Bleriot takes off for the historic flight
“England No Longer An Island” proclaimed the frontpage Le Matin on the morning of 26th July 1909. The French newspaper had all the reasons to be gleeful: the day before, a Frenchman by the name of Louis Bleriot had crossed the English channel from Les Baraques, France to Dover, England under bad weather. It took him mere thirty-one minutes.
The flight was the sensation of the day; the French government sent a destroyer to observe his plane but the British were more skeptical. They believed two other favorites — Hubert Latham and Count de Lambert — would be the first to cross the Channel. But Bleriot proved them wrong. On landing a golf course near Dover Castle on the plane’s two frail wheels commandeered from a bicycle, Bleriot asked for crutches from his greeters. The pioneering engineer had already survived more than fifty crashes; his right foot was severely burned during a flight only a month before.
In Dover, he was met by a huge crowd. Later that day, he made his triumphal victory into London, having achieved by air what Napoleon failed to do so a century prior. In London he claimed the prestigious £1,000 Daily Mail award from its proprietor, Lord Northcliffe. (Between 1907 and 1925, Northcliffe awarded numerous prizes for achievements in aviation; the most coveted prizes were for the first cross-channel flight, and for the first transatlantic flight, prized at £10,000).
Although he was not the first aeronautic pioneer, what Bleriot did on that tempestuous July morning was significant was a different reason. Lilienthal in Germany and the Wright Brothers in the US were true pioneers but their planes merely flew a few hundred meters or merely glided down sloping meadows. By flying across the Channel, Bleriot proved that a large body of water could be transversed in a heavier-than-air craft. In a sense, Bleriot opened avenues for planes as means of transport, fright and war by flying into history books.