhinebeck. England, Airlife publishing
  Ltd. 1990
Encyclopaedia Britannica,  www.britannica.com  1999

Photo Credits:
All photos on this page taken by Sandy J Rhodes


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Most recent update 03.03.2004